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  • Pluralist and Marxist Theories of the Mass Media: An Introduction

Click here for article from Open Democracy by Tom Mills on history of establishment bias at the BBC New Link added October 2015

Click here for article from London Review of Books by Paul Myerscough on the mass media and Jeremy Corbyn New Link added October 2015

Click here for article from The Conversation  on alleged bias at the BBC by Professor Ivor Graber Of University of Sussex New Link added August 2015

Click here for Loughborough University coverage of the Mass Media in the 2015 General Election  New link added May 2015

Click here and here for two recent Guardian articles on the BBC in the Thatcher years. New links added March 2015

Click here for a critical assessment of the organisation and activities of the Mass Media in the USA [Video 25 minutes: You Tube]

Click here for recent Opinion Poll for Guardian [November 2013] showing  respondents more likely to  believe that the BBC has a left-wing bias than  to believe that it has a right-wing bias

Click here and here for articles suggesting that the BBC has a Right Wing Bias

Click here for a 9 part series of Podcasts on Media Sociology produced by Steve Bassett of Park College Eastbourne. New and very useful  link added March 2014

Click here for a series of Podcasts produced by T. M. Dams on  Film and Media Studies .Especially relevant are  5 Podcasts on Mass Media and Ideology and the Podcast on Press Ownership New and very useful  link added March 2014.

  1. Media Representations and Ideology: Introduction
  2. Marx and False  Consciousness
  3. False Class Consciousness and Patriarchy
  4. False Needs; The Frankfurt School
  5. Gramsci and Hegemony
  6. Press Ownership

            When we analyse Pluralist and Marxist  views of the Mass Media, this helps us to make some overall assessment of the role of the Mass Media in UK. society. Are the Mass Media helping to protect a basically fair, democratic society or are they helping to justify an unfair society dominated by a rich and powerful minority who organise society in their own interests against the interests of the vast majority of society’s members? Will the mass media cover the activities of all pressure groups equally accurately and fairly?.

             The main aspects of the Pluralist theory of the Mass Media are as follows:

            1. Societies such as the UK. are reasonably democratic.

            2. Political power in these societies is divided among a wide variety of political parties and pressure groups.

            3. The citizens can exercise power in their own right in various ways.

            4. There are disputes from time to time but they can be resolved via existing political institutions. There is certainly no need for radical political change to resolve our problems.

            5. The State is neutral. It does not systematically favour some groups at the expense of others but aims to take all decisions in the national interest.

            6. Within this overall framework, the Mass Media make important contributions to the maintenance of democracy.

            7. The Press is privately owned and relatively free of State control so that there is far more freedom of the Press to criticise government than was the case in former Communist societies, for example.

            8. The Broadcast Media also have considerable independence. Censorship is occasionally necessary but is kept within limits.

            9. Government is subjected to regular criticism from investigative reporters and combative TV. and radio interviewers who do their best to keep the public informed.

            10. It is admitted that the Press, overall, is pro- Conservative but the Tory Press is sometimes very critical of Tory governments and there are also well established Labour and Liberal papers.

            11. The national Press do reflect a rather moderate spectrum of political opinion but they are merely reflecting public opinion, not creating it.

            12. There are, in any case, more radical newspapers to appeal to the more radical minority.

            13. Individuals can make their own views known via letter writing, phone ins and open door programmes. In principle, they can set up their own newspapers although this is obviously expensive.

            14. With regard to Press bias, it is claimed that readers recognise this and discount it. They rely for their political news more on TV. and radio which are largely bound to be politically unbiased.

            15. Pluralists do criticise the Mass Media but not fundamentally.

Note: The recent phone hacking scandal suggests that employees  at News International newspapers have been prepared to break the law in order to secure information which has infringed individual privacy. However you might also argue that the fact that this story has come to light in the mass media illustrates its investigative qualities which also provides some support for the democratic pluralist approach to the study of the mass media and that if Rupert Murdoch's plans to take full ownership of BSkyB are blocked this will help to restrict the extent of monopoly ownership and control within the mass media. Click here for BBC coverage of the phone hacking scandal.


            The Marxist view of the Mass Media is significantly different.

            1. Marxists are very critical of capitalist societies and believe that the Mass Media stand in the way of necessary social change.

            2. Capitalist societies give only the impression of democracy. There is no real democracy.

            3. In reality, the State defends the interests of the capitalist class, (the Bourgeoisie) at the expense of the working class (the Proletariat)

            4. Individuals are socialised to accept the dominance of the Bourgeoisie and to accept, in many cases, roles as poorly educated, poorly paid workers in an unjust unequal economic and political system.

            5. The Mass Media are said to contribute to a process of socialisation which encourages exploited groups to accept their own exploitation without question.

            6. Owners of the Press are very rich and likely to be pro- Conservative. Editors and journalists are likely to reflect the political views of owners for career reasons.

            7. There are non-Conservative newspapers but these are either mildly social democratic national papers or small circulation socialist newspapers which few shops will sell.

            8. Radical critics of capitalism are severely treated in he Mass Media in an attempt to discredit their views. This is has been true in the recent past of radical political individuals such as Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill and of political groups such as Militant Tendency.

            9. News values, agenda setting, norm setting and other sources of bias mean that only some issues are covered and that these issues are not presented neutrally. The Mass Media choose what to report and how to report it and therefore provide a biased view of the world.

            10.When the Mass Media do develop explanations of social problems such as unemployment, poverty or crime, there is, according to John Westergaard an attempt to present such issues as isolated and, in a sense, irrational disturbances  and certainly not as evidence of fundamental social conflict.

            11. It is also suggested that the Mass Media help to sustain capitalism through its provision of entertainment which dissuades people from careful consideration of political questions. There is some thought provoking entertainment but not much!

            12. The Mass Media do not simply reflect public opinion but actively help to form it. They encourage people to accept ideas which help to maintain the dominance of a Ruling Class. In Marxist terms, they encourage people to accept a Ruling Class Ideology.


Click here for Andy Beckett's review of "Murdoch's Politics: How One Man's Thirst for Wealth and Power Shapes Our World" by David McKnight

Click here for some recent information from Democratic Audit on trends in political affiliations of the British press

Click here for a PREZI presentation by Stuart Mitchell on ownership and control of the mass media. You will notice that towards the end of this presentation the author distinguishes between Marxist and Neo-Marxist accounts of the mass media and also introduces the Post-Modernist Perspective on the Mass Media. I have not covered these aspects in this introductory document but there are nevertheless extremely important elements of several Sociology specifications.

Click here for a resource produced by Chris Livesey which usefully distinguishes between Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspectives on the mass media.

 Click here for a revision presentation on the mass media from Sociology Exchange via Slideshare/

Click here for a series of audio lectures with slides on Antonio Gramsci presented by Professor Bob Jessop