Media controls the debate

Who is controlling the debate in parliament?
Who is controlling the debate in parliament? Photo: Wkimedia

Media is often referred to as the fourth estate or power. That doesn’t mean it has controlling power, but it has a role to play in terms of creating and disseminating an opinion or idea. But how far can media go? Politicians refer to media all the time, also during debates in Parliament. That’s frequently where politicians get their information from.

A researcher asked representatives of parliament about their relationship with media and journalists a few years ago. As many as 35 % of the men believed that getting media coverage was more important than working hard, while only 8 % of the women said the same. The survey also revealed that 20 % of the female representatives and 14 % of the male representatives thought a journalist had more power than a member of parliament. It’s a little refreshing hearing a politicians admit to the truth because there is no doubt that they need people. Anyone can become a politicians. They just need good speaking skills and the ability to build trust. They don’t know much and rely on advice from people that know what they are talking about.

The former minister of children and equality, Inga Marte Thorkildsen, is a good example. After leaving office she referred to so-called science that claimed that children with an ADHD-diagnose were abused (violence) as children. That usually leads to parents being accused. This kind of research is very problematic. When grownups think back, perhaps as much as 40-50 years, they could easily interpret innocent events as the reason they are struggling today. That could be especially true if they get a direct question or if a politician gives them ideas based on highly speculative research.

There could be a connection between ADHD and violence, but it could come from other sources than the parents. What are the schools doing about bullying for example? I have worked in a school myself where a very weak principle actually suggested that a girl who was being bullied changed school. He wasn’t prepared to do anything about the problem. Bullying often looks like PTSD in children, which can also be mistaken for ADHD. A diagnose doesn’t say anything about causes. Depression for example doesn’t have just one cause, so why would it be easy to narrow it down to one cause with ADHD? It’s very disturbing when a politician is prepared to blame it on bad parenting without any indications. That’s what they did to mothers in the early stages of autism research.

Politicians have a media strategy, but sometimes it’s just as scary how little attention they pay. In a radio debate a few weeks ago the leaders of the biggest parties were talking about the “Danish Jewelry Law.” The journalist’s angle was that this law was a lot stricter than the Norwegian one, and the politicians, including the opposition in parliament, agreed that Norway had a more fair law. When they had the same debate a couple of weeks later, the journalist had the opposite angle. Then they criticized the Norwegian law and suddenly the politicians had turned.

What does this mean? Politicians use media, but it goes the other way too. Media can change politics if they choose the right angle. This could be especially relevant to the coverage of the refugee crisis. Media has changed angle several times. They seem to present what they think is popular. What happened to their spine?

Should we expect something from our politicians or is democracy something that works on autopilot?


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