In their article “Al-Jazeera English and Global Networks,” Shawn Powers and Mohammed el-Nawawy talk about media system dependency theory and how there is a relationship between people’s reliance on news from a particular news source (like BBC World, CNNI, or AJE) and their political opinions and attitudes. One of their findings was that people tend to turn to particular broadcasters to affirm their existing opinions rather than to change them, thus reinforcing existing cultural clichés about cultural ‘others.’ This is quite a disappointing conclusion given all the hopes for the global media to promote a more cosmopolitan and tolerant outlook. Interestingly enough, their second finding was that those people who watched Al-Jazeera English tended to be less dogmatic in their thinking.
Another recent piece of research has revealed that of all news channels, Fox News viewers are the least informed. In the study, respondents were asked questions about the recent events of the Arab Spring, widely covered in the US by almost all news broadcasters. The results of the research showed that Fox News viewers were 18 points less likely to know that Egyptians overthrew their government than those respondents who were not TV viewers. Fox News viewers even scored lower than those respondents who claimed not to watch news at all!
What is more interesting, however, is that the same researchers found that 11% of MSNBC viewers believed that Occupy Wall Street protesters were Republicans, while only 3% of Fox viewers believed so. As Dan Cassino, a professor of political science, noted, “People who tune into ideological media are motivated to hear their side of the debate and so you can have someone who watches MSNBC be so used to hearing about protests coming from the right that they automatically believe that Occupy is mostly a Republican protest.”
These findings demonstrate the ambiguity of the role global media play in the promotion of cultural awareness and tolerance. It is especially important to remember the nichefication of media outlets and the emergence of highly ideological media, which tends to attract those viewers who hold extreme political views and are not looking to reconsider them. “News” presented by these media is often just a euphemism for propaganda.