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Example Answer for Questions 19, 20 and 21 Paper 2: A Level Sociology, June 2017 (AQA)


Last updated 22 Jun 2017

Topic B3: The Media

Q19 (10 marks)

Q20 (10 marks)

Q21 (20 marks)


One way in which the new media may be creating a global popular culture is through the growth of digital technologies. Due to these new forms of technology, television programmes, films and music are no longer constrained to a local or national audience and instead can be streamed online to millions of individuals around the world. The advent of new media technologies and their growing levels of convergence has given power to the global audience as they are able to access information instantly and contribute to a social debate at the touch of a button. Postmodernist sociologists would welcome this trend as they would argue that this allows media content to be transmitted to a wider audience and for members of society to be able to pick-and-mix from the wide range of influences that have been made available to them in the mass media. This means that global popular culture has been allowed to develop in terms of its depth and complexity as a result of the levels of convenience offered by new media technologies. Critics however would argue that the influence of local cultures in contributing to a global popular culture has actually been minimal, and instead there has been a move towards cultural imperialism based on popular culture from the west that has actually threatened local cultures.

 A second way in which new media technologies may be creating a global popular culture is through the growth of social media. Pluralist sociologists would point to the importance of this new trend as they would argue it has empowered the audience and has allowed them to engage and interact with the global mass media and so the process of media communications is no longer a one-way process (as outlined by the hypodermic syringe model which assumes the audience to be passive) but instead has become more of a dialogue or debate between the audience and the owners of the mass media. There has also been a growth of user-generated content which is publicised through social media and which has also resulted in a positive redistribution of power as audience members now have a platform upon which they can challenge ruling class ideologies. The result of this has been a global popular culture which is based upon the sharing of ideas from around the globe and which has seen popular culture rise in terms of its status and significance, as some sociologists would argue it may now even rival high culture in terms of its global appeal - as it is drawn from a wider range of influences and is exerting an ever growing level of social power and influence.



One reason why the media often portray ethnic minority groups negatively is because, in general, their relatively low levels of social status allow few opportunities to publicly refute this portrayal. According to the item, minority ethnic groups are underrepresented in positions of power and over-represented in powerless groups in society. Conflict sociologists such as Marxists would argue that this occurs in the media as it is part of the strategy of the capitalist media owners to ensure they maintain their own positions of power and privilege by ensuring the working classes remain below them in the social hierarchy. The media often use minority ethnic groups as a scapegoat for social problems, such as shortfalls in jobs and housing being blamed on European migrants. Marxists argue that the reason for this is because the powerful elite are trying to distract public attention away from the way in which they themselves exploit the working classes and ethnic minorities are a convenient source of blame for society’s problems that prevents the working classes rising up against the ruling classes. The extent to which the public internalise this negative portrayal is debatable. As well as this, sections of the media are equally responsible for highlighting the impropriety of negative labelling by their rivals, as was the case in outcry after the ‘Bonkers Bruno’ Sun headline in 2003.

A second reason why the media often portrays ethnic minority groups negatively, according to the item is because “some ethnic minority groups have different cultural beliefs, values and practices from that of mainstream society”. This is a significant reason for why ethnic minority groups are portrayed negatively in the mass media because their way of life is seen as a threat to western culture and the vast majority of media outlets from across the world are owned and controlled by white middle class western society. This means that the west is taking advantage of the opportunities provided by new media technologies and globalisation to ensure the “Americanisation” of society - whereby western norms and values become the dominant worldview, due to the widespread reach of these media conglomerates. They undermine the culture of ethnic minority groups and make it appear inferior to western culture, or threatening, in the case of Islamic terrorism. On the other hand, such scapegoating may be the preserve of right wing newspapers in a society which may on the whole enjoy a plurality of free and open media.



Pluralism is the idea that society should be based on a wide range of social and political views which takes into consideration the diversity of norms and values which exist in society today. Pluralists therefore would have a very positive view of the mass media today as they would argue that the growth in digital technology, user-generated content and social media has allowed a voice to minority groups in society that may otherwise not have had a platform to state their views and challenge the dominant ideologies of the ruling elite. Other sociologists however take a more critical approach to ownership and control within the mass media, arguing instead that it is purely another tool of the ruling elite to perpetuate capitalist ideologies.

According to Item N, “the media are an important part of the democratic process” because they offer a voice to those who would perhaps otherwise not have their voices heard. Pluralists believe that the mass media has at its heart the notion of profit and this means it is forced to meet the needs of its audience, irrespective of the wishes of the media owners if it wishes to be successful economically in a competitive media saturated market. Pluralists also point out that there is huge diversity within the mass media in terms of format, from mobile phones to newspapers, which have varied target audiences. This huge diversity means it is nearly impossible for media owners to control the ideas and thoughts of the audience who are neither homogeneous nor passive. However, this does not stop advertisers attempting to exercise power and control over their audience. Sky and Google generate billions of pounds from selling advertising space. This is clear evidence to support the hypodermic syringe model that argues the audience can in fact be very passive and highly susceptible to dominant capitalist influence.

Marxist sociologists would argue that “powerful groups are able to control the output of the media so that it reflects their own interests” (according to Item N). Miliband (1973) argues that the mass media represents an ideological instrument that justifies class inequality by glamorising consumerism and creating a myth of meritocracy. Marxists argue that the role of the media in scapegoating social groups such as ethnic minorities as being criminal or the cause of social problems is simply their way of dividing and ruling the working classes and this has become evident recently in British society with the result of the Brexit referendum, where the media built a strong case around the arguments to leave the EU - and justified this based on the threats that immigrants have caused to British society, be it the pressure they place on public services, the threat they cause to local jobs or the threat to public safety caused by Islamic extremism. This example clearly demonstrates the way the ruling elite used the mass media to deflect attention from their own exploitation of the working classes by placing the blame for social problems at the door of ethnic minority communities. Similarly by ensuring the working classes remain divided, the ruling classes are reducing the likelihood of a proletarian revolution as predicted by Marx. This is clear evidence against the pluralist view that the mass media has empowered the working classes or somehow exists to serve them. Based on the evidence, sociologists would agree that the pluralist view does have some merits, but largely it is regarded as being far too positive.

Feminist sociologists would also point to the portrayal of women in the subordinate roles of housewife/mother or sexual object. Critics argue that with more women than ever before working in the mass media gender stereotypes have moved on from this outdated patriarchal control (along with changes in the law to ensure equal pay). However it is important to note that women are still over-represented in their traditional roles in the media and it is still predominantly a male dominated industry - particularly at the higher levels.

It is also undeniable that the vast majority of media outlets are owned by a small number of global media conglomerates, with six in the USA according to Bagdikian (2004). Similar trends exist in Britain within the newspaper industry, according to Curran (2003) who stated that seven individuals dominate the ownership and content of the UK press. There has also been a significant growth in the power of media owners to spread their dominant ideologies with the advent of globalisation which has allowed them instant access to a global online audience. This again suggests that the mass media does not exist to serve the interests of the audience as pluralism suggests, but instead is a tool of capitalist control which benefits the interests of the ruling classes.

Please Note: These answers have been produced without the knowledge of the mark scheme and merely reflect my attempt at producing a model answer on the day of the exam.

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