The term published opinion referred to by the mass media spread opinion on specific topics and issues. The published opinion can sometimes differ greatly from the opinion that actually prevails in a population and can influence the formation of public opinion . The published opinion is of particular relevance for politicians , as the majority of voters orientate themselves to the media in their judgment.
Distinction between published and public opinion
Basically a should democracy , the public opinion will be published. Public opinion does not always result from the sum of individual opinions within the population. In spite of the lack of a universal definition, public opinion is understood as "a collective product of communications that presents itself between speakers as the 'ruling' opinion" and is central to the legitimacy of democratic rule.
The goal of every democracy is to guarantee the free formation of individual opinions and the formation of political will of all its citizens . The media, especially the mass media, play a central role here, as they create a public sphere in which various opinions on certain topics can be exchanged. This means that only those opinions are publicly effective and opinion-forming that are dealt with in the mass media.
As a rule, members of the elite and professional speakers, including functionaries , experts and, in particular, politicians and journalists , are given the opportunity to express their opinions publicly. The opinion they represent or publish in the media is therefore often summarized as public opinion.
In fact, published opinion does not always equate to public opinion, although the latter is largely determined by published opinion.
In addition, the opinion published by political actors and the media themselves is an important point of reference for citizens in order to be able to assess the prevailing opinion in the population. The formative power of the media is all the stronger, the more the opinions in the different media offerings agree, i.e. are consonant.
However, there is a consensus in research that the mass media usually does not adequately portray reality . Rather, it is a distorted media reality that has nothing or very little to do with objective reality.
“The reports in the media are often imprecise and distorted, they sometimes offer an extremely tendentious and ideologically colored worldview. The reality presented in the media primarily represents stereotypes and prejudices of journalists, their professional rules and political attitudes, the constraints of news production and the requirements of media representation. It allows only limited conclusions to be drawn about the physical properties of the world, the structures of society, the course of events, the distribution of public opinion. "
In media reports, the focus is less on the depiction of reality than on the selection, interpretation and classification of the content by the journalists, which gives them so-called power of opinion. "Opinion power specifically means the deliberate influence of editors on processes of public and individual opinion-forming."
A closer examination of the power of opinion takes place in media impact research .
Types of media influence on opinion formation
The media can influence the process of forming an opinion in different ways.
A total of five different types of effects can be distinguished:
Easily accessible through the media are primarily cognitive effects, i.e. the imparting of knowledge about the world , as we get this mainly from the media. So said the sociologist Niklas Luhmann "What we know about our society, yes about the world in which we live, we know through the mass media."
- Knowledge transfer
- The transfer of knowledge through the media initially appears to be an objective and largely unsuspicious process. On closer inspection, however, it is more about the fact that the prior knowledge of the recipients , depending on how extensive this is, can very well have considerable consequences for the opinion-forming process.
- The theory of the agenda setting assumes that the mass media influence not so much what the recipients should think, but rather what they have to think about. The media can therefore determine which topics are put on the agenda. Media offers with a different editorial line often diverge in that they primarily address topics in their reporting that are viewed by the preferred party as their core competencies.
- In addition, there are cases in which the mass media report on certain topics or events not only because of their natural relevance, but also because the communicators , i.e. journalists, editors or publishers , pursue certain goals with their reporting. It sometimes happens that journalists, especially when it comes to socially relevant and conflict-ridden matters, report one-sidedly, regardless of whether this is done consciously or unconsciously. Accordingly, news or events are only used as a means to an end or instrument to suggest a specific solution or political decision to the public.
- "M. a W., when the mass media make certain problems (again and again) an issue from certain points of view, then they also define the central aspects of the problem and thus preform political decisions. "
- According to this understanding, the selection decisions made by journalists when choosing news items are viewed as targeted actions. Hans Mathias Kepplinger describes such a process as “instrumental updating”.
- In media reporting, certain aspects of a fact or event can be particularly emphasized, while others tend to be neglected. The media thus influence the perspective from which the recipient views a certain topic, which can suggest a certain frame of interpretation.
- Conveying a climate of opinion
- The media can give the citizens an overview of how opinions on various political issues are distributed among the population, ie "what the mood is like in the country". Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann describes the climate of opinion as “people's ideas about which views and behaviors are approved or rejected”.
- The recipients find out through the media whether their opinion is in the minority or in the majority. This function of the media plays a central role in Noelle-Neumann's theory of the spiral of silence .
- This includes all those forms of media reporting that are suitable or deliberately aimed at triggering changes in attitudes in the recipients. In the media sector, this applies primarily to advertising .
Published opinion and political system
The opinion published in the mass media can influence decision-makers and the decisions of the political system in two ways:
- There is direct influence when the published opinion is received by the political decision-makers themselves. In order to get as many votes as possible, politicians or parties have to orientate themselves towards the expected demands and needs of the citizens and orient their actions accordingly. However, the parties are not fully aware of the needs of the citizens, which is why they are trying to compensate for this deficit. This happens primarily through the published opinion, which serves them as a “substitute indicator” by which they derive the preferred needs of the population.
- On the other hand, there is an indirect influence on the decision-makers or the decisions of the political system, since the opinion published in the mass media is also received by the population and this influences the decisions and political preferences of the people. These political preferences are in turn reflected in forms of political participation , with elections in representative democracies being the most important form of participation. In other words, the mass media have an indirect effect on political decisions by influencing the voting preferences of citizens through the published opinion. The published opinion serves as an orientation aid for the population in order to develop their own preferences or voting preferences.
Media coverage of the refugee crisis
Reporting on the refugee crisis in Europe has been or represents the greatest challenge for the media in recent years. In Austria , the mainstream media in particular were criticized. At the beginning of the refugee movements, they did not report objectively, but predominantly positively. Possible negative consequences were not considered in the news. Published opinion and public opinion have not contradicted each other so strongly in a long time.
The one-sidedness of the reports was criticized not only in Austria, but also in Germany .
In 2017, the Otto Brenner Foundation published a study by the Hamburg Media School and the University of Leipzig on media coverage of the refugee crisis. In the course of the study, several thousand articles from Die Welt , the Bild , the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung , the Süddeutsche Zeitung and numerous regional newspapers were analyzed, covering the period from February 2015 to March 2016. The result: important daily newspapers from Germany failed to provide critical reporting. According to the study, the so-called mainstream media not only stood unanimously behind Angela Merkel's refugee policy , but also simply adopted the “solutions of the political elite” without questioning them critically. In addition, the term “ welcoming culture has been transfigured into a kind of magic word”. Anyone who was skeptical of Merkel's line of government could expect to be accused of xenophobia .
However, the study is also criticized. Guest comments were not taken into account in the examined media. In addition, a “self-reflection” started in the media immediately after the actual refugee crisis, which, however, did not lie within the study period of the study and was therefore no longer included in it.
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