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HOWARD BURTON: Virtually everyonehas heard of the terms "mass communication"and "mass media."But what do they really mean?Well, it turns out, somewhat surprisingly,that that's an open question.Denis McQuail, one of the most influential scholarsin the field of mass communication studies,and the fellow who literally wrote the book on the topicmore than 30 years ago, with Mass Communication Theory,
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: insists that the definition of what mass communications isitself necessarily a work in progress, particularlygiven the rapid societal changes that technology has wrought.Intriguingly, however, some thingsare changing much faster than others.McQuail was quick to point out that television, long singledout for imminent obscurity, is still
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: actively serving a function as a medium of family entertainment.Meanwhile, the news industry, through a combinationof transformative technological developmentand increasing concentration of ownership in a few hands,has moved swiftly towards a very new era indeed.But whatever it's called and however it's defined,there's little doubt that the societal role
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: and potential impact of mass communicationsis just as vital today as it ever was.And Denis, who's long been preoccupiedwith the importance of a well-informed publicand the best way of actually achieving it,is a perfect guide to help us go beyond the hypeand sharpen our understanding of what is really at play.[Mass Communication: From Theory to Practice-- A Conversation
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: with Denis McQuail][Chapter 01: The Beginnings of Mass Media:From Elections to Televised Drama]
HOWARD BURTON: I would like to start with discussinga little bit of your personal historyand how you got involved in media and communicationstudies.
DENIS MCQUAIL: I studied history.I did become rather dissatisfied with history.The last year of my study, I had discovered, by chance,something called sociology.And that was something that I hadn't been aware of at all,until that moment.And I examined the calendar of the University of Oxford
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and found that there was one way to study some sociologyin a postgraduate diploma.So I took that.And I had an idea of doing researchin some more applied field, for instance, housing and planning.That was one area where I had an interest.It so happened anyway that by the chances in life that occur,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: I was offered the possibility of working on a new researchunit that had been set up just then,or was just being set up in Leeds University.And this was a project for the studyof the impact of television on British society, a topic which
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: I had not really thought about before that moment.The project was funded by Granada Television, oneof the first of the ITV companieswhen they started commercial television in Britain.So it had a partly public relations good works origin.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: The project spoke to quite strongly feltanxieties in the eastern cultural elitesabout potential benefit or harm, or mainly harm,of this powerful new medium, television,which had only just started to replace radioas the main entertainment medium.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And so it was a very interesting opportunity.And it did involve applying skills of data collectionand experimentation and surveys and analysis, none of whichappealed to me very much.So I was an assistant to a man who had a lot of experiencein the study of the audiences for BBC
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: educational programming.His passion was also measurement of results,and the means by which you can make the bestuse of the public meeting that broadcasting to improvegeneral standards of education and knowledgeand in the society.So it had a social purpose.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And it involved quite a lot of experience and knowledgeand skill about what factors in broadcastingwere most likely to be effective in attracting, keepinginterest and also communicating essential points by wayof either-- of different media-- print, radio, and then
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: audiovisual means.So at that time in the '50s, a major preoccupation of howmedia, different media, would performin relation to each other, at that time in the late '50s,you had, in Britain anyway, a strong anti-commercialtelevision lobby fearing the results of Americanization
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and trivialization and advertisingand consumerism and all these things,instead of the more high-minded BBC mission.
HOWARD BURTON: What were the results of the study?
DENIS MCQUAIL: Well, the first study in itselfwas that we made a long-term plan, a five-year plan.The first study was more or less given to us as a requirement.And that was overtaken as a necessity.And that was a study of an election,because there was imminently in the same year
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: that the unit began, and I joined it,going to be inevitably a general election in the UK.And it was the first time-- it was the first televisionelection in the sense that the first time a majorityof the population had television,and also the first time that a lot of rules
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and limitations on political broadcasting had been removed.So it was previous to that, prior to that,television was more or less kept awayfrom the political process.So there were very interesting questionsabout how this would change the nature of politics,how politics was conducted.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And the results were pretty clearthat the only really demonstrable empirical resultof television's part in the process of communicatingthe election was an increase in, general increase in levelof political information.So the medium informed but it didn't change voting intentions
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: in any systematic way.So it could be said not to persuade.The model for the work was a studydone in the United States.
HOWARD BURTON: There was this whole thingwith Nixon and Kennedy, and the first televised debate.
DENIS MCQUAIL: This was before that.
HOWARD BURTON: Right.That's what I was going to say, because that'sthe story I've heard as a non-expert.You hear about how television had affectedthat election because of the sweat on Nixon's lipand so forth.And people developed this visceral dislike to the man,having seen him for the first time.And I think he himself said, were it only radio,I would have won this election.
