Power and Media Production

Chapter Introduction

Powerful groups use professional communicators and media institutions to make and manage meaning.

How do groups become hegemonic?

What institutions are used to maintain hegemony?

What role od professional communicators play in making and maintain hegemony?


In this chapter we examine:

  • How groups and meanings become hegemonic.
  • The flexible and responsive hegemonies that have taken shape in the networked era by using new communication technologies and channels to make and manage niche markets and publics.
  • The work of managing hegemonies using communicative sites, communication professionals, and meanings.
  • The dynamics of resistance and change that characterise any hegemony. 

Cases & Activities

Examining ‘legitimate’ positions on copyright

Above we proposed a number of ways that different groups are attempting to regulate, de-regulate and re-regulate the flow of cultural content through the internet:

  • Generating ‘consent’ for the regulation of the circulation of cultural content.
  • Using the legal system to prosecute ‘pirates’ and ‘criminals’.
  • Using the political system to adapt the old rules or create new rules.
  • Negotiations with the new organisations to craft a new consensus.

There are many examples of this debate playing out over the past decade or more.

Key industry organisations like the Motion Picture Association of America

(MPAA) have put forward their case. You can read their position on copyright, together with their policy statements and research at their website: http://www.mpaa.org/why-copyright-matters/

The industry argues that copyright protects the creative process by ensuring cultural industries remain profitable. Critics dispute many of the industry’s claims and the influence of the industry’s lobbyists on the political process.

Read some of the claims made in reports on the MPAA website. For instance, they claimed in November 2013 that the copyright industries employ nearly 5.4 million US workers, account for 5% of private sector employment, and contribute $142 billion in foreign sales and exports. On this basis, they argue that the US government should reform legislation to provide greater protection for copyright online.

Watch Rob Reid’s TED talk on ‘copyright math’ for an insightful and amusing critique of the copyright industry’s claims about the economic cost of online piracy. You can find a link at the Media and Society website.

During 2011 and 2012 a major struggl played out in the US around the SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) and PIPA (Protect Intellectual Property Act). The major copyright industries like the MPAA wanted to greatly increase penalties for sharing copyright content and make internet companies responsible for blocking access to copyright content.

The internet industries argued that the proposed legislation ran counter to the technical infrastructure and cultural practices of the internet. To block access to particular sites or restrict flows of specific content is technically and practically difficult. Furthermore, the digital culture of the internet is based on endless copies and remixes of cultural content. To attempt to regulate what information could be copied would undermine the innovative and open nature of online culture. Internet industries and activists came together to mobilise public protest against SOPA and PIPA. This cultmated in a ‘blackout’ of many websites on January 17, 2012. Instead of access to Wikipedia or Google users saw a STOP SOPA banner and an invitation to contact their member of Congress. The action resulted in millions of messages of protest being sent to Congress. The bills were consequently withdrawn.

The defeat of SOPA and PIPA represented a key moment in the struggle over the regulation of cultural content. For much of the twentieth century the major copyright industries controlled the technologies and regulatory frameworks. With the emergence of the internet they have lost much of that control.  While major copyright and internet organisations, lobbyists and activists continue to struggle over how the circulation of content online should be regulated, with SOPA and PIPA the internet were able to defeat the copyright industries. Many argue this was the first time that organisations like Google asserted themselves as major players in the policy process.

Decode DC’s podcast ‘The Future Was Now’ explains the history of ‘struggles’ between copyright and technology industries over the regulation of cultural content. The podcast offers a detailed analysis of the battle over the SOPA and PIPA bills. You can find a link to the podcast on the Media and Society website.

A major figure in the push against SOPA was the internet activist and co-founder of Reddit Aaron Schwartz. You can find a link to his talk ‘How we stopped SOPA’ on the Media and Society website. We have also included there a link to Yochai Benkler’s analysis of the social networks formed around the SOPA and PIPA debate.

Consider the activities and positions of groups involved in each process and what communicative sites, professionals and meanings they use to manage their position and present it as legitimate:

Who is making the case for regulating the flow of content online?

On what grounds to they make the case?

Who is calling who a pirate or a criminal?

How do they justify and pursue these accusations?

Who has tried to use the political system to shape policy around copyright and ownership?

What have they done?

How have they been successful or not?

Who has made agreements with each other about managing content online? What kinds of power did each party bring to the negotiation?

How were they able to influence the other and get what they want?

Consider how hegemonies are changing: who is gaining and losing power? What rules are changing?



Motion Picture Association of America resources on copyright.


Rob Reid’s TED Talk ‘The $8 Billion iPod’.


Decode DC podcast ‘The Future Was Now’ on the history of SOPA-PIPA and copyright reform.


