Archive for March, 2010

        The internet is different from old media, it is more interactive and easier to access. In the structural transformation of the public sphere, Jürgen Habermas developed the influential concept of the public sphere, which emerged in the 18th century in Europe as a space where individuals exchanged views and participated in critical discussion.

Jürgen Habermas

The Internet, in some aspects, can be seen as a public sphere, it allows everyone to take part in discussion and express their ideas. There are lots of interactions during this information changing process. Medium such as radio and television, however, can’t be a public sphere. They are known as ‘few-to-many’ medium, which has only one or few transmitters but many receivers. This prevents fast interactions between the reporter and their audience through this kind of one-way medium.

The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere

      In the past, there was a dominant theory called the “Stimulus-Response theory”, explaining the relationship between the media and the public. It believes that the media had a very powerful and direct impact on the people when they are watching TV or reading a newspaper. Audiences are passive who simply absorb all messages from medium and are thus easily manipulated.

        However, as the internet grows in popularity, the stimulus response theory seems no longer applicable. Television and newspapers no longer hold the sole channel of communication, through the internet, the population can access various distinct new ideas; forcing the audience to consider and evaluate ideas presented to them, making the absorption of information a more active experience.

       People are now watching blogs and videos, interpreting them, and then posting their views online. They can discuss with others and participate in the procedure of making news and spreading knowledge.

       People are now not only viewers of media, but also producers of media.

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Active Audience

     An active audience theory is developed by Stuart Hall, and it is used to examine the relationship between a media text and it’s audiences. In the past time, most theorists about the interpretation of mass media messages simply treat audiences as “passive sponges”, who just absorb the content of television and other media. They believe that the viewers will accept and interpret the messages in exactly the way that the message makers want.

     However, Stuart Hall goes against all of them; he said that the audience itself plays an active role in interpreting the messages by using their own social contexts, and are capable of changing the messages themselves through collective action. As we talked before about the concept of encoding and decoding, Stuart Hall states that texts are polysemous, they may be decoded in different ways depending on one person’s identity, cultural knowledge and opinions. Everyone brings a different outside context and backgrounds to interpret the mass media, so this leads to multiple interpretations of the same content.

    Hall suggested that there are three kinds of hypothetical decoding positions for the reader of a text: dominant, negotiated and oppositional.

  • dominant (or ‘hegemonic’) reading: the reader fully shares the text’s code and accepts and reproduces the preferred reading (a reading which may not have been the result of any conscious intention on the part of the author(s)) – in such a stance the code seems ‘natural’ and ‘transparent’;
  • negotiated reading: the reader partly shares the text’s code and broadly accepts the preferred reading, but sometimes resists and modifies it in a way which reflects their own position, experiences and interests (local and personal conditions may be seen as exceptions to the general rule) – this position involves contradictions;
  • oppositional (‘counter-hegemonic’) reading: the reader, whose social situation places them in a directly oppositional relation to the dominant code, understands the preferred reading but does not share the text’s code and rejects this reading, bringing to bear an alternative frame of reference (radical, feminist etc.) (e.g. when watching a television broadcast produced on behalf of a political party they normally vote against).

      The Hall/Morley model invites analysts to categorize readings as ‘dominant’, ‘negotiated’ or ‘oppositional’. This set of three presupposes that the media text itself is a vehicle of dominant ideology and that it hegemonically strives to get readers to accept the existing social order, with all its inequalities and oppression of underprivileged social groups.

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        In an essay on ‘Encoding/Decoding’ (Hall 1980, originally published as ‘Encoding and Decoding in Television Discourse’ in 1973), the British sociologist Stuart Hall proposed a model of mass communication which highlighted the importance of active interpretation within relevant codes. Justin Wren-Lewis insists that Hall’s model, with its emphasis on coding and decoding as signifying practices, is ‘above all, a semiological conception’ (Wren-Lewis 1983, 179). Hall rejected textual determinism, noting that ‘decodings do not follow inevitably from encodings’ (Hall 1980, 136). In contrast to the earlier models, Hall thus gave a significant role to the ‘decoder’ as well as to the ‘encoder’.

Hall referred to various phases in the Encoding/Decoding model of communication as moments, a term which many other commentators have subsequently employed (frequently without explanation). John Corner offers his own definitions:

  • the moment of encoding: ‘the institutional practices and organizational conditions and practices of production’ (Corner 1983, 266);
  • the moment of the text: ‘the… symbolic construction, arrangement and perhaps performance… The form and content of what is published or broadcast’ (ibid., 267); and
  • the moment of decoding: ‘the moment of reception [or] consumption… by… the reader/hearer/viewer’ which is regarded by most theorists as ‘closer to a form of “construction”‘ than to ‘the passivity… suggested by the term “reception”‘ (ibid.).