DENIS MCQUAIL: That was sort of the fear of an interventionin a relevant kind in the political process in the UK,as a result of which no debates were allowed.So there were no debates, and many years-- in fact,not even now is there a proper frameworkfor any kind of leader debate in the UK, as far as I know.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: I don't so.Every party had power at one time or another.And no party, no government in powerwould yield any change in legal regulationsthat might conceivably give some advantage to their opponent.So it was stalemate.And that was the main concern on the part of politics
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: was television should have preferably no impact at all.No harm to have a bit of information,but better not to intervene in any other wayby way of personality.The outcomes were nearly always in terms of so-called"no significant differences," that whatever research
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: design their experimental message when applied,as long as they were well done.No big change could be found in the public arena.There were too many other influences at work, basically.And that led to a general withdrawalof interest for the time being anyway,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: in the effects of the media.
HOWARD BURTON: So how did this affect you personally?So if there was a withdrawal of interest,what happened on a personal level for you?
DENIS MCQUAIL: It was a more immediate effectin that my immediate mentor and boss died, unfortunately.The project was put on hold.And I was left to find intermediate projects, whichI did.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: I wrote a thesis on television drama.And again, following an idea that televisioncould intervene in the very strongly class-structured
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: pattern of popular taste, because itwas bringing by way of drama on both BBC in the '50sand also in the late '50s, very much on ITV,commercial television, quite a lot of playsfrom the classical repertoire and newly-written plays by up
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and coming authors about contemporary life.What my research tended to show was that plays of any kindtended to fit into a person of expectationfor certain kinds of satisfaction.So people, if they wanted to be entertained,they might be entertained by a Shakespeare comedy
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: without quite realizing that it wassupposed to be a work of genius and studied intensively,or anything else.The cultural quality, so to speak,as determined by the relevant elites and experts,was really not relevant to the great majority
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: of television viewers, who were just watching a play.It might be for different reasons,sometimes to learn about life and be interestedin the world around them, sometimesfor excitement or thrill, sometimesfor general diversion.And the key to the pattern of taste and demandand satisfaction and applause by the audience
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: was some rather continuous and stable pattern of expectationsthat varied according to dispositions and life positionand age, and the usual range of human differentiating factors.[Chapter 02: What is Communication?]I'd become a sociology lecturer and I
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: needed to lead other strings to my bow,as it were, and got interested in media policy.
HOWARD BURTON: Listening to you and having some familiaritywith your work, it seems this is a natural progression for youto make.After all, you seem to be consistently consumedwith passion about the public's accessto information, how they use information, what that can
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: actually achieve, whether technology can affect itin a positive way, in a negative way, in any particular waywhatsoever.I mean, at some level, media is just the toolto provide that sort of access.The real issue is, how does this affect the hearts and mindsof individuals in terms of how they're going to act,how they may vote, what they're going to do,
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: how they react towards each other.I mean, your overall concerns are on a societal level.The media's the mechanism by which you explore that.Is that a fair--
DENIS MCQUAIL: You know, that's quite-- that is true.And I think that was a major flawin quite a lot of the approaches to studying mediaand communication effects, that it was detachedfrom a prior study of society.It was detached from fundamental knowledge of processes
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: of human communication, consideringthe human context, the very great diversity of the whole--all aspects of communication and in particular lives.This was missed, basically.And it was slowly became a corrective
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: to some of the expectations of effects.So it became fairly clear that much communication was actuallymediated through personal contactsand even mass media themselves do not,although they seem to be directly receivedby many people at the same time, really theyare received in context of family circles or friends
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: circles.They are discussed.They enter into conversation.They are filtered through all kinds of barriersin the society and in the social circle of particular groupsin society.And that remains the case that wehave to look at how communication is taking place
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: without reference to the technologies.And that applies to the new media and the social media,so-called, as much as anywhere else.In that period, I spent a little time in the United States--a year at the Annenberg School of Communication.And I got preoccupied with the possibilityof pushing forward the idea of a sort of communication science.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: It was a hopeless idea, really.But I did try, when I came back, to writea book about communication as a social processin the early '70s, in which mass communication was just onechapter of 12.And it looked at organizational communication and interpersonal
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: communication.
HOWARD BURTON: So why was it a hopeless case?
DENIS MCQUAIL: No one really wanted it.There was no home for it.Universities or academies are organizedin departmental lines.And nowhere was-- first of all, no onehad ever agreed on what communication was.They couldn't define it.There had been quite a lot of debate and argument earlier.And it came back to the '30s about what is communication.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And no one ever came up with an answer.There was always a big debate, essentially between thosewho saw it as transmission of facts and information and data,like in systems of--
HOWARD BURTON: This is engineering data packet[INAUDIBLE] and so forth.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Yeah, it was like that.It came from the world of the telephone and telephonyand the scientific basis of that.On the other hand, there was the perspective on communicationas sharing and communication as whenpeople come together and become more like each other.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And that involves a process of osmosis or--
HOWARD BURTON: And also has to do with content on some level.I mean, this seems to me a missing ingredient.As an outsider, I'm listening to this and I'm saying,we can communicate all sorts of things.We have a cat communicating meow to another cat.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Exactly.And when you get to it, when you getto a level of any kind of detail,the territory disperses into fieldswhich are hard to base on any single social scientific
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: perspective.So you've got possibilities from psychology,you've got possibilities from sociology.But communicology never really appealed.[Chapter 03: Critiques of Media, Critiques of Power]
HOWARD BURTON: You mentioned the word "propaganda"a couple of times earlier, the media as a tool to manipulate.Was there any discontent amongst members of the ruling classes?Could they look and say, who is this clownMcQuail with his theories about how we're manipulating peopleand so forth?Did you get any blowback?
