Social Power of the News Media

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1 Power and the News Media Teun A. van Dijk University of Amsterdam __________________ INTRODUCTION In the study of mass communication, there has been a continuous debate about the more or less powerful effects of the media on the public.1 Instead of reviewing these positions and their empirical claims, this chapter examines in more general terms some properties of the social power of the news media. This power is not restricted to the influence of the media on their audiences, but also involves the role of the media within the broader framework of the social, cultural, political, or economic power structures of society. In order to focus this discussion better, I limit it to the news media, and in particular to the press, thus ignoring…show more content…
Such an analysis of social power and its symbolic dimensions requires going beyond a narrow social or political approach to power. It also involves a study of the mental representations, including so-called social cognitions such as attitudes and ideologies, shared by groups of readers or viewers. If we are able to relate more or less explicitly such mental representations, as well as their changes, to properties of news reports, important insights into media power can be gained. Well-known but vague notions such as influence or manipulation may then finally be given a precise meaning. Within a more critical perspective, many analyses of social power, including those of media power, usually imply references to power abuse-that is, to various forms of the illegitimate or otherwise unacceptable exercise of power, given specific standards, norms, or values. For instance, manipulation as a form of media power enactment is usually evaluated in negative terms, because mediated information is biased or concealed in such a way that the knowledge and beliefs of the audience are changed in a direction that is not necessarily in its best interest. To distinguish legitimate or acceptable power from power abuse, I use the term dominance to
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