Please help with the following questions about the media in the United States. Are these true or false?
1. Citizens develop attitudes toward society and government from the news stories presented by the media.
2. About 50 percent of the content of local TV news broadcasts in the United States can be described as political.
3. Freedom of the press is highly prized in the United States, so the mass media is completely free of government regulation.
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For Question 1, the statement is undoubtedly true, but only if you read it to mean that news stories are one factor that shapes citizens’ attitudes. News stories in the media are clearly a source of political socialization, but they are not the only one. When we watch stories about candidates on TV or read them in newspapers, our attitudes towards those candidates are influenced. When we read or hear stories about developments in our society (for example, about the changes in attitudes towards gay marriage or towards “political correctness”) our attitudes towards society can be changed. But our attitudes can be affected by other things as well. We talk to our friends and family about society and the government. We see commentary on social media. We are affected by the things we see with our own eyes. All of these things also affect our attitudes. Thus, news stories are one thing that affects our attitudes, but not the only thing. To me, that makes “True” the right answer, but someone else could read the question differently and answer “False.” I suggest that you look for a clear answer in your book that will indicate what answer your instructor prefers.
Question 2 is clear. The statement is false. Local TV news broadcasts are notorious for neglecting political news. They prefer to spend their times on “fluff” like personal interest stories or on sensational things like crimes. Their coverage of political news is actually quite minimal. For example, p. 419 of the article in this link tells us that, in a presidential election year (when political coverage is at its peak)
A typical half-hour of local news contained three minutes and eleven seconds of total campaign coverage…
Of that, about 2 minutes was devoted to the presidential campaign, leaving a little more than one minute to all other political news. Clearly, this does not get anywhere near to the 50% mark mentioned in your question. Therefore, this statement is false.
Question 3 is also clear if you take the phrase “completely free” literally. I would argue that freedom of the press is prized in the United States. However, the press is not “completely free” of regulation. The regulations are not very strict or burdensome. For example, television news stations are not allowed to give a candidate access to their facilities without giving other candidates the same opportunities. This means, for example, that a network could not allow Donald Trump to use their studios to give a speech without offering a similar amount of time to all the other candidates. As another example, freedom of the press is restricted by libel and slander laws. The press cannot knowingly publish or broadcast false statements about a political candidate. These are not very onerous restrictions, but they are restrictions. Therefore, we cannot say that the media is “completely free of government regulation.”
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