DENIS MCQUAIL: I was just described.There was reporting that there were these dangerous characterswith these views that were possibly a little bit unwanted.The first negative formulation of mass media
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: as a dangerous phenomenon in societywas actually a rather conservative one.It was seeing the media as destructiveof the cultural life as controlled
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: by churches and religious groups and family and establishedinstitutions.So it was it a fear in a way of a mob or a mass.That conservative reaction was thenlater replaced by-- especially after the Second WorldWar in the '60s, when you had the influence of the Frankfurt
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: School and neo-Marxist ideas and who votes.Several of the prominent scholarsassociated with the Frankfurt Schoolwho were emigres from Germany in the '30s who promoteda certain view, mostly very critical view,of the mass media as a tool of capitalism and oppression.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: They caught the imagination of not just young people,but they were widely plausible.And I wasn't trying to be an activist.I mean, as far as I could work out,and one has to work things out for himselfwhat the role of an academic or a scientist-- I
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: wasn't perhaps truly a scientist.I wasn't really.But still, I was in a position whereI was responsible for-- answerable for what I said.And it would need to be-- at least I would need to believein it, and I wasn't trying to influence in any particular
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: direction, but still to say what -- or report to, what is,to my mind, the truth in it.It was that kind of attempt to being a critical scholar,but not to advance a particular critical viewof the institutions of society, although that must inevitably
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: follow.
HOWARD BURTON: But there's also the effect,as we talked about earlier, of influencingthe discipline itself.There's a meta-effect about how the discipline evolvesin doing applied sociology.If you're trying to investigate and recognizethe different effects that shape society's thinking,then one has to be affiliated with society.
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: Otherwise, it's just some abstract,purely theoretically removed endeavorthat a bunch of eggheads at a university are pursuing.
DENIS MCQUAIL: No, you're right.I mean, one is definitely here dealingwith issues that go to the heart of the power structure.And actually, there's a power of modern societies.It's a challenge to anyone who's trying to makesense of different views.And of course, some of the interventions in the field
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: were more concerned with the political impact and effectof what they were saying or doing.And that's quite perfectly legitimate objective.It is not quite the same as what a social theorist shouldbe doing, I thought.
HOWARD BURTON: How so?
DENIS MCQUAIL: I still think thereshould be a difference between the interpretation of the worldand the attempt to change it, so to speak.And when the attempt to change itbegins to influence the interpretationand is given priority, then it may
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: reduce the value, the theoretical value,of what is claimed or asserted or--
HOWARD BURTON: What is actually going on.
DENIS MCQUAIL: So you at least to have to face this program.And my own tendency was not to-- maybe a tendencyto sympathize with the critical view, but on the other handnot to pursue it to a point where it was losing touchwith reality, for one thing.[Chapter 04: New Technologies: The False Prophecy of Mass
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: Media's Decline]
DENIS MCQUAIL: The notion that the mass media were alreadyin decline was already being voiced in the-- rightat the beginning of the '70s.And there was plenty of good basisfor it, mostly coming from a party technological business.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: But the possibilities for communicating at willto the public by individuals or groups whowere not part of the system, as it were, became--were multiplying.And you had the examples of private radio,private television, these things could be done.You had photocopy machines.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: You had cassette radios, you had cassettes.
HOWARD BURTON: You had opportunities to test things.
DENIS MCQUAIL: You had all kinds.You had-- even the telephone.No one had quite thought of what that could do at that time.But nonetheless, it was there.All kinds of individual and organizable meansof communication could be assembled and deployedby groups not belonging to the system,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: not controlled by the system.So up to that point, nearly all mass mediahad been, by way of the established newspapersor established broadcasting authorities,very much under the control of government.
HOWARD BURTON: But there were glimmers of other--
DENIS MCQUAIL: There were certainly.There was much more than glimmers,and strongly expressed claims for grassroots communicationsfor alternative.It had community television.You had closed circuit television.Several of these technological developmentsopened up a new theoretical framework, a new paradigm,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: as it were, of liberation through communication,not control and massification.The more liberationist paradigm didnot in itself depend on technology,but it was nevertheless only realizable through technology.And it was also linked to developmentsin the third world and movements on the part of third world
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: countries to free themselves.The old mass communication, mass media,that framework of centralized influence from power centers,institutional power centers-- if governmentthan similar related bodies-- was being challenged.
