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Article

The spiral of silence theory provides insight into the ways in which perceptions of public opinion can lead to changes in opinion expression behavior. Conceptualized in a political communication context, the central claim of the theory is that individuals’ fear of social isolation motivates them to continuously evaluate the climate of opinion through both experiences with the media and interpersonal communication. Upon assessment, individuals either find themselves in a situation where their opinion aligns with the majority or minority. Accordingly, those who find their opinion does not align with the dominant opinion are likely to conceal their opinions while those who find their opinion aligns with the majority are more likely to express them. Empirical research testing the spiral of silence theory has predominately focused on measurement of focal variables and methods of empirical testing. Advances have been made in regard to micro-level factors, such as creating universally applicable measures of psychological attributes. However, limited work has explored macro-level factors, such as appropriateness of issues, application to computer-mediated communication environments, and tools used to identify circumstances vulnerable to spiral of silence effects. Nonetheless, the practical value of the spiral of silence theory for health and risk communicators can be utilized by modifying campaign efforts to anticipate and counteract fluxes in public opinion.

Article

Editorial journalism and newspapers’ editorial opinions represent an area of research that can make an important contribution to our understanding of the relationship between the press and politics. Editorials are a distinctive format and are the only place in a newspaper where the opinions of a paper as an organization are explicitly represented. Newspapers and the journalists who write editorials play a powerful role in constructing political debate in the public sphere. They use their editorial voice to attempt to influence politics either indirectly, through reaching public opinion, or directly, by targeting politicians. Editorial journalism is at its most persuasive during elections, when newspapers traditionally declare support for candidates and political parties. Despite the potential of editorial opinions to influence democratic debate, and controversy over the way newspapers and their proprietors use editorials to intervene in politics, editorial journalism is under-researched. Our understanding of the significance of this distinctive form of journalism can be better understood by exploring four key themes. First, asking “What is editorial journalism?” establishes the context of editorial journalism as a unique practice with opinion-leading intentions. Several characteristics of editorial journalism distinguish it from other formats and genres. Editorials (also known as leading articles) require a distinctive style and form of expression, occupy a special place in the physical geography of a newspaper, represent the collective institutional voice of a newspaper rather than that of an individual, have no bylines in the majority of countries, and are written with differing aims and motivations to news reports. The historical development of journalism explains the status of editorials as a distinctive form of journalism. Professional ideals and practices evolved to demand objectivity in news reporting and the separation of fact from opinion. Historically, editorial and advocacy journalism share an ethos for journalism that endeavors to effect social or political change, yet editorial journalism is distinctive from other advocacy journalism practices in significant ways. Editorials are also an integral part of the campaign journalism practiced by some newspapers. Second, research and approaches in the field of political communication have attributed a particularly powerful role to editorial journalism. Rooted in the effects tradition, researchers have attributed an important role to editorials in informing and shaping debate in the public sphere in four ways: (1) as an influence on readers, voters, and/or public opinion; (2) as an influence on the internal news agendas and coverage of newspapers; (3) as an influence on the agendas and coverage in other news media; and (4) as an influence on political or policy agendas. Theorizing newspapers as active and independent political actors in the political process further underpins the need to research editorial journalism. Third, editorial journalism has been overlooked by sociological studies of journalism practices. Research provides a limited understanding of the routines and practices of editorial journalists and the organization of editorial opinion at newspapers. Although rare, studies focusing on editorial journalism show that editorial opinion does not simply reflect the influence of proprietors, as has often been assumed. Rather, editorial opinions are shaped by a complex range of factors. Finally, existing research trajectories and current developments point to new challenges and opportunities for editorial journalism. These challenges relate to how professional norms respond to age-old questions about objectivity, bias, and partisanship in the digital age.

