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Media Psychology: TV and Politics - If Media Keep It Real, So Will The People

16/04/2015 12:00 BST | Updated 14/06/2015 10:59 BST

Where I work at Media Trust, we claim that media is a powerful tool to influence and change lives. We work with the media industry to empower charities and communities to have a voice and be heard.

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LONDON360 YOUNG REPORTERS INTERVIEW PARTY LEADERS FOR THE SKY NEWS #ASKTHELEADERS CAMPAIGN.

(PIC coopyright Hope Lanek)

One voice that is heard less and less when it comes to politics and elections in the UK, is the non-voters and disillusioned residents of this country that never bother voting. Unanimously, they declare politics to be insignificant and wearisome.

Many are suspicious about politicians whom they described as far removed from the everyday lives of people like them. They are also cynical of the motives of politicians who once every four years make a point of publicly announcing which bands they like and make efforts to take selfie's whilst on campaign walkabouts. Surely a patronising attempt to get their votes.

So should the media continue to encourage politicians to engage with the whole community? Does it even make a difference? Currently, media coverage of politics is a hot topic. Does the 24-hour media coverage of politics encourage political engagement through increased awareness, or discourage it through the constant reporting of bickering, mistakes and policy changes?

Experts in the psychological impact of media on people (aka Media Psychology specialists at Salford University) have once again proven that media is powerful enough to make a change.

Dr Sharon Coen, CPsychol, Senior Lecturer in Psychology and her team, at University of Salford and Goldsmith's in London, are the people who test that theory in the real-world and see if its true or not, if it is, how it is.

The researchers recorded a month's worth of political news in eleven different countries (including UK), and then surveyed 1000 people in each of those country's about their media consumption and political engagement. They tested people's knowledge of politics, and both whether they were interested in it and thought that they could influence politics.

The Results? Here are some simple headline findings:

• They found a positive link between more consumption of TV media and more knowledge of politics.

• They also found a positive link between more consumption of TV media and a higher interest in politics and a belief that an individual can change politics.

• There was generally a far higher proportion of men reporting news or being interviewed than women on TV.

However here are some interesting ones:

• In the countries and people they spoke to, it was consumption of public-funded broadcasting (e.g. BBC) that had a consistently positive effect across all people/countries. Commercial TV (e.g. ITV) had a variable link with on political knowledge or engagement across people/countries.

• When the proportion of men and women reporting on news was more representative of the population, it was linked to led to higher levels of political engagement for BOTH men and women.

The Bottom Line - This is just one study, and what it found is by no means conclusive, but it does give us more support for the notion and media IS a powerful tool, and that how it has an impact is subtle and not universal.

Coen told me ''I have been involved in a series of comparative studies in which we combined an analysis of media coverage with a survey of people's knowledge about current affairs. These studies have consistently shown that in countries where there is a stronger Public Service approach to News provision people tend to be more knowledgeable about politics and current affairs''.

''In the latest study, involving 11 different countries from Europe, Americas and Australasia we dug a bit deeper and tried to look at the Psychological correlates of this phenomenon. We found that attending TV News was positively related to an increased sense of political efficacy (i.e. the feeling that we are competent enough and able to make a difference in politics through voting) and knowledge of current affairs. This was in turn linked to an increased interest in politics in general. Interestingly, this relationship seemed to be much stronger for viewers of Public Service television (in the UK, BBC), rather than private news channels (ITV was sampled for the UK)''.

''A very intriguing result also concerned the representation of different sources in the News: besides the results concerning women which Phil mentioned in his e-mail, we found that the type and amount of different democratic voices we find in the news seems to reflect also the public's sense of political efficacy. That is, in countries where 'Democratic voices' are more represented in the news (and by Democratic voices we mean the political opposition, public interest groups, trade unions, religious/ethnic/professional associations and individual citizens), voters feel they can make a difference in politics''.

''Now, the study cannot assess what came first (i.e. do we have a wider representation in countries which are culturally more engaged with politics or does the wider representation result in more engagement?), but I don't think it really matters: the relationship is circular, thus one factor feeds in the other.

From a Media Psychological point of view, we can argue that media can provide behavioural models for citizens, as well as inform our view of the world. That is, if we only see male, powerful and privileged people talking about politics, we might feel that politics has nothing to do with us and we find it difficult to engage in the political discourse. But when we see that a much wider variety of people can and does contribute to political debates, then we might feel more entitled to speak out''.

So politicians should keep bombarding us with political content, but ensure that whoever is doing it looks and sounds like we do, or you may as well be speaking in tongues.

A full copy of the paper is freely available online at;

http://snsoroka.com/files/2014Curran.pdf