HOWARD BURTON: And of course it's been challenged ever more.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Ever more.Yeah, increasingly, once the internet had arrivedand the World Wide Web, many researchersturned to the question of how this will change--not the world yet, but the context in which previouslyeverything had been dominated by centrally
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: provided distant sources.And there were very new, optimistic, positiveexpectations of what could happen now.
HOWARD BURTON: But if you look at this as a continuity,rather than this discontinuous, that allof a sudden the late '90s happens and the people couldsay, wow, we have the internet.We have all these new ways of beingable to communicate that are somehow opposed,or these can be positioned against the mass media.If one says, well, hang on.
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: Actually, there were opportunitiesfrom the 1970s onwards.
DENIS MCQUAIL: You could say that.They're not, realistically, not on that scale.
HOWARD BURTON: Of course.
DENIS MCQUAIL: They required-- these had becomea new kind of mass media.I mean, one was reluctantly-- I foundit difficult to know whether these things shouldbe called mass media.And they are not, in the same sensethat the centralized printing and broadcasting media were.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: But they were mass in the sense of being very widelyavailable and open to use to anyone and so on and so on.In that sense, they were a new kind of mass media,without a purpose.They were marked by diversity and independenceand many other characteristics.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: They came with no guarantees.They were somewhat random, somewhat novel.Anyway, it was big-- but it was a gradual.You're right.It didn't break-- there was no sudden new dawn.It was all anticipated since the critique of the mass media
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: as such.The old, centralized mass media hadbeen established as a fairly plausible understandingof the world, despite that early evidenceof apparently no effects.That was put to one side, because it didn't seem accord
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: with the reality of experience looking around the world.It did not seem that there were no effects.It seemed that there were often quite big effectsfrom these media.[Chapter 05: Journalism and Society]
DENIS MCQUAIL: I was seconded to the Royal Commissionon the Press to make a study of standards of press performance,they're called.And this involved developing conceptslike of diversity and objectivity and sensationalism
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and things of that kind that couldbe applied to make judgments about the British newspapers.The purpose of the thing was to respondto many criticisms of the British press in particular.
HOWARD BURTON: So that brings me up to journalism and society.Tell me how that started.Tell me how the genesis of journalism in society began.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Well, I had a contact and a friendat the University of Yekaterinburg in Russia.And I had a couple of things for his little magazinethat he had for his students.And he asked me to write, if I could,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: some small text on theories of journalism.So I did that, partly drawing on thingsI'd written already, just put together somethingthat I thought was a summary perspective on theoriesfor students who were perhaps unfamiliarwith some of the ideas.
HOWARD BURTON: So these were written for undergraduates.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Yeah, these were the Russian studentsof journalism in this university.They had no wider publishing plans at all.I had my own strong interests in journalism, but notto that point expressed very much, except in the workI did for the Royal Commission on the Press.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And so I very much enjoyed enlarging it and bringingtogether perspectives on different aspectsof the position of journalism and in relationnot only to-- well, in terms of key issues,to do with freedom and accountability and relationship
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: to power.
HOWARD BURTON: These are issues that resonate very stronglywith a wide variety of people.You don't have to be an undergraduate of journalismto--
DENIS MCQUAIL: No, you don't.No.But undergraduate journalist students, I thought,could-- and I was thinking of first or second year level--could benefit from a wider perspective than just the craftor task of journalism, and the practical things that they
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: have to that anyway.So it was a larger perspective on whatthey were doing in terms of their rolein society, which I think is a pretty important one.
HOWARD BURTON: I think it's essential.But I mean an interesting dynamicthat you bring out is not only the role of, the societal roleof journalists, but also-- so not so muchwhat journalists have to contribute to societyand how they contribute to society, but almostthe other way around, in a way-- how society impingeson journalism, and the give and take between these two
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: structures, and how society structures journalistsand how journalists in fact themselves structure society.You get political power that comes out into play.You have this role of propaganda.You have freedom of the press.You have liberty, you have truth and so forth.These are questions that I think deserve a much wider airingand a much wider readership.
DENIS MCQUAIL: It was fed by preoccupationsthat I'd had for a long time.
HOWARD BURTON: So let's talk about someof those preoccupations.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Well, first of all,I mentioned the development of concepts,evaluative concepts, that could be empiricallyapplied and tested.So one could make statements about the quality of the media,of media systems, of particular press organs or broadcasting
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: associations or whatever services of mediain terms of, well, in a wide range of terms-- informationalquality terms, in communicative possibility terms,in diversity terms, balance and bias and those things,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and also in the independence and freedom thatis available to journalists-- in theory, anyway--or to the press, how this is being used,whether it does actually make any impacton how the performance goes.Because media vary greatly in how far
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: they're willing to use their independence.They're often inhibited and often pressured about it.
HOWARD BURTON: As someone who's been looking at the presscritically and rigorously, from the Royal Commissionin the '70s all the way through the present,it seems to me that you're uniquely positionedto be able to not only have measured thoughtson these issues, these fundamental issueson a societal level, but also the evolution of the press
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: and how things have changed.I mean, this commission was in the '70s, you said?So this was--
DENIS MCQUAIL: That was in the '70s.
