Only a critical political economy approach

 

This blatant corporate influence suggests further that audiences are being transformed into the ultimate commodity for commercial broadcast stations. The idea of the ‘free-to-air’ television station struggles to exist from a critical political economist’s view, with users having to buy the appropriate hardware to allow access (Golding and Murdock, 1991: p. 20). While the costs may seem to stop there, this is in fact not the case.

Consumers continue to pay for the service they consider free, regularly purchasing heavily advertised goods at retail price, turning the ritual of viewing the nightly news into an act of commoditisation. “The economics of commercial broadcasting revolves around the exchange of audiences for advertising revenue” (Golding and Murdock, 1991: p. 20). This process doesn’t stop at simply turning the audience into advertising revenue though, as the price of advertising spots is largely determined by the number and social composition of audience that program is likely to attract.

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Ever wondered why the ‘burgers are better at Hungary Jack’s’ only on television advertisements around dinner time? A critical political economy approach to media cannot fully explain how the media work today, however it is no doubt the most effective theoretical approach to media studies offered. “Critical political economy is interested in the interplay between economic organisation and political, social and cultural life” (Golding and Murdock, 1991: p. 18).

This take on critical political economy grasps the key elements of the approach, which suggests that critical political economy takes a more comprehensive approach in understanding the media, and does so by linking all the different aspects of the media, such as media institutions, media messages and how the audience incorporates these messages into their lives. Golding and Murdock (1991: p. 20) similarly suggest that audiences generate their own meanings, and can make their own use of texts.

Critical political economy relies on a fine balance between controlling the audience and having an active audience that engages with media texts. To provide an example of the critical political economy approach in relation to news and current affairs and newspapers, the issue of centralisation of media ownership is a growing concern throughout our society, with “fewer and fewer corporations controlling more and more of our media” (Schudson, 2002: p.

252). Kerry Packer’s interest in Australian media is a major concern for those mainstream political economists who see the ‘economy’ as separate from other specialised domains, while from a critical political perspective, Packer’s interest is seen as going beyond only a source of economic issues, and instead focuses on the interrelation between the economic, social and cultural issues surrounding a centralisation of ownership.

“What marks critical political economy is that it always goes beyond situated action to show how particular micro contexts are shaped by general economic dynamics and the wider structures they sustain” (Golding and Murdock, 1991: p. 18). When applying this to news and current affairs, in September last year, government funded broadcaster the ABC aired a story regarding Kerry Packer’s Crown Casino, and the scrutiny surrounding the Casino’s disregard for government gaming policy, after the Casino had been found to be “breaching numerous aspects” (ABC Stateline, 2003) of the Casino and Gaming Authority laws.

While this seemed to be newsworthy, Kerry Packer’s ownership of Channel Nine prevented this story from being broadcast on its nightly news program. “Media proprietors can determine the editorial line and cultural stance of the papers and broadcast stations they own” (Golding and Murdock, 1991: p. 19). In relation to Kerry Packer’s public ownership dilemma, Cunningham and Turner sum it perfectly. “How much of what Channel Nine does relates to the nature of commercial TV competition and how much to Kerry Packer’s personal predispositions?

” (Cunningham and Turner, 2002: p. 36). A critical political economy approach to the media can not successfully explain all aspects of how the media work today, this is self-evident and needs to be acknowledged, because if critical political economy was the be all and end all of media studies, then there would be little need to develop other approaches in an attempt to deconstruct how the media of today work.

This is where textual analysis can be introduced in response to a narrow critical political economist’s view of media, which stem from the belief that corporate elites and media organisations can have a sense of control over the audience and their interpretations of media texts. There is no such thing as a single, ‘correct’ interpretation of any text. There are large numbers of possible interpretations, some of which will be more likely than others in particular circumstances.

(McKee, 2001: p140) Textual analysis claims that meaning is not in the text, therefore it cannot be objectively measured and when textual analysis is performed only educated guesses at the likely interpretation of that text are being made. It bases itself on the belief that no texts have a true meaning and it is how texts are interpreted individually that gives them their meanings.

Because textual analysis suggests that every time a text is read, a new meaning is generated, it focuses on the individual, and how applied meaning may be based on individual influences, in contrast to a critical political economy approach which views audiences as a whole and holistically. To provide an example using newspapers as a reference, in a Herald Sun feature article on May 6th, 2004, which dealt with the three bomb blasts in Athens 100 days before the Olympics are due to begin there, and how the Australian athletes are dealing with the renewed security fears.

From a purely critical political economy point of view, which would focus on the article in relation to economic, social and cultural aspects, it would be hard to assess the importance and desired impact on audiences the article would have without considering the context of story, which is based around a textual analysis approach. The context of this article is based upon the uprising in terrorism over the last decade, and the fact that the Athens Olympic Committee are behind in their preparations for the games, which may affect athlete security.

From an individual perspective, textual analysis would help in understanding that the article may be viewed differently by those who have been previously involved in a terrorist attack, or those who have known someone involved in an attack. “There are always many ways in which the same ‘truth’ can be accurately described” (McKee, 2001: p. 142).

This helps us understand that although the general truth of the Herald Sun article is that bombs went off in Athens, which is the encompassing view a critical political economy approach to media would take, that incident affects different people in different ways, which is derived from a textual analysis approach. Another approach to media studies that offers a differing outlook than critical political economy is content analysis, which attempts to generate hard data, and quantify the contexts of a text.

“Content analysis breaks down the components of a program or a newspaper into units which it is then able to count” (Turner, 1997: p. 297). By taking this approach, it is possible to compare for instance, how many national stories are in our newspapers compared to international stories. This hard data then provides us with a text than can be critically analysed from any angle. While content analysis merely forms the backbone of larger arguments (Turner, 1997: p. 299) it helps provide the basis of argument for critical political economists, because of its attention to detail and ability to derive from facts.

Content analysis is generally subordinated to textual analysis, and is often criticised because it relies on the fact that the individual collecting the data is objective and unbiased. It is clear when considering the alternatives to a critical political economy approach to media studies, that critical political economy is an extremely effective way of making sense of the media. Not because it can explain every facet of the media effectively, but in comparison to other approaches, it is far more useful in its application.

Critical political economy helps to understand the implications of the media in a fuller sense and in doing so provides an approach to media that is holistic and encompassing. This paper compared the effectiveness of critical political economy compared to textual analysis and content analysis, and while the two alternatives were not critically evaluated, it is clear that they can be useful in providing answers where a critical political economy approach to media studies cannot.

Critical political economy is not the ‘only’ adequate way of making sense of the media today, but essentially provides more answers than questions and serves as a basis for all other approaches.

Reference List: ABC Stateline Victoria, (2003), ABC broadcast 5th September 2003. Cunningham, S and Turner, G. (2002), The Media and Communications in Australia, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, New South Wales. Golding, P and Murdock, G. (1991), “Culture, Communications, and Political Economy”, Mass Media and Society, pp. 15-32. Herald Sun Article, “Olympians to defy Athens bombers”, 6th May 2004. McKee, A.(2001), “A Beginner’s Guide to Textual Analysis”, Metro Magazine, No.

127/128, pp. 138-149. Metamucil Advertisement (2002), Channel 10, 24th April. Schudson, M. (2002), “The News Media as Political Institutions”, Annual Review of Political Science, No. 5, pp. 249-269. Turner, G. (1997), “Media Analysis: Competing Tradition”, (in) The Media in Australia: Industries, Texts, Audiences, pp. 297-314. – 1 – Show preview only The above preview is unformatted text This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Paper-based media studies section.

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