Pluralist and Marxist Theories of the Mass Media: An Introduction


Click here for a Mass Media Booklet for A Level Sociology created by IS Ellen   April 2020

Click here for "How the News took over Reality " [Guardian Long read]  May 2019

Click here for George Monbiot article on the power of the billionaire press  July 2019

Important new link : The Mass Media , Democratic Politics and the Representation of Citizens' Interests: from Democratic Audit . September 2018

Cambridge Analytica : Channel 4 [1]; Channel 4 [2] Guardian; Newsnight  BBC News  and click here for the full Channel 4 Documentary

Click here for Guardian coverage of Select Committee Report on Fake News

For regular updates from Twitter on the Sociology of the Mass Media click Mass Media #SOCM   [Thanks to Ken Browne and all contributors]

Click here for new PPTs by Issy Hoole on Mass Media/Globalisation/postmodernism

Click here for Chris Livesey's  collection of resources on the Mass Media. November 2020

Click here for a compendium of resources on the Sociology of the Mass Media from the Chase Sociology Blog   April 2017

Click here for a compendium of resources on the Sociology of the Mass Media posted on Google drive by Stephen Humphreys [May need a little updating but nevertheless very useful.  April 2017

Click here and scroll down for Resources on the Sociology of the Mass Media from Northampton College   April 2017

Click here for a 25 part series of Podcasts on Media Sociology produced by Steve Bassett of Park College Eastbourne.  March 2014

Click here and follow media link for detailed resources from Chris Livesey's site  September 2017

Click here for Mass Media resources from Seevic Sociology  September 2017

Click here and scroll down for Resources on the Sociology of the Mass Media from Professor Robert Van Krieken's You Tube Channel [This has a link to resources from Prof Stuart Hall among other things  April 2017


Click here for  the BBC and the shifting political centre [The Conversation: Professor Ivor Graber]   July 2017

Click here for Noam Chomsky on the Manufacture of Consent  July 2017  This is a You tube video: there are links to more  Noam  Chomsky videos on the right of the You tube screen

Who will become Theresa May's Director of Communications ?    July 2017  Click here for news that  BBC editor of The Daily Politics Robbie Gibb has been appointed  and James Landale, was also interviewed but decided to remain at BBC.

Click here for "This election proves that media bias no longer matters"

Click here for "Don't underestimate the power of Britain's right wing press."   June 2017

Click here for the Guardian, the Daily Mail and the Finsbury Park Mosque Terrorist Attack.  June 2017

Click here and here and  here for Boris Johnson, Diane Abbott and the Mass Media  June 2017

Click here for article by George Monbiot on the Mass Media and the General Election   June 2017

Jeremy Corbyn and the mass media [LSE article]   June 2017

Jeremy Corbyn and the mass media [ Podcast summarising above article]  June 2017

Click here for links to detailed Loughborough University analysis of the mass media coverage of the 2017 General Election

Click here for a series of audio lectures with slides on Antonio Gramsci presented by Professor Bob Jessop

Click here for article from London Review of Books by Paul Myerscough on the mass media and Jeremy Corbyn   October 2015

Click here for article from The Conversation  on alleged bias at the BBC by Professor Ivor Graber Of University of Sussex  August 2015

Click here and here for two recent Guardian articles on the BBC in the Thatcher years.   March 2015

Click here for a critical assessment of the organisation and activities of the Mass Media in the USA [Video 25 minutes: You Tube]

Click here for recent Opinion Poll for Guardian [November 2013] showing  respondents more likely to  believe that the BBC has a left-wing bias than  to believe that it has a right-wing bias

Click here and here for articles suggesting that the BBC has a Right Wing Bias

Click here for a 9 part series of Podcasts on Media Sociology produced by Steve Bassett of Park College Eastbourne.   Very useful  link March 2014


When we analyse Pluralist and Marxist  views of the Mass Media, this helps us to make some overall assessment of the role of the Mass Media in UK. society. Are the Mass Media helping to protect a basically fair, democratic society or are they helping to justify an unfair society dominated by a rich and powerful minority who organise society in their own interests against the interests of the vast majority of society’s members? Will the mass media cover the activities of all pressure groups equally accurately and fairly?.

             The main aspects of the Pluralist theory of the Mass Media are as follows:

  1. Societies such as theUK. are reasonably democratic.
  2. Political power in these societies is divided among a wide variety of political parties and pressure groups.
  3. The citizens can exercise power in their own right in various ways.
  4. There are disputes from time to time but they can be resolved via existing political institutions. There is certainly no need for radical political change to resolve our problems.
  5. The State is neutral. It does not systematically favour some groups at the expense of others but aims to take all decisions in the national interest.
  6. Within this overall framework, the Mass Media make important contributions to the maintenance of democracy.
  7. The Press is privately owned and relatively free of State control so that there is far more freedom of the Press to criticise government than was the case in former Communist societies, for example.
  8. The Broadcast Media also have considerable independence. Censorship is occasionally necessary but is kept within limits.
  9. Government is subjected to regular criticism from investigative reporters and combative TV.and radio interviewers who do their best to keep the public informed.
  10. It is admitted that the Press, overall, is pro- Conservative but the Tory Press is sometimes very critical of Tory governments and there are also well established Labour and Liberal papers.
  11. The national Press do reflect a rather moderate spectrum of political opinion but they are merely reflecting public opinion, not creating it.  You may  click here and scroll down for information on Newspaper readership and voting behaviour in the 2017 General Election.
  12. There are, in any case, more radical newspapers to appeal to the more radical minority.
  13. Individuals can make their own views known via letterwriting, phone ins and open door programmes. In principle, they can set up their own newspapers although this is obviously expensive.
  14. With regard to Press bias, it is claimed that readers recognise this and discount it. They rely for their political news more on TV.and radio which are largely bound to be politically unbiased although critics argue that the broadcast media themselves are more biased than is sometimes supposede .
  15. Pluralists do criticise the Mass Media but not fundamentally.