HOWARD BURTON: So this roughly coincided,from an American perspective, with the Watergate hearings.And this is something that, for myself, was a landmark in termsof the role of the critical press,and you have journalists who were raised on the lure of All
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: the President's Men and-- Woodstein, I think,is the epithet-- but anyway, Carl Bernsteinand Bob Woodward.But you've seen this evolve to the present day situationwhere the media, it seems to me, that journalistsor the world of journalism is widely transformed.You have much greater concentration of power
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: in terms of who owns the various media outlets.You have what many would considera critical dumbing-down of media,to the extent where there is a vast diminishmentof investigative journalism.There is not an opportunity for the mediato serve their critical societal functionin terms of being able to inform the body politic
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: and inform the citizens.And at the same time, you have technologybeing involved so that so many people areable to contribute towards what is broadly construedto be journalistic practices, using their iPhones to beable to photograph tanks that are moving from one placeto another, and so forth.So it seems as if we've witnesseda real transformation in the role of journalism
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: and the utility of journalism and the manipulationof journalism in our society.But that's my perspective, as somebodywho doesn't pretend to really understand these things.Is that something that you would concur with,or are things basically the same and it justlooks somewhat differently?
DENIS MCQUAIL: This is where-- thereare a lot of differences between countries and regions and mediasystems.And it's a bit hard to generalize.Some of the things you've said I certainly thinkare quite true and valid.And on the other hand, I'm not quite sure
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: that in the United Kingdom-- it wasn't a great performerin the '70-- is significantly worse now,in a sense, that there is-- the focus in the '70s,from the position of a thing like the RoyalCommission of the Press, was not on the liberating
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: role of the press.It was on-- it was essentially, the key thingwas two things: objectivity, so-called,that people thought it would be possible to havean informative, reliable journalism basedon facts, which was somewhat a doubtful propositionor expectation.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And the other thing was that it should notbe monopolized by any particular political party or--
HOWARD BURTON: Or power structure.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Then there was already quite a high degreeof monopoly and there still is.The monopolists have changed, to some extent.There are different monopolists in charge,although Murdoch spans the 30 years, just about, I think.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: But then the situation in Eastern Europeis quite fundamentally different,because they did have a genuine release in the '90sfrom monolithic control.And there was a flowering of free and independentpublications and so on.And that remains partly true of a good deal
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: of central and east Europe.But the Russian case is a regression, at leastit certainly appears to be in the last 10 years,having made considerable very great progress.Some of the norms of journalistic freedom
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: have been strengthened.But on the other hand, what the empirical research, not so muchmine, is what I can gather from studies, especiallycomparative studies of journalists,is the strong evidence of a public grassrootsresistance to too much freedom, as it were.
HOWARD BURTON: Really?How so?
DENIS MCQUAIL: Well, it's based on a notion of-- maybepatriotism sometimes, nationalism in some cases--a wish for order, and a critique of the excesses of the press,instead of, as one might suppose,it's only the powers that be that want to limit
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: the activities of the press.It isn't.There is a strong constituency that sees this as--and this is true of the United States,as far as the evidence goes, perhaps moreso than other places.
HOWARD BURTON: But couldn't it beargued that this is a vicious circle, to some extent?Couldn't it be argued that one of the reasonsfor this collective expression of willful suppressionof some information in order to fulfillsecurity needs, patriotic needs, what have you, that in itself
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: is a product of the fact that so many people are notsufficiently well-informed, not onlyof the facts on the ground, but alsoat the meta-level of the role of journalism.
DENIS MCQUAIL: There isn't a widespread understandingof that critical role of journalismor the significance of it, even amongst-- even journalistsare not fully agreed on this.I mean, they divide significantlyaccording to the priority they attach to critical perspectives
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: on whatever it may be-- various sourcesof economic and political power.And it isn't just journalists, but alsothe positioning of the mainstreampress as an institution in societywith certain sense of obligation,with all kinds of links to clients and contacts--
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: it's part of the society.The press is not a separate body.It can be identified.It has particular tasks.But it's also very much integrated.And it's also the case that the established press doesn'tsee, necessarily, all that much profitin this kind of activity, that some kinds of criticism are.
