Mass Media Effects: Mobilization or Media Malaise?
According to some, the modern mass media have a malign effect on modern democracy, tending to induce political apathy, alienation, cynicism and a loss of social capital – in a word, ‘mediamalaise’. Some theorists argue that this is the result of media content, others that it is the consequence of the form of the media, especially television. According to others, the mass media, in conjunction with rising educational levels, help to inform and mobilize people politically, making them more knowledgeable and understanding. This study investigates the mobilization and mediamalaise hypotheses, and finds little to support the latter. Reading a broadsheet newspaper regularly is strongly associated with mobilization, while watching a lot of television has a weaker association of the same kind. Tabloid newspapers and general television are not strongly associated with measures of mediamalaise. It seems to be the content of the media, rather than its form which is important.
1 I would like to thank the Wissenschafstzentrum Berlin, where I spent the sabbatical year during which most of this article was written, and particularly Andreas Dams for help with computing. The article is based on data collected by the British Social Attitudes survey of 1996, conducted by Social and Community Planning Research. I am grateful to John Curtice and Katarina Thomson of SCPR for very helpful comments on an early version of the article, and to two anonymous reviewers who helped to improve the final version.