First and foremost we have to understand the term ‘power’. What does it actually mean and how do the public understand it’s meaning. Power is ultimately the ability to direct or influence the behaviour of others or the course of events. Therefore does news/journalism hold any power at all?
People have different understandings of what news does and what news is, which could affect their judgment in whether they think it holds power.
It is very hard to differentiate between what the news is and what journalism is, as both of them practically merge into one another and it can be argued that both share an equal amount of power. Whatever a journalist posts, reports or writes a story about is news, journalism can be viewed “as a monstrous apparatus bearing down on passive populations of deluded, misguided or manipulated people.” (Brian McNair: 2006) Meaning that people only know what they hear in the news, journalists can choose what to write a story on and what angle to take therefore manipulating people into believing certain things and seeing them in a light that the journalist wants them to. Therefore, both, the news and journalism, hold a huge amount of power over the public and public opinion through various outlets, social media being the biggest one.
Journalists can now tweet from court, who, five years ago, would have imagined that British law would infact allow this to happen. This in itself holds a huge amount of power as based on what we tweet and what tweets we see we base our own opinions on. This is therefore, influencing people and holding influence over someone else’s judgment which accumulates to great power. However, along side this comes something called ‘law’ which journalists have to abide by and more often than not, they do not. The commercial pressures and competition between different papers and tabloids is so strong that in most cases it causes them to neglect the law and release information that denies the rights to a fair trial. This is also where the issue of ethics comes into place as people are hurt in the process and even wrongly convicted.
Not only this, the news also influences politics and shapes decisions of governments and people in charge, the news is of great value and influence and therefore shapes many decisions. Bob Woodward once said, “There will always be a group of people, a band of brothers and sisters working to get to the under-layer of what’s going on and they will find a way to publish or broadcast what they believe the truth to be.” (John Mair and Richard Lance Keeble: 2011)
A great example of this is the Watergate scandal, this was a turning point in American history and it was in fact, Bob Woodward himself, who broke the news on president Richard Nixon’s corrupt presidency leading to his eventual resignation. Without the investigative skills of Bob Woodward, Carl Bernstein (his partner) and the power of the media, this information would not have reached the public and would have stayed hidden. President Nixon would have most likely carried on his corrupt and questionable presidency and the public would have stayed oblivious to this. Events like this one make history. Media is the biggest platform on which journalists can share their findings and keep people informed and this holds a lot of power in itself as it alters the course of events.
Journalism however, can also make a lot of damage as well as good, although the news holds power it could be questioned whether that is a positive or a negative thing. In theory journalists are meant to release information and make news on issues that are of public interest. This is not always the case. A prime example of journalists and the media abusing their power is the phone hacking scandal. The News of the World newspaper abused their power massively when they gave permission to their employees to engage in phone hacking, police bribery and exercising their influence in unacceptable ways all in pursuit of stories. Was this in the publics interest? Definitely not, it was an attack on people’s privacy and it was unethical and therefore as amazing as news can be in relation to revelations such as the Watergate Scandal, it can also be very damaging and destructive.
Tabloid newspapers are most guilty of publishing untrue and biased stories as they are hungry for publicity and as their main aim is to entertain therefore they sensationalise stories and exaggerate them in order to attract readers and gain publicity. Journalists can manipulate interview questions in pursuit of receiving the answers they want rather than the truth. Journalists can take notes and later alter them into false statements that get published regardless whether they are in the publics interest or not. Secondary sources such as witnesses or family members can also be manipulated by journalists to say things that aren’t necessarily true. All of these things have been done and are being done by journalists still, all in pursuit of breaking stories and publicity.
Therefore, it is questionable what the power of journalism and media is, whether it’s to educate and inform the public or whether it is to somewhat entertain the public by depriving others of their right to privacy. News, in the end is nothing more than entertainment. It is clear that news and journalism hold power and although most of us like to believe that they use it to better the public and society, it could be argued that it all depends on who is in charge of the news, some publications just like the News of the World did not care about the public and abused their power to better their business and gain publicity unlike the BBC which stays unbiased and aims to inform and educate.
On the other hand, it could be argued that neither the news nor journalism hold any power at all. People will always have their own opinions and regardless what is said in the news everyone will hold their own points of view and believe that to be the truth. However, the power of the news is not to make people believe it, because it is impossible to convince everyone to believe the same thing, the power lies in opening peoples eyes to the world around them and allowing them to develop their own opinions on situations.
Nevertheless, saying that the news holds no power does not sit well with majority of people because that is simply untrue. The business of news and newspapers and TV channels is far too big and widespread to hold no power. John Pilger once said ‘the prime role of journalists is to tell people when they are being conned.’ (Hugo de Burgh: 2008) Going off of this statement, what the public hears the public believes. Journalists, investigative journalists in particular, are people’s only source of finding out information and news that would otherwise be kept hidden from them, and so both, journalists along with the news that they create have a huge hold over the publics attitudes and beliefs and subsequently with that comes great power and with power comes huge responsibility which some news outlets do not realise.
News can hold a damaging effect on the public and individuals. Law is a huge factor which has to be considered here, law is a forgotten subject when it comes to journalism, when in fact it is crucial. Libel law under the Defamation Act is key (Mark Todd and Mark Hanna: 2014) in journalism and it is very often missed and forgotten leading to conflict between the journalist and the public. Libel is a false statement that is damaging to a person’s reputation also known as a written defamation. (Mark Todd and Mark Hanna: 2014) When a journalist or a publication writes something false about an individual they can be sued for it, therefore with this comes huge responsibility. Journalists often think they can write anything they like on a given person or a topic when in fact they cannot. This is where they hold huge power, what they write could potentially be very damaging and life changing for whoever they are writing about. Therefore, the defamation act that came into effect in 2014, reforming libel law in England and Wales, to some degree protects the public from news and journalists abusing their power over them.
Answering this statement is almost impossible as there are so many answers and so many things to consider when talking about the power of both, journalism and news. However, it is definitely safe to say that both are powerful negatively as well as positively. They can be both damaging and beneficial to the publics interest. However, when used for all the right reason they can both be considered very powerful indeed, especially in today’s society where social media is such a huge outlet and creates endless opportunities for stories and news each day.