HOWARD BURTON: Financial profit, direct--
DENIS MCQUAIL: Economic self-interest, yes,with advertisers, with the public.The audience may get tired of this campaigning,and they may not really want it.They want various forms of diversion and entertainment,human interest, entertainment, and so on.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: There's a whole structure of demand and expectationin which the desire for critical perspectives on societyand more information about what's going wronghas a limited market.I think one has to recognize that the press is notparticularly virtuous.The media are not in themselves a virtuous organization.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And they are not seen as such.And it's not widely understood that a certain amountof license has to go with the benefits of freedomand free expression and free opinion.[Chaper 06: Taking Account: Media Accountabilityand Freedom of Publication]
HOWARD BURTON: This conversation is fascinating,but to some extent frustrating for me.So let me describe my frustration.My frustration is that I feel that Iam-- I have the opportunity to be sittingacross from an eminent sociologist who has thoughtvery deeply about these issues, who is tacking rigorouslybetween these two poles that you had described
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: earlier-- describing a situation,giving a lay of the land, gettinga perspective and an understanding of howthese dynamics are acting in a very objective,non-personal way to do that rigorous analysis.And at the same time, there's the Denis who has his opinions.There's the Denis who would like,
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: I'm sure, in a private conversationto be speculating upon what might happen in a better worldor what might happen in a worse world,or where the frustrations are.And I would like to talk a little bit morewith the second Denis.Because for me as a man on the street,that's what I really care about.I mean, I can look at it and say-- take the examplethat I gave before, about the declineof investigative journalism.
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: Or the fact that journalists do seemto be sensationalistic, or the fact that so many stories seemto be boiled down to incredibly trivial soundbites,or the fact that I don't get a balanced perspective,or the fact that I have pundits whocome on television shows who are self-proclaimed experts, whothemselves-- in whom I have no confidence
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: whatsoever that they actually haveany deep, objective understanding of the situation.This, as a man on the street, this frustrates me.Now, I am not a professor of media studies.I am not someone who is involved in the world of journalism.But I have a few obvious questionsthat I would like to pose to someonewho has that experience, which is, has it always beenlike this?Am I misremembering things?
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: Is it going in the right directionor the wrong direction?Are there ways that we as a societycan somehow improve so that we can make the media fulfillwhat I consider, and what you may consider,and what other people may consider,to be their primary societal function, where in some waysthey have been dropping the ball?Or am I completely misguided?
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: Is it the case that none of that is happening,and in fact everything is going jolly well wonderfully,and I'm the one who should take a reality pill,and I'm just becoming this cranky old man.I mean, it could be that as well.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Your first suggestionis that it is not the only truth there,but the fact that it always been thusis pretty much on the ball.In the earlier years when I followed the news prettyclosely as a reader and a member of the public in the '50s
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and earlier, things were not as good, I don't think.I think there was much more inclinationto-- I'm talking about my own experience.
HOWARD BURTON: Sure.That's what I'm asking you to do.
DENIS MCQUAIL: --to follow authoritative guidelines.I mean, the war coverage in the UKwas very much a propaganda effort, like everywhere.And that spirit of controlled information, if not spirit,practice, of control of information flow
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: was both respected by the media on the whole press and radio,and then later television.And television and radio were very much ultimatelysubject to oversight by interested politiciansand other authorities.And they didn't even want to overstep the mark.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And they didn't certainly go in for much.They went for minor investigative activities,and-- talking about the BBC.ITV had a bit more freedom and did produce a bit moreinvestigative results.But it was still ultimately dominatedby motives of maintenance of order of incomeand keeping the business turning over and having
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: customers and audiences.And I couldn't set myself up as an evaluatorof the quality of the media.I think it's clearly not performing very well.There are vast areas of it failing in many respects.And as I said, I think they always have.The question is, what to do about it?
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: One of the other strands of my activityhas been-- thinking and research ithas been in the area of policy.I have always, for a long time been interestedin what you can do about it, or whatcan be done that could realisticallymake a difference.And if you apply the criterion of realistic expectation
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: about the implementation of any mechanism of bettermentor monitoring or surveillance of what's going on,or quality control, very little of it is possible.But you need to have a notion of how to do that.One cannot impose it by diktat, obviously,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: because that would deny the whole basis of freedomof opinion and freedom of press.
HOWARD BURTON: So the education plays a positive role,and your book is hopefully trying to contribute to that.
DENIS MCQUAIL: There was another book I wrote and published10 years ago called Media Accountabilityand Freedom of Publication and thattried to face up to the contradiction between mediafreedom, certainly as in the form of journalists' freedom,which is really nonexistent, because journalists are not
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: free, really.They don't have the right of expressionthat you or I have because they'reworking for organizations that become accountable for whatthese employees do.And the employees do what they have to do.It's their job to do it, up to a point.They work with a certain area of freedom,but basically they don't choose what to say
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and what opinions to have, because it's not their part,because the editor does that.
HOWARD BURTON: Can we change that somehow?
DENIS MCQUAIL: I don't think you can,except by diverse provision.And there can be different media.And that was the promise of new media, that it would open up.And it's still not impossible.It's still not really fulfilled.But in small ways, it's not absent.There are alternative sources and little channels and blogs
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and so on, which if I knew they had a public or an audience,would make a very big difference.But leaving aside the question of whois reached by this possibility and howit's in practice accessed-- everyone'sgot theoretical access, but in practice lifedoesn't make that access available.The question is, how do you square that circle
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: or reconcile freedom and accountability.And the book that I mentioned was basically orientedtrying to solve that problem.I don't know.I can't say I did.But I could only at least reach the conclusion you cannotachieve the result you want in this direction or improvement
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: by, or reform by, punitive means and punishmentand criminalization or effective illegalization of certain typesof activity.It can be done on a voluntary basis,but by a form of accountability which is part of,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: it should be part of ordinary human communication,that we should be answerable for what we say and doand in public and be transparent about it.And in that direction, well, there'sno way of imposing such methods.But you can encourage it, because I thinkit does appeal to journalists.It appeals to some editors.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: It doesn't appeal, of course, to the highly controlledmanagement freaks.It doesn't necessarily interfere with economic purposesof journalism and news and the news business.[Chapter 07: The Future: Are the Media Listening?]