Article

Mira Sotirovic

Journalism defined itself as a profession in opposition to sensationalism and propaganda at the beginning of the 20th century. The American Society of News Editors statement of principles was written to codify “sound practice and just aspirations” of journalism after the public learned how the press was complicit in misinforming and deceiving the American people during World War I. As part of a massive propaganda campaign to win support for the war, the government fed false information and misleading stories to the press to make the public see the war as they desired it to be seen. Most definitions of propaganda converge toward the idea of organized influence on group attitudes through manipulation of symbols for a desired purpose of propagandist. The ASNE 1923 statement of principles clearly differentiated journalism from propaganda by its processes (to inform and scrutinize) and its purpose (to hold power accountable). However, many times since then the news media have been often accused of unintentionally becoming one of the most effective vehicles of political propaganda. Journalism’s proximity to the political world, and at the same time its obligation to bring independent and impartial scrutiny to that world, creates a set of contradictions and opens cracks where propaganda can get a foothold. In the political world, truth is to a large degree subjective and irreducible to facts. Journalistic practices that equate truth to a collection of facts, without questioning of why these particular facts are chosen and how they are presented, introduce various biases that amount to propaganda. Subtle suggestions based on facts, and faulty interpretations that do not follow from facts make propaganda truly dangerous because it is hidden behind ideologies of a free and objective press. With the growing mastery of media technology, propaganda is becoming an even more formidable force, perhaps easier to detect but more difficult to combat.

Article

Bruce W. Hardy

The relationship between public opinion and journalism has long been a considered a cornerstone of modern functioning democracies. This important relationship has been the focus of scholarship across broad disciplines such as journalism studies, communication, sociology, philosophy, and political science. One hundred and twenty years ago, French sociologist Gabrielle Tarde outlined the press–conversation–opinion–action model to illustrate the role that the press and journalists have on initiating conversation among citizens, forming public opinion, and how this opinion translates into civic action that fosters social change. Highly related to Tarde’s press–conversation–opinion–action model are current theories of journalism and public opinion such as agenda-setting, priming, the two-step flow hypothesis, diffusion of innovation, and the spiral of silence. All of these theories relate to how the press can inform citizens, foster interactions with others, shape their opinions, and mobilize citizens into civic engagement and political action. However, in today’s mobile, digital, and highly segmented communication landscape defined by “post-truth” and “alternative facts” and where emotions resonate more than evidence because of audience biases and identity protective cognition, the problem of the spread of misinformation has caused a great deal of consternation among journalists, pundits, and public opinion scholars, leading to a global rise in fact-checking. But because much of the misleading and deceptive claims in today’s communication environment appear first on social media, there is currently a fervent quest for automated computational fact-checking.

Article

The public sphere is a social entity with an important function and powerful effects in modern, democratic societies. The idea of the public sphere rests on the conviction that people living in a society, regardless of their age, gender, religion, economic or social status, professional position, sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, or nationality, should be able to publicly express their thoughts, ideas, and opinions about issues that matter to them and impact their lives. This expression should be as free as possible in form and function and should operate through means and methods that people themselves deem suitable, so not via channels that are official or state-sanctioned. The classic Habermasian idea of the public sphere is that it is used by private individuals (not officials or politicians) who should be able to converse with each other in a public-spirited way to develop opinions that impact state or public-body decisions and policies. Also contained within this classic idea is the conviction that public sphere conversations should be rational (i.e., logical, evidence-based, and properly motivated and argued using an acceptable set of rhetorical devices) in order to convince others of the usefulness of a position, statement, or opinion. In commonsensical, political, and journalistic understandings, the public sphere is a critical component of a democracy that enables ordinary citizens to act as interlocutors to those who hold power and thereby hold them to account. As such it is one of the elements whereby democracy as a system is able to claim legitimacy as the “rule of the people.” Journalism’s imbrication in the social imaginary of the public sphere dates back to 17th- and 18th-century Europe when venues like coffee houses, clubs, and private homes, and media like newspapers and newsletters were being used by a mixture of gentry, nobility, and an emerging middle class of traders and merchants and other educated thinkers to disseminate information and express ideas. The conviction that journalism was the key vehicle for the conveyance of information and ideas of public import was then imbedded in the foundations of the practice of modern journalism and in the form exported from Western Europe to the rest of the world. Journalism’s role as a key institution within and vehicle of the public sphere was thus born. Allied to this was the conviction that journalism, via this public sphere role and working on behalf of the public interest (roughly understood as the consensus of opinions formed in the public sphere), should hold political, social, and economic powers to account. Journalists are therefore understood to be crucial proxies for the millions of people in a democracy who cannot easily wield on their own the collective voices that journalism with its institutional bases can produce.

