Social Protests and Mass Media
Whereas cultural politics is highly dependent on television entertainment to get its message across, the more traditional confrontational politics of social movements relies principally on news coverage, and especially on television's capacity to reach a wide audience with dramatic, attention-getting footage. (Gitlin, The Whole World is Watching, Berkeley, 1980) That attention may in turn inspire new adherents to join a movement and prompt sympathizers to provide increased resources and support. The larger the movement, and the bigger and more spectacular its demonstrations, the more media coverage it is likely to get, thus engendering further movement support. In this respect, at least, media attention should benefit social movements.
But the media's power and pervasiveness are also a central problem for contemporary movements, and especially for those movements seeking more than modest reforms. Reformist and revolutionary movements, says Gitlin, must either play by the media's rules or risk rejection or inattention. These rules are also in many respects those of the dominant culture. They require that the core interests of political elites not be threatened, and that its prevailing rules of governance be maintained. Thus, however much the State is implicated in the exposure of evils, it must still be looked to for the remediation of those evils.