[MCAT] Television and Public Opinion

Of all the forms of media, television has the strongest influence on public opinion.

Describe a specific situation in which television might not have the strongest influence on public opinion. Discuss what you think determines whether or not television has the strongest influence on public opinion.

* * * *

Television is more vivid and engaging than radio, more up-to-date than movies and documentaries, more programmed towards issues that invoke “public opinion” than music and shows, and perhaps most importantly, it also has more audience than any other traditional forms of media. This places television in a position to better influence public opinion than the rest. But what is “public opinion”? Is it the shared values or believes of a significant portion of the society? Or is it the collection of different opinions from every member of the public? For the sake of our discussion, let’s define “opinion” as what a person think of something or someone, with the connotation of moral judgment, and “public opinion” as the opinion of every members in a society.

National television programs can reach millions of viewers in an instant, and frequently these programs cover stories that would influence what we think of the subjects in them. For example, a news story on CBC about the crackdown on demonstrating Tibetan monks by the Chinese government caused an uproar in the Canadian community and greatly influenced the Canadian public opinion of the politically restrictive regime.

However, the influence of television on public opinion as a medium may arguably be less universal than the Internet, especially for some specific subjects. The newest technological progress cannot be covered adequately by any television program if only because of the speed and quantity of these advances. Instead, the army of bloggers, technical journalists, and online discussion forums lead the eyes and ears of the explorers and developers of the computer world. When Microsoft launches the World Wide Telescope, a ground-breaking project that maps out our understanding of the universe in an intuitive, 3D simulation map, it is first demonstrated in the TED conference and uploaded to the Internet. Soon it got the attention of countless bloggers, and the buzz spread through the cyberspace. This changed many people’s opinion about Microsoft, which was widely perceived as a monstrously large, arrogantly money-thirsty monopoly which lacked the innovation and energy of some of its competitors.

Had the World Wide Telescope been aired on national television, would it have caused the same effect on public opinion as the Internet? No, because the audience that would be excited about such technological break-throughs are moving away from the television as a provider of information. The television nowadays is only a source of entertainment for the younger generation, and CSI does not really have much influence on the public opinion of anything. The key in determining the dominance of television and the Internet as the major influence of public opinion, then, is where the audience is who would care to have an opinion on this issue at all.


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