Article

Public spheres are sites of communicative interaction that feature citizens turning their attention to collective problems and democratically legitimate solutions. Closely associated with German critical theorist Jürgen Habermas, the idea of public spheres constituted by a range of publics and counterpublics animates a broad array of interdisciplinary scholarship relating to democracy and political theory, argumentation and deliberation, citizenship and civic engagement, media ecologies and the press, and institutions and power relations. Habermas originally theorized the emergence of the bourgeois public sphere as a counterpoint to the aristocratic regimes of early modern Europe, aiming to rescue select democratic practices from an otherwise flawed ideology. Critics of Habermas’s early formulation of the bourgeois public sphere have noted the presence of a multiplicity of public spheres, rather than a single public sphere, the problem of the public/private divide that is definitive of the public sphere, the role of bodies and emotions in addition to language and reason in the formation and operation of publics and counterpublics, the role of media technologies in sustaining and expanding critical publicity, and the difficulties in extracting knowledge claims from the power relations that constitute them. The idea of public spheres has remained resilient despite these criticisms, as any functioning democracy requires a space between the family, the market, and the state to thematize, problematize, and address the challenges of life in groups. Strong public spheres are characterized by hospitality to counterpublics, groups that distinguish themselves from the rational-critical debate of dominant publics through different dispositions, styles, and strategies for steering public attention. Scholarship on public spheres, publics, and counterpublics continues to proliferate, with new directions accounting for the increased prominence of visuality, ecology, digitality, and transnationality in deliberating bodies.

Article

The concept of publics and related notions such as receivers, audiences, stakeholders, mass, markets, target groups, and the public sphere are central to any discussion of formal communication programs between organizations or other strategic communicators and the individuals or groups with which they strive to communicate. The concept explains why individuals and collectivities of individuals are motivated to communicate for themselves (to seek or otherwise acquire information), with similar individuals to form organized groups, and with formal organizations to make demands on those organizations or to shape the behavior of the organizations. Theories of publics originated in the 1920s as the result of debates over the nature of citizen participation in a democracy, the role of the mass media in forming public opinion, the role of public relations practitioners in the process, and the effects of communicated messages on publics, audiences, and other components of society. J. Grunig developed a situational theory of publics in the 1960s that has served as the most prominent theory of publics for 50 years, and J.-N. Kim and J. Grunig recently have expanded that theory into a situational theory of problem solving. These theories have been used to identify and segment types of publics, to explain the communication behaviors of those publics, to conceptualize the effects of formal communication programs, to understand the cognitive processes of members of publics, and to explain the development of activist groups. Other scholars have suggested additions to these theories or alternatives to more thoroughly explain how communication takes place between members of publics and to identify latent publics that are largely ignored in the situational theories.

Article

Persuasive messages use statistical evidence in order to convince an audience to accept a conclusion. Statistical evidence represents a compilation of experiences structured and collected in a manner that permits expression in mathematical form. Research demonstrates that the use of statistical evidence increases the persuasiveness of a message, and a message that uses both statistical and narrative evidence generates the greatest persuasiveness. Statistical evidence can take the form of summarizing the collective opinion of experts on a topic or an expression of the collective set of experiences. The challenge becomes gaining acceptance of statistical expressions of experience versus what is perceived as the narrative or lived experience of the single person. Statistical evidence is often presented using a mathematical expression to indicate the size or force of the evidence. The accumulation of statistical evidence often involves the use of meta-analysis to reduce Type I (false positive) and Type II (false negative) error. The use of evidence is strategic and can target specific elements of belief by understanding the structure of beliefs and the connectivity among elements. The use of the Subjective Probability Model provides a means to capitalize on the use of evidence by changing probabilities in beliefs to increase the effectiveness of a message campaign. Statistical evidence, however, may be ineffective under circumstances referred to as the “base-rate fallacy.” The base-rate fallacy occurs when the presentation of statistical information is accepted, but examples are used that contradict the base-rate. The impact of the use of the example is to create a shift in the belief in the typicality of the example, despite knowledge of the base-rate. Fear appeals provide a particularly useful and important application of statistical evidence in the pursuit of public health campaigns. The tenets of the Extended Parallel Processing Model indicate that message effectiveness relies on a combination of: (a) perceived severity of the threat, (b) perceived vulnerability to the threat, (c) perceived efficacy of the solution, and (d) perceived personal efficacy of the solution. Each element is largely impacted by the application and use of statistical information to make claims. The use of statistics generally outlines the argument and supports the conclusion offered in support of a conclusion offered to the message recipient. Statistical evidence when used in a message often offers data or information that becomes the justification for a conclusion. A large part of a message becomes gaining acceptance of information by an audience, then explaining (reasoning) to the audience how those facts support a conclusion, often involving some type of recommendation for behavior. Understanding statistical evidence requires understanding how the material functions within the context of the belief system of the individual.