Yokai Benkler’s report ‘Social Mobilization and the Networked Public Sphere: Mapping the SOPA-PIPA debate’.



Bill Clinton’s legitimacy: from the 1992 Presidential Campaign to the 2012 Democratic National Convention

D.A. Pennebacker’s 1993 documentary film The War Room followed political strategists James Carville and George Stephanopolous throughout Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential campaign. The film offers a rare ‘fly on the wall’ examination of hegemonic communicative labour as Carville and Stephanopolous go about crafting a ‘new consensus’ around Clinton and the Democrats. Pennebacker followed the campaigners as they constructed and managed Clinton’s political image.

Clinton and his campaign strategists successfully invented a new ‘covenant’ or ‘consensus’ under which they organised progressive politics. They used a collection of narratives to explain and construct this consensus in the minds of American voters. The mantras of his campaign included:

  •  ‘It’s the economy, stupid’: the binding idea that without a strong and growing economy there could be no middle class.
  •  ‘The forgotten middle class’: the idea that demarcated the Democrats from the Republicans. It signalled the conservatives had omitted ordinary middle Americans from their political consensus.
  • ‘The gap between the rich and the poor’: An idea that articulated the ‘social justice’ values of progressive politics.
  •  ‘Don’t forget healthcare’: An idea that materialised the broader narrative of the ‘forgotten middle class’ and the ‘gap between the rich and the poor’. Healthcare is one way ordinary Americans could materially envisage a ‘better’ middle class life.
  • ‘Change versus more of the same’: A mantra of modern campaigning. Barack Obama went with ‘Change’ and ‘Hope’ in 2008 and ‘Forward’ in 2012.

In Clinton’s campaign slogans we can see some ideas that have become well-established in mainstream politics over the past generation. In particular, ‘change’ becomes a mantra for politics in a globally networked world where constant flexibility and adaptation are a fact of life. Progressive parties have focussed on finding a consensus between economic growth, social welfare and progressive cultural values as a way of maintaining power. Conservative parties for their part have aimed to build a consensus between economic growth, individual freedoms and traditional cultural values.

Toward the end of The War Room Carville gives a famous speech on the eve of the election. In that speech he explains that they ‘changed the way campaign were run’ by using grassroots networks of campaigners. You can find a link to the speech on the Media and Society website.

Watch The War Room and consider the variety of ways Carville and Stephanopolous make Bill Clinton a legitimate political leader. How do they manage Clinton’s image? What meanings do they create? What resistance do they face?

The way they constructed a highly organised campaign that drew on the grassroots participation of volunteers. How does this compare with today’s political campaigns? For instance, how did Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns extend and develop the use of grassroots participation to make him a legitimate candidate?

While The War Room offers a portrait of Clinton at the beginning of his political career, he was largely credited during the 2012 Presidential campaign with helping to make Barack Obama a legitimate candidate in the eyes of middle class Americans.

You can find a link to Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention on the Media and Society website.

In that speech Clinton makes a series of statements about the ‘beliefs’ and ‘values’ of Democrats:

  • ‘I want a man who believes with no doubt that he can build a new American Dream economy, driven by information and creativity’.
  •  ‘We Democrats think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it – with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly share prosperity. You see, we believe that ‘we’re all in this together’ is far better philosophy then ‘you’re on your own’.
  • ‘It turns out that advancing equal opportunity and economic empowerment is both morally right and good economics. Why? Because poverty, discrimination, and ignorance restrict growth. When you stifle human potential, when you don’t invest in new ideas, it doesn’t just cut offt he people who are affected; it hurts us all’.

What ideas, meanings and stories does Clinton invoke? How does Clinton present himself, and Obama, as legitimate?

Compare Clinton’s ideas to other ideas in contemporary American political life: progressive or conservative, mainstream or radical. How is Clinton similar and different to the Republican narrative? How is Clinton different to more radical political perspectives in America?



James Carville’s speech in The War Room



Bill Clinton’s speech at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.



Barack Obama’s speech to campaign volunteers after the 2012 election.


Further Readings

Each of the readings below examine how institutions like corporations, governments, and think tanks attempt to organise and control the production and circulation of culture and ideas using economic resources, market dynamics, policies and laws. McKnight and Hobbs (2011) examine how book deals made by HarperCollins promote conservative intellectual and political ideas. The authors argue that agenda aligns with the conservative politics of their owner Rupert Murdoch. Athique (2008) explores the structure of Indian media industries paying attention to their interconnectedness with informal economies and piracy. This article draws attention to the role that players outside of formal institutions play in organising and influencing the circulation of cultural content like music and film. Bar and Sandvig (2008) consider how communication policy responds to and regulates new media