Note: The recent phone hacking scandal suggests that employees  at News International newspapers have been prepared to break the law in order to secure information which has infringed individual privacy. However you might also argue that the fact that this story has come to light in the mass media illustrates its investigative qualities which also provides some support for the democratic pluralist approach to the study of the mass media and that if Rupert Murdoch's plans to take full ownership of BSkyB are blocked this will help to restrict the extent of monopoly ownership and control within the mass media. Click here for BBC coverage of the phone hacking scandal.

  1. It is argued that alternative sources of news are now available from  social media platforms such as Twitter and Face Book which help to counteract the dominance of the main stream media . It has , for example, been argued that one reason [among many others] for the strong support among young people for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party is because they rarely , if ever, read [often pro-Conservative] national newspapers and take their information instead from social media. However there are also dangers the increased access to social media also increases potential access to "fake news" which obviously undermines the democratic process.


            The Marxist view of the Mass Media is significantly different.

  1. Marxists are very critical of capitalist societies and believe that the Mass Media stand in the way of necessary social change.
  2. Capitalist societies give only the impression of democracy. There is no real democracy.
  3. In reality, the State defends the interests of the capitalist class, (the Bourgeoisie) at the expense of the working class (the Proletariat)
  4. Individuals are socialised to accept the dominance of the Bourgeoisie and to accept, in many cases, roles as poorly educated, poorly paid workers in an unjust unequal economic and political system.
  5. The Mass Media are said to contribute to a process of socialisation which encourages exploited groups to accept their own exploitation without question.
  6. Owners of the Press are very rich and likely to be pro- Conservative. Editors and journalists are likely to reflect the political views of owners for career reasons. The readership of newspapers is in decline and this makes them more dependent upon advertising revenues from capitalist firms which means they are highly unlikely to be willing to criticise the capitalist system as a whole and when they do criticise business malpractices these are seen as isolated cases rather than as indicative of the injustices of capitalism as a whole.
  7. There are non-Conservative newspapers but these are either mildly social democratic national papers or small circulation socialist newspapers which few shops will sell.
  8. Radical critics of capitalism are severely treated inhe Mass Media in an attempt to discredit their views. This is has been true in the recent past of radical political individuals such as Tony Benn and Arthur Scargill and of political groups such as Militant Tendency. More recently it has been argued that press coverage [including in the relatively liberal Guardian]   has been heavily biased against Jeremy Corbyn. See links at the top of these notes.
  9. News values, agenda setting, norm setting and other sources of bias mean that only some issues are covered and that these issues are not presented neutrally. The Mass Media choose what to report and how to report it and therefore provide a biased view of the world.

            10.When the Mass Media do develop explanations of social problems such as unemployment, poverty or crime, there is, according to John Westergaard an attempt to present such issues as isolated and, in a sense, irrational disturbances  and certainly not as evidence of fundamental social conflict. Some mass media coverage of issues relating to immigration and social security claimants has contributed to the growth of prejudice and these groups . Surveys of the UK population indicate that we are ill -informed as to the scope of immigration , the recipients of social security benefits and the actual level of such benefits.

10b. It is also argued that we have been misinformed as to the causes of the credit crunch of 2007=8 and the subsequent recession and the appropriate remedies. Sections of the mass media perpetuate the notion that a country's national budget should be analysed in terms similarly to a household budget  whereas for many economists this is simply a false analogy.

  1. It is also suggested that the Mass Media help to sustain capitalism through its provision of entertainment which dissuades people from careful consideration of political questions. There is some thought provoking entertainment but not much!
  2. The Mass Media do not simply reflect public opinion but actively help to form it. They encourage people to accept ideas which help to maintain the dominance of a Ruling Class. In Marxist terms, they encourage people to accept a Ruling Class Ideology.

Click here for Andy Beckett's review of "Murdoch's Politics: How One Man's Thirst for Wealth and Power Shapes Our World" by David McKnight

Click here for some recent information from Democratic Audit on trends in political affiliations of the British press

Click here for a PREZI presentation by Stuart Mitchell on ownership and control of the mass media. You will notice that towards the end of this presentation the author distinguishes between Marxist and Neo-Marxist accounts of the mass media and also introduces the Post-Modernist Perspective on the Mass Media. I have not covered these aspects in this introductory document but there are nevertheless extremely important elements of several Sociology specifications.

Click here   For a resource produced by Chris Livesey which usefully distinguishes between Marxist and Neo-Marxist perspectives on the mass media.

Click here for Professor Bob Jessop's audio lecture series [with slides] on Antonio Gramsci.