HOWARD BURTON: We had talked earlierabout this notion of this two-way street,as it were, this dialectic between the journalistslistening-- the journalists with society,and society with the journalist, to some extent,and these constraints.And for the most part, we've talkedabout how journalists should serve, how might they
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: be encouraged to serve.We can't punish them into doing a betterjob in this particular way.We can only encourage them.But there's also the sign of whether journalists--and by journalists, I don't mean necessarilythe individual journalists; I mean the entire structure-- canbe sensitive to either the actual will of the peopleand the needs, the societal needs that exist,
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: or the potential societal needs that exist.I mean, let me be very concrete.If I'm living in a place where I'm finding, you know what?I'm just not getting the right sort of information.I'm getting propaganda here.I'm getting propaganda there.But I'm really not getting that sort of information.It's not intuitively obvious that if I were a well-meaning
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: member of the journalistic establishment,I would have access to that level of frustration.Because it's not as if I'm necessarily--you can measure that very easily.I'm not buying this publication as opposed to that publication.Maybe I'm fed up with all of them.Maybe I don't watch television news anymore,because I think television news is lard.It's rubbish.It's garbage.Maybe I'm not participating in all of these blogs
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: because I think, wow, these are just peoplescreaming from the rooftops.So is there a need that the journalistic industryneeds to have?Is there a better way that, in fact, itcan be sensitive to societal needs that are latent,or that are actually existing right now.They can tap into this sense of frustration.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Part of the point is, is one beingdeprived in a systematic way?Or is it just kind of random or structuredby the needs of the business and the daily organizationalrequired to put together a package of informationwith certain bounds on it.And I know that that is the case.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: A lot of it is that one has to make some allowancesfor the circumstances under which this product is being puttogether and offered to you.The best one can look for, in terms of structures,is really an openness and diversity of alternatives.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And any tendencies towards monopolizationwithin the same business frameworkor structure or type of financingis inimical to the outcome of an informed citizenship.
HOWARD BURTON: So what do we do about that?You had mentioned--
DENIS MCQUAIL: That's certainly somethingyou could do that has nothing to do with-- that does notoffend the freedom of press.And there's one plank of policy that remains at leastsomewhat above the fray.And that is-- not in--
HOWARD BURTON: You said--
DENIS MCQUAIL: Anti-monopoly, and anti-concentration laws.These are legitimate in the business--the framework of capitalist society.That is an acceptable intervention,whereas giving subsidies to different publicationsto voice somewhat deviant but new views or alternative views,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: is not, although it does happen, still a little.
HOWARD BURTON: It's important to diagnose the issue.It's important to do it objectively and rigorously.But it's equally important to think about public policy,to think about, OK, well this is the situation.This is the lay of the land.What do we actually do about it?You mentioned anti-monopoly legislationin terms of one concrete thing that we should certainlybe vigilant about.Are there other things that we could be doing
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: or should be doing to be making the situation, broadlydefined, more coherent, more productive, more informativeso that the body politic can actuallyplay a more significant role in what's going on than whatit might ordinarily do?
DENIS MCQUAIL: General point is onedoes have to look at the level of structure.We've had different forms of transmission.So we've had the printing press centralized and distributedphysically.We've had broadcasting and then this internet.And we've got the new developments
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: of social media, which claim to provideanother extra networking level for publics and membersof societies and communities.We are getting a new form of monopoly.What were once certain very large media organizations
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: like Google are acquiring a great powerin the whole market, with ramificationsthat affect the traditional press and broadcasting.And it's being done in the name of freedom and diversity
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: and choice and endless possibilities,but actually not really having that as its purpose.Its purpose is to maximize the income thatcan be gained, usually from secondary advertisingand so on.
HOWARD BURTON: But isn't this the central point?The central point is that if you justleave it up to the profit motive,if you take everything down to the profit motive,and you're not concerned-- you don't have any oversight.Just put oversight in inverted commas,because I'm not even talking structurally.But at some level, at some semantic level,you don't have any oversight in terms of the people's right
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: to know or any content.It's not content dependent at all, right?It's not about informing people so that theycan make better decisions.It has nothing to do with that.All it is about-- I mean, all Google's about,let's say, and it seems like a reasonable supposition,is about making money.They're a corporation.They want to make money as a corporation.And so how do they make money?They make money through advertising.
