Fiske said “news is a commodity which requires an audience.”
Over all viewing figures for news and current affairs remain lower than they were in 1984. yet Fox news is breaking the trend in America with viewing figures on the rise. Perhaps they have already discovered what the media group 3WE2000 discovered “We’re past the days of giving audiences what they should have, it’s about giving them what they want.” Of course the report was referring to the fall in BBC figures which it regarded as a consequence of adhering too rigidly to the Reithian principles of information first entertainment last.
In 2003 following on from the war in Iraq, Fox was the most watched news channel in the US. It was even the preferred network of the American forces. Yet Fox is well known as a partisan organisation; having almost single-handedly got George Bush elected in 2000 and again in ’04. It is owned by Rupert Murdoch, who, with his multi-media empire reaches ¾ of the world’s population, this news channel in particular embodies and promotes his values, his politics and his attitudes. Fervently pro-Bush, pro-war, anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality and actively promoting American superiority in every one of the world’s arenas, this channel lives up to Martin Bell’s criticism of rolling news channels: “defined by F-words… their nature too often is to be feverish, frenzied, frantic, frail, false and fallible.”
Its grotesquely ironic tag lines ‘Fair and Balanced’ and ‘We report, You Decide’ which purport to be impartial and transparent are little more than a cover for right wing polemic, where a reporter like Bill O’Reilly can get away with routinely winding up and verbally brow-beating his interviewees and telling them to ‘shut up’ so frequently that it has become a joke.
Who then is Fox’s audience? Sadly they are not just the ill-informed, uneducated, conservatives afraid of anything which might disrupt their perfect little, small-town American lives, there are a good number of white, middle-class ordinary, even reasonably intelligent, Americans who go to Fox first for their news. Again sadly this is not all Fox’s own doing; the need to give equal time in the TV medium for opposing points of view was eliminated decades ago in the Reagan era.
In a country of diverse ethnic and social elements Fox unites in a common patriotism, a shared fear and a mutual support for those with similar views. Their mix of lively, loud and sarcastic entertaining commentary and opinion masquerading as news is appealing to those who feel the need to be told what to think.
So the question remains then, are they fulfilling the needs of their audience or constructing the audience around what they are delivering? Whatever the answer it’s working and other American networks are now leaping onto the bandwagon to copy their style.