             Hall himself referred to several ‘linked but distinctive moments – production, circulation, distribution/consumption, reproduction’ (Hall 1980, 128) as part of the ‘circuit of communication’ (a term which clearly signals the legacy of Saussure). Corner adds that the moment of encoding and that of decoding ‘are socially contingent practices which may be in a greater or lesser degree of alignment in relation to each other but which are certainly not to be thought of… as ‘sending’ and ‘receiving’ linked by the conveyance of a ‘message’ which is the exclusive vehicle of meaning’ (Corner 1983, pp. 267-8).

           Mass media codes offer their readers social identities which some may adopt as their own. But readers do not necessarily accept such codes. Where those involved in communicating do not share common codes and social positions, decodings are likely to be different from the encoder’s intended meaning. Umberto Eco uses the term ‘aberrant decoding’ to refer to a text which has been decoded by means of a different code from that used to encode it (Eco 1965). Eco describes as ‘closed’ those texts which show a strong tendency to encourage a particular interpretation – in contrast to more ‘open’ texts (Eco 1981). He argues that mass media texts tend to be ‘closed texts’, and because they are broadcast to heterogeneous audiences diverse decodings of such texts are unavoidable.

                        <Semiotics for Beginners   –Daniel Chandler>

        Due to different backgrounds and experiences, each person has his or her own way for decoding messages, and people could even form different interpretations toward the same message. In order to prevent  ‘aberrant decoding’,a text which has been decoded differently from the encoder’s intended meaning, the media system tend to change mass media text into ‘closed texts’. In a closed text, they can show a strong tendency to encourage a particular interpretation; try to control the audience’s thought and force them only receive the interpretation they want. Although it is an effective way to convey the idea, it could also be dangerous. Ownerships or gatekeepers could  put their bias in the mass media text during the encoding process, plus a strong tendency to encourage a particular interpretation in closed texts; audiences might lose their ability to be an active audience. Even worse, they might receive lots of messages which have bias and stereotypes in it without even notice.

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In the last posting, I introduced an Italian philosopher and political theorist Gramsci’s idea, ‘Hegemony’ to explain the phenomena that people are controlled by the media such as TV and newspaper even in this modern society. According to his argument, the reason why the revolution against the Capitalism that many Marxism theorists predicted as it happened didn’t occur is that a bourgeois exercises not only the visible violence or political and economical pressure over the other group of society but also the cultural and ideological propaganda to draw people’s spontaneous consent. Here is the additional explanation about Hegemony from Wikipedia.

Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another, i.e. the ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm; they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only really benefiting the ruling class.

Cultural hegemony is the philosophic and sociological concept, originated by the Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, that a culturally-diverse society can be ruled or dominated by one of its social classes. It is the dominance of one social group over another, i.e. the ruling class over all other classes. The ideas of the ruling class come to be seen as the norm; they are seen as universal ideologies, perceived to benefit everyone whilst only really benefiting the ruling class.


In my home, South Korea, there was a big issue about the corruption in Samsung Company (For your information, Samsung is a Korean company, not Japanese or USA). A lawyer who worked in the company and retired informed a lot of corruption which has happened in the company secretly for its interest to the press. It became a hot potato in the country very quickly because for the most of Korean people, Samsung has been very significant (Samsung is the only company in Korea which put their advertising at the Time Square in New York City).

So, the public opinion was separated into two branches. Some people argued that the government must take a very strong action to fix the corruption happened in the company. But other people started to blame the lawyer who reported all these facts to the media. They insisted that if something bad happened in the Samsung, it would be harmful to whole the country, Korea. How did they think like that way? Is that because they all worked in the company? Of course not. There were various kinds of people who worked in different field of the society.

As you can guess, there was the media in front of the company. Of course, there were many spectrums dealing with that issue, but the thing is that the ‘major’ press made news supporting the Samsung. They said if Samsung got a bad image because of that uncertain rumor of corruption – but, actually it was quiet obvious though, the economy of Korea would have critical damage. I think it might be a good example explaining how Hegemony works in our real lives. Through this example, you can see how the media and a big company cooperate with each other skillfully.

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  On September 11, 2001, we can see the heading news about terrorist attack in every medium; we can see the videos of airplane crashing into the World Trade Center be repeated and repeated again on TV. All these news and images were spread to the world quickly and caused panic among many people.

   In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, the Bush administration announced a war on terrorism, with the stated goals of bringing Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda to justice and preventing the emergence of other terrorist networks. As before, the speech was broadcast again and again in many media, and was spread around the world.

   Because the media system keep reporting Bush administration’s announcement, as long as the repeated attacking image, many people started to believe that the invasion of Iraq is the just war. And as Bush said, it is for the world peace.

