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What are institutions?

There are many ways to approach a study of the media. So far, we have looked at the texts the media produces (media language), the people who consume them (audiences ) and the way life is shown in those texts (representation.) Finally, we need to take a slightly different approach and 'look behind the curtain' at the organisations who are responsible for producing these texts and releasing them to the world - the  INSTITUTIONS who make up the actual media industry.

As ever, it's important to understand why knowing this stuff is important.  Let's use the US presidential election as an example. Republican nominee Donald Trump has frequently complained that his real rival is not Hillary Clinton, the Democrat's nominee, but the American media, which he accuses of bias against him. He has gone so far as to suggest curtailing the freedom of the press and changing the law to make it easier to sue journalists. He has banned certain newspapers from his meetings and often names individual journalists as particular examples of those working against him. 

Ownership and influence

Is he right? Many studies have shown that the majority of the US Media is slanted towards the left wing (that is, they are more likely to sympathise with the Democratic party.) There are exceptions - Barack Obama was accused of having banned the very right-leaning Fox News from his press conferences. Whether he actually did or not is a matter of some confusion; it may have been an exaggeration by Fox news themselves. The point is, these organisations are not completely objective reporters of 'the truth' - they have biases and, in some cases, are actively trying to affect the beliefs and votes of their audiences.

As Media students, we understand that media language can be used to encode representations and ideologies, and that certain audiences are going to respond in different ways to these things. If we are to fully understand what is going on when we engage with the media, then it is necessary to understand who it is who is doing the constructing and what their motives might be.

Obviously, the Media is made up of a vast number of institutions. If we look at different sectors of the Media, however, we find that a few big compaines tend to dominate. Hollywood is basically six companies, for example: Universal, Disney, Warner Bros., Fox, Sony and Paramount. As such, the people who control these studios have a huge amount of influence over the kinds of films that get made, the people who get employed, the representations and ideas that are communicated through film. The same is true in other sectors - the people who control companies like Apple or Facebook have enormous power in the modern world.


So who are these people? It's probably easiest to look at the News Media for clear examples of why it helps to know who controls the institutions. Take as an example the recent stories about immigration in the UK. This is a topic which provokes strong feeling, and the news media have a choice about whether to encourage or calm those feelings, and represent the issue of immigration accordingly.

Clearly, these particular newspapers feel strongly that immigration is a problem for the UK. The language and images they use are heavily loaded and they are clearly trying to provoke a certain response from their audiences. Two of these papers, The Daily Mail and The Sun, are Britain's biggest selling newspapers, so obviously their chosen representations are going to have a sizeable impact.

To focus on The Sun, it is published by News UK, which in turn is a subsidiary of News Corp, one of the world's largest Media conglomerates. It is controlled by Rupert Murdoch. Go here to get a sense of the range of companies controlled by one company and, basically, one man. The Sun, The Times, The Wall Street Journal, Star TV, Sky TV, Fox News (and the whole Fox stable), National Geographic, Dow Jones... (They used to own the South China Morning Post also!) Add literally hundreds of newspapers, magazines, academic publishers and various online interestes, and you will realise that there is a very good chance that you are consuming media produced by this company. It is perhaps relevant, then, that Rupert Murdoch is widely regarded as a passionately right-wing thinker who is more than willing to use his Media interests to achieve his various goals. The Sun, for example, is widely credited for deciding the outcome of the 1993 General Election in Britain. More recently, Murdoch said he supported Britain's withdrawal from the European Union ('Brexit') because 'When I go into Downing Street they do what I say; when I go to Brussels they take no notice.' (As ever, a Media student will check the source for this quote and decide for themselves how accurate it is likely to be!)




Media regulation - that is, the law as it applies to the media - is an extremely complex area and so we're only going to get a very general sense of it.

Obviously, different countries regulate the media to different extents. China, for example, controls large parts of the media (China Daily, for instance, is a government mouthpiece) and allows only limited freedom to those parts it does not actually control (shutting down flickr and youtube, for example, when they were used to share videos and photos of demonstrations against the government.)

In the West, things are usually different. (It's not as clear-cut as that seems, though; the Chinese media often has more freedom than people think, and there are many issues with prress freedom in the West also.) Generally, the Media regulates itself. That is, the government does not tell them what they can or can't do; they design their own rules. They are keen to keep these rules fairly strict and to make sure people adhere to them precisely because they want to avoid government control.

So, there different organisations to regulate different parts of the press. The UK print media, for example, (newspapers and magazines, and including online versions of those publications) are regulated by the Independent Press Standards Organisation (IPSO). In America there is no regulatory body at all, so it is much harder to get an understanding of what is and is not acceptable. (See UK regulatory bodies for other Media forms here.)

To get an idea of the kinds of things IPSO investigate, look at their website here.​ See their Code of Practice here. 

Both these magazine covers were banned or never released (to avoid banning) in many countries; looking at the range of things IPSO consider unacceptable, do you think they would have been blocked in the UK?


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