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: And the more people who are watching and utilizing and soforth, the more money that they make.And this is something which is not necessarilyopposed to, but certainly orthogonal to, the valuesthat we were talking about earlier, in terms of the media.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Quite true.And at one time-- and it was at this early stageof the internet development-- therewas a new concept of-- a new kindof-- a new concept of a mass mediumthat would be based on the personal choice and preferenceof an individual known as the "dailyme" that Negroponte promoted in the early '90s.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And I went to see a talk by him whichhe produced it, an early prototype of a "daily me"tablet, in which a person could find the news aswanted on any topic of a certain kind.So if you were interested in critical journalism,you had a daily dose on the topics that you wanted.This could be provided to order.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: But the latest thinking-- and I'm dependent here on a bookby a man called Joseph Turow called The Daily You--the reality is the "daily you" in which the data providedfrom or obtained from the farmingof, harvesting of all the personal data particulars
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: is a structuring of a potential market,according to certain market-based or economic-basedclassifications which pigeonholed potential audiencesin a certain category for a certain kind of content.So it was actually--
HOWARD BURTON: Motivated by advertising.
DENIS MCQUAIL: Yeah, it was motivated basicallyby selling goods or advertising.And that was partly the result of the so-called big dataanalysis-- and this is being-- all the big playersin the internet market, the business,are collecting as much data about their customers
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: as possible with their profiles, whatever.The point being that it is not liberatingwhen the providers are actually constructing for you a kindof identity or personality--
HOWARD BURTON: For their own agenda.
DENIS MCQUAIL: their own structure.That's right, on the basis of data.So once you have an awareness of what's going on,at least you can begin to--
HOWARD BURTON: And that's my point.I mean, no one's talking about legislating.But I mean, a first step which I think is critical,and which you are enunciating right now,is understanding the situation.I mean, the very fact that you're saying,look, this was the holy grail or the envisioned possibilitiesof the daily me 20 years ago, we didn't get there.This is why we didn't get there, because the structures are
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: such that the corporate structures,the economic structures, the incentivesare such that they will naturally lead usin a different direction.That alone, I think, is deserving of being highlighted.Because that enables us to address the situation.I take your point that raising awareness of this,making people aware of the fact that this was the potential,that this sort of marketplace of ideas,
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: the freedom, the international aspect, the abilityto be able to pick and choose, which exists theoretically,presented 20 years ago, has not been realized.And my sense is that not enough people recognizethat, that not enough people recognize the underlyingmechanisms behind it.So you still hear people say, oh yes, but with the internet now,we can all choose.We can all do our own things.Isn't that wonderful?
HOWARD BURTON [continued]: Isn't it a new day that we have this opportunity?And I don't think they fully appreciate the factthat these systemic, structural effects are in place,and that are naturally prohibiting themfrom doing that.Is that your sense as well?
DENIS MCQUAIL: I think that's correct.They're not necessarily natural.They're man-made, as it were.But they are built into the main structures thatare developing the technology and applying,choosing which applications to useand which to develop on a large scale.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: The logic of it is known.It's clear that consequences are therefore predictableup to a certain point.The established press is declining something like 10%a year or something, in terms of the mainstream in the UnitedStates.And it's certainly several percent in the UK.
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: And it's across the board, the fall in revenue in audienceand so on of newspapers.But that doesn't mean they will disappear.Television is still there.I think something like, I saw recentlythat something like across Europe, something
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: like three and a half hours a day on averageare spent watching television.And television, in that old-fashioned sense,more or less.91% of viewing takes this form in Europe.And this means that there is a lot of lifeleft in the existing structures which are within,
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: which have not been undermined yet by alternative providers.And there are still means by which these organizationsare guided and directed.Most of the established media are institutionallyguided in varying degrees, even the newspapers that seem
DENIS MCQUAIL [continued]: to offend against social norms.So the means by which society expresses some demandsand exerts some-- pressure is not the right word,but influence on the quality of the press are still present.It's too early to give up, I suppose.
HOWARD BURTON: Are you optimistic?I mean, that doesn't sound like a resounding view of optimism.
DENIS MCQUAIL: I'm not terribly Imean, I'm optimistic in that giventhe world that's still working, in working order,which is a big--
HOWARD BURTON: It's a big if.
DENIS MCQUAIL: If we have that condition--human spirit is quite resilient.I'm fairly optimistic about the human race, up to a point.
HOWARD BURTON: That's a wonderful way to end things.Thank you very much, Denis.It's been a pleasure.It's been a pleasure to talk to you.[MUSIC PLAYING]
Mass Communication (From Theory to Practice) - A Conversation with Denis McQuail
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Imminent mass communications scholar Denis McQuail discusses the ever-changing definition of mass media. From its beginnings in newspaper and radio to today's newest participatory media platforms, McQuail shares his expertise and insight about the influence of media on politics, society and individuals.
Imminent mass communications scholar Denis McQuail discusses the ever-changing definition of mass media. From its beginnings in newspaper and radio to today's newest participatory media platforms, McQuail shares his expertise and insight about the influence of media on politics, society and individuals.