Shortcut: First Lesson: The Power of the Media (pp. 199-201)

In Kaja’s first class at Anoka High, her teacher Ms Nash talks about the power of the media.

She tells the class that the government of the United States consists of three branches or estates. One of these makes the laws. This is called the legislative branch. The second runs the country. This is called the executive branch. The third is the courts, which is called the judicial branch.

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The media are not part of the government, but call themselves the fourth estate, because they see it as their job to control the government. If the government does anything bad, the media will tell the people. This gives the people more power, because politicians want to be re-elected.

Sixty or seventy years ago everybody thought that the media had the power to decide what opinions the audience should have. Experts soon found out that it was not that easy.

For example, people accept what they see or read if it fits with what they already believe. So the media are quite good at telling people that their beliefs are correct. It is far more difficult for the media to change the way people think.

The media still have some power, though. They tell us what questions it is important to have an opinion about. A matter that is ignored by the media may be ignored by everyone. A matter that is covered by the media will be discussed by everyone, including politicians. This is called the media’s agenda setting function.

The media do not tell us what to think, but what to discuss. This makes the media powerful.

Shortcut activity 

a In your own words, explain what the three estates of government are.
b In your own words, explain why the media call themselves the fourth estate.
c In your own words, explain why the media do not decide our opinions.
d In your own words, explain what the media’s agenda setting function is.