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Politics and the Media

3. Media Effects on Citizens

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about four theories developed by political scientists to try and disentangle the effects of the media on people’s political beliefs and opinions: (i) the largely discredited ‘hyperdermic needle model’ informed by Nazi and Soviet propaganda regimes which holds that the media can directly ‘administer’ political views that are wholly accepted by the public; (ii) the ‘reinforcement model’ which maintains that we seek out media that reflects our pre-existing beliefs and that these beliefs are then reinforced by exposure to relevant news reportage; (iii) ‘marginal effects’, which argues that prolonged exposure to a media outlet’s agenda can have subtle effects on changing people’s minds; and, perhaps most importantly, (iv) ‘agenda-setting/framing’, which argues that whilst the media does not tell us what to think, it tells us what to think about.


In this course, Dr Richard Heffernan (Open University) thinks about the relationship of the modern media to British politics. We begin in the first module by thinking about the indispensability of the media in all its forms to the enactment of modern politics, using a series of metaphors to help us understand its roles. We then briefly survey the history of the modern media and consider the balance between, on the one hand its freedom to comment, and on the other its obligation to inform. In the third module, we move on to think through four key theories that political scientists have developed to try and disentangle the impact of the media on our political views, namely: (i) the ‘hyperdermic needle model,’ (ii) the ‘reinforcement model’, (iii) marginal effects, and (iv) agenda-setting/framing. We then turn in the fourth module to characterise the relationship between the media and politicians as at once symbiotic and adversarial: politicians need the media as a platform and the media needs political stories, but the media is always critical and interrogative of politicians who seek favourable coverage. Finally, in the fifth module, we think about the profound impact of social media on political communication, noting its capacity to both unite and divide us.


Richard Heffernan is a Lecturer in Politics at the Open University and Visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame. He works in the field of comparative politics and specialises in British politics. He is presently researching the British prime minister.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Heffernan, R. (2019, September 26). Politics and the Media - Media Effects on Citizens [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Heffernan, R. "Politics and the Media – Media Effects on Citizens." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Sep 2019,