Media and the history of political rhetoric

Why compare media?


Communication employs a technical medium, each with different limits as well as vantages in terms of communication (Thompson 1995, p. 18). If we compare the news television broadcast with the digital news magazine, are there differences in how these two technical media can be used by propagandists to disperse their message? The television as a medium has a longer history of being a part of the domestic life, a main focus often in the living room where members of the home might gather to watch together after school or work. This can make television a given everyday source of information since it is linked with social tradition. The Internet is a medium with shorter history however today in many societies intertwined with private and public function and used both in the home and workplace, but perhaps with a screen more targeted at the individual than television traditionally is. Both mediums can however be considered mass media in their ability to reach big audiences.

Thompson talks about aspects of a medium such as fixation meaning how it allows the symbolic form to be fixed or preserved with various levels of durability (Thompson 1995, p. 19). The news television broadcast can be considered low in fixation since it would rely on memory or a recording device, while the digital news magazine as a written word has a higher level of fixation since the message is still there even after it has been read. However the magazine will most likely have replaced the spot of the message with a newer content as time goes by, thus lowering the durability. This could mean that a televised message is easier to warp by the audience since it is most likely further spread in their own words, while the written word can be shared as is in original form. Thompson also talks about reproduction in the medium’s capacity to produce multiple copies (Thompson 1995, p. 20) and if we consider the rapid sharing capacity of the digital news magazine, this can be an efficient way of no matter time of the day or geography of the receiver, passing along a certain content to people in one’s network, a feature built into the medium which the televised broadcast does not have. Thus transforming the receiver to a medium and a source which might entail more ethos (see for example Bitzer 1981, p. 235) and attention coming via a trustworthy friend than directly from the news magazine, as well as being a message the second receiver might not have considered otherwise.

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Producing television news broadcast is an expensive practice which limits who has the possibility of creating this form of transmission, while producing a digital news magazine can have different levels of production costs permitting more sources to have access to transmission. The reception is of significance for the effect of propaganda dissemination, which involves the audience’s cultural and social use of the medium and reading of the message. For instance Lull’s research has shown that family culture can influence how television is used socially and Dahlgren among others argues that social, political and economic factors influence how the Internet is used (Lull 1980, p. 319; Dahlgren 2005, p. 149). A message is also always read within a certain cultural context with norms and values effecting the interpretation of the content (see among others Thompson 1995, p.8). Askanius also points out how digital platforms are control by powerful institutions (Askanius 2012, p. 61). In the end, the individual, group, organization, company or nation with the most resources will, no matter the medium, have most access to channels for setting the agenda and spreading their message, thus having the most potential for dispersing propaganda.

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