Roles Played By Language and Statistics in Mass Media
Social statistics has been observed to be presented by mass media products in various ways, and such variety in production is related to the degree of the impact of such production on the human mind and rationale. Statistics on social issues is frequently depicted in mass media products. In the sphere of newspaper reports the use of statistics for representing social facts has been seen to be a usual phenomenon, but such usual use can lead to unusual results. In this respect it must be noted that “The expectation that accuracy and comprehensiveness should be the sole criteria for judging journalists’ reports, is, finally, considered to be unrealistic and it is argued that social scientists need to understand and adapted to the conditions under which mass media reporting operates if they are to succeed in introducing the findings of social research into public debates” (Seale, 2010). Hence, it can be said that quite frequently the language and statistics of mass media products like news report are misleading and such pattern affects the quality and objective of the news in a thorough manner. Moreover, it has been often found that advocates of certain issues prefer the distortion of facts, language and statistics in order to appease the objective of enhancing the impact of news related to the issue of advocacy. In the context of newspaper report, for instance, it has been seen that to make a criminal case graver and grimmer often the journalists use statistics that can be eye-catching for the readers but not reliable. In such cases language and statistics play the role of agents of discrimination. Environmentalists have been found to be distorting languages and statistics frequently to distort the images of industrialists who contribute to the deterioration of environment and ecology. Such practice is quite frequent and the target audiences are often made assured that whatever they are reading is right, logical and ethical. In this respect the use of ‘mutant statistics’ deserves special mention. Mutant statistics is the form of statistical language that is used for stretching, twisting, distorting or mangling the actual data (Seale, 2010). The use of such mutant statistics is not new and in several news articles such form of statistics is quite frequently used to influence the emotions and rationale of the news consumers. It has been observed that the use of mutant statistics to enhance the degree of appeal of a news article is a ploy that has been used by many advocates for promoting many movements. One example of such usage is “the estimate that 150,000 women in the USA are anorexic, a statistic originally promoted by activists seeking to draw attention to the problem. Someone, somewhere, changed this to say 150,000 women died from anorexia per annum, and this number became stuck in the journalistic imagination, being repeated across numerous influential books and articles” (Seale, 2010). Hence, it can be seen that statistics often play a crucial role in determining the degree of efficacy of a mass media product and such role should be considered both crucial and important.
Furthermore, it has also been observed that, like statistics, language is also manipulated frequently to appease the objectives of the publishers of news articles and of the producers of several mass media productions. In this respect Hayakawa (n.d.) has rightly pointed out that, “We live in an environment shaped and largely created hitherto unparalleled semantic influences: mass circulation newspapers and magazines which are given to reflecting, in a shocking number of cases, the weird prejudices and obsessions of their publishers and owners; radio programs, both local and network, almost completely dominated by commercial motives; public relations counsels, who are simply highly paid craftsmen in the art of manipulating and reshaping our semantic environment in ways favourable to their clients.” Hence, it can be said that use of language in mass media product is often exciting and to support such claim one can say that it had been language that had been responsible for waging wars and it would not be an exaggeration to say that Hitler conquered Austria by radio (Hayakawa, n.d.). It has been also observed that in respect of analyzing and interpreting serious issues like climate change, the media language plays a significant role in either enhancing or diminishing the quality of the discussion and debate. Researchers have found that communication can be a major weakness when it comes to properly interpret the real importance of climate change (Flottum, 2017). Often, in myriads of mass media product, climate change has been depicted as a grave issue and quite frequently such depiction has been designed with exaggeration of facts and figures. This has led to the conclusion (according to some geologist and scientists) that the entire issue of climate change is a myth and that climate change is a natural phenomenon that is bound to play its role in certain phases of the evolution of Earth.
Moreover, it can be safe to state that statistics, just like language, plays a vital role in shaping and reshaping a mass media product like news article. Manipulators have been found to frequently play with statistics in terms of telling the lie before the audience in a mode that seems to be truth like. Advocates of the use of statistics in news articles have been seen to be supporting the rational nature of statistics by citing the fact that statistics is infallible and its edifice is built on the pillars of evidence and the process of sample gathering in a scientific way. This, despite of the loudness of the claim, cannot be considered always a truth. There are certain specific reasons behind taking the approach to nullify the claim. The primary reason to refute the claim is that the process of statistical sampling is quite often infused with internal bias and this biasness play a vital role in producing the wrong statistical data which, when used in a news article, tends to transform fact into unreality and unreality into fact. It has been observed that the growth and rise of biasness in samples (that lead to wrong interpretation of an event). It has been found that the basis of such sampling is simple enough, “although the refinements in practice have led into all sorts of by-ways, some less than respectable. If you have a barrel of beans, some red and some white, there is only one way t find out exactly how many each color you have: Count them. However, you can find out approximately how many are red in much easier fashion by pulling out a handful of beans and counting just those, figuring that the proportion will be the same all through the barrel” (Huff, 1954). This can be an assumption and this can lead to the determination of a statistics that might not be true in fact. There might be biasness in such procedure that leads to statistical conclusions, and such biasness can give rise to wrong information. In this respect it should be taken into account that statistics in many of the mass media products is often deceitful and often it gives rise to the circulation of wrong information, imposing negative impact on the quality of news consumed in a thorough manner.
In conclusion, it must be said that there is an intricate relationship between language and statistics and the quality of a mass media product like news report and news article. Language and statistics play a crucial role in influencing mass media. Quite interestingly it must be noted that the efficacy of mass media products remain largely reliant on the process of infusion of language and statistics. It has been often observed that language has the potential to make a product of mass media look effective and realistic and it has the power to make the product look like unrealistic and superficial. Statistics also plays the role of a moderator, shaper and designer in terms of shaping, moderating, and designing the mass media products. It has been observed that inclusion of statistical data makes a news article seem more rational, scientific and acceptable, but such use of statistics might be a veil to cover the disguise of the actual motive of propagating the news.
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Hayakawa, S.I. (n.d.). Language in Thought and Action. London: George Allen & Unwin Ltd.
Huff, D. (1954). How to Lie with Statistics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Seale, C. (2010). How the mass media report social statistics: A case study concerning research on end-of-life decisions. Social Science & Medicine, 30(2010), 1-8.