   The television companies and news agencies seem like helping the government to do the propaganda indirectly, they try to convince the citizens that we should support the war. Audiences who rely entirely on the television and newspaper as only information resources  can easily believe it, they might think Iraq as a horrible country without even know anything about their culture or background.

    Due to the ownership in old media system, the government has more chance to control the news that is going to be aired. Undoubtedly, this is also the most effective way to persuade the citizens and ask agreements for some big issues such as launching a war. 

    However, because of the new public sphere like Internet, people can express the different opinions from television or newspaper. For example, during the Iraq war, lots of people had formed different groups to against the war on the website; some of  them such as photographers and journalists went to Iraq and showed us the real life there by putting articles and photos on their blog; and some people even used these photos to make moving videos and spread them widely on Internet.

      There is a bunch of voices to against the war that can not be seen in the old medium. Without the ownership, everyone has equal rights to express their views and spread them to one another.

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In the past, there was a dominant communication theory that explains the relationship between media and the public. It is called ‘Stimulus – Response theory’ or S-R theory, and it said that the media had a very powerful and direct impact on the people watching TV or reading a newspaper. In other words, when people watch the television, their ideas are very easily manipulated by the media. According to this theory, an audience is passive, dependent and vulnerable, which means that the way they view the world is very depending on the perspective of the media.

However, in these days it appears that this theory is no longer outstanding. Above all, S-R theory underestimated the public’s potential capabilities of criticizing the media. As people are well-educated, they begin watching the media very carefully. They notice that some media are biased and it could be very dangerous.

The internet also plays a very important role in making people aware of the possible danger of the biased media. Through this new public sphere, people realize that the facts they believed as a firmed truth could be changed when they are seen from the other perspective of view. As I told you before, TV and newspaper was the only public source of the information. But, now people can get more various and diverse information that they need on the Internet whenever they want.

Because of such reasons, it seems that it’s hard for the media to manipulate the idea of audience in the way they have used so far. However, it’s also true that the main media sources such as TV and newspaper are still powerful and have a great impact on people’s behavior in every single day.  Why? Why is it still influential? There might be a lot of reasons for it, but today I want to introduce you one interesting theory to explain this phenomena; Hegemony by Antonio Gramsci.

Here is the definition of ‘Hegemony’ by the Wikipedia:

Hegemony (Greek: ἡγεμονία hēgemonía, English: [UK] /hɨˈɡɛməni/, [US]: pronounced /hɨˈdʒɛməni/; “leadership” or “hegemon” for “leader”) [1] is the political, economic, ideological or cultural power exerted by a dominant group over other groups, regardless of the explicit consent of the latter. While initially referring to the political dominance of certain ancient Greek city-states over their neighbors, the term has come to be used in a variety of other contexts, in particular Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci‘s theory of cultural hegemony.

The most important part of this idea, I think, is that there is the ‘explicit consent’ of the ruled class. When a dominant group spread some ideologies that benefit them, they always insist that it benefits everyone. But, it’s not true at all. Because the other group believes that it’s really helpful to all of them, they don’t resist against it. I might say that’s why and how the biased media works to the public.

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For the century, it seems that there is unbreakable myth of the media, which is that they always tell people only the truth or the fact. Of course, people nowadays are more likely to be aware of the possible danger of the media that could deliver the ‘partial’ fact happening in the real society as whole thing. However, it’s true that there are still many people who strongly believe that the media is the reality itself.

Historically, the traditional media such as newspaper and TV has been very useful – and actually the only – reliable public source of the information. Most of them have started their days with the front page of newspaper and they have slept just after turning off TV. Therefore, it’s fair to say that after the invention of the newspaper, people’s daily lives have been always with the media. Considering the impact that such media have on the people, it’s not surprising that people have firmed faith in the media.

The reason why the media cannot show the reality as it is to the public is quite simple. Whether it is TV or newspaper, they have to convey the news with very limited space. Do you think a picture tube or a paper can contain all the events happening all around the world? Of course not.

First, the journalists have to choose which events or news are the most important. Then, they have to describe them in limited space. Even though he or she is the best journalist ever, the words are not enough to explain the reality itself because the fact could be change differently according to the viewer. In that sense, there is no ‘neutral’ fact. All the fact contains specific perspectives (Of course, there are some differences of degree).

However, it could be very critical for the public especially because of the fact that they could be controlled by the media. More precisely, the media might manipulate people’s ‘idea’ or even belief. Concerning the normal company, people keep very critical eyes to watch their corruption and other illegal behaviors. But, they are very easy going on the broadcasting center or press company because they don’t think the press is the company which chases the profit as its best goal.

The more dangerous thing in this point is that there could be some group of people who try to archive their own private purpose using this nature of the public that believe the media always tell the true. Then here is the question; who are they, why they’re doing those kinds of thing? In the next posting, I will talk about this using Gramsci’s Hegemony theory. Thanks 

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