Article

One of the most difficult puzzles of contemporary international relations is how to balance the human rights of freedom of opinion, religion, and expression that are set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, with calls for criminalization of blasphemy (defamation of God, religion, religious dogmas, personalities, scriptures, and artifacts) on the part of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the League of Arab States, Iran, and other Muslim countries, in the wake of the Iranian Revolution, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, in the United States, publication of Danish and French cartoons that satirized Prophet Mohammad and equated Islam with terrorism, and the Islamist terrorist attack against the French satirical newspaper, Charlie Hebdo, in January 2015. The question is how to strike a balance between freedom of expression, which includes non-verbal symbolic speech and legal expressive conduct, with calls for respect for religion (in word and deed), as well as the installation of a global, anti-blasphemy regime under international law. Calls for international criminalization of blasphemy and enactment of global anti-blasphemy laws that would globalize respect for religion under international law began in 1988, when Salman Rushdie, a British-Indian novelist, published the Satanic Verses, an unorthodox narrative of the life of Prophet Mohammad and of Islamic dogma. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini promptly issued a fatwa (religious decree) pronouncing the death sentence on Rushdie. In 2001, Buddhists, art historians, and scholars around the world were horrified when the Taliban destroyed the 1,700-year-old Buddhas of Bamiyan statues in Afghanistan. From 2013–2017, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (the Islamic State) went on a rampage, destroying ancient, pre-Islamic, Greco-Roman, Christian, and other monuments in Iraq and Syria. The actions of the Ayatollah, the Taliban, and the Islamic State represent a deployment of the argument of force and coercion rather than the force of argument and dialogue to impose acceptance of religious dogmas, personalities, and narratives. People of all religious faiths condemned the death sentence passed on Salman Rushdie, as well as the destructive actions of the Taliban and the Islamic State, drawing a distinction between modes of expression—books, cartoons, news reports, and the like—that criticize religion and illegal actions such as religiously motivated intimidation and violence. However, historically, the major religions—Christianity (specifically, the Roman Catholic Church and the Anglican Church), Islam, certain strands of Buddhism, Hinduism, and others—have not made a distinction between protected speech that is critical of religion and illegal actions directed at believers. They have not distinguished between their religion’s beliefs as philosophical worldviews and individual believers as human persons subject to criticism. In Islam, criticism or satirical cartoons of Prophet Mohammad or of Islam, as well as desecration of the Qur’an, are considered offensive actions that constitute insults against all Muslims. Most member countries of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation interpret national and international law as criminalizing all anti-Islamic expressions and call for a global anti-blasphemy regulatory regime. This would be tantamount to a universal, anti-humanist posture that places religious rites and sentiments over human rights. The question is whether putting religion and other metaphysical worldviews beyond the reach of critical examination and scholarly interrogation is consistent with the libertarian values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Legal interpretations of the human right of freedom of expression and of the politico-theological concept of blasphemy are grounded in specific national, religious, historical, and politico-cultural contexts. These different national and cultural postures toward freedom of expression and blasphemy can be explained by the concept of “establishmentality,” a neologism that describes different politico-cultural mentalities or logics with respect to the role and place of religion in the life of the state, the law, and the public sphere. In Muslim countries with constitutional or statutory state religions—Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the Maldives, and others—the penalty for blasphemy is death. Blasphemy is also criminalized in the rest of the Middle East. In Western countries with established (state) religions—the United Kingdom and Scandinavia—blasphemy laws have either been repealed or are not being enforced. By way of contrast, the United States has an anti-establishmentarian constitutional regime. The First Amendment is a charter of negative rights that forbids the establishment of religion (creation of a state religion). In the last few years, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and the Arab League have put pressure on the United Nations to ban blasphemy and institute a regime that puts region and religious sentiments above criticism. The danger is that the establishment of a universal anti-blasphemy right grounded in the theological concept of respect for religion would be clearly at variance with the freedom of opinion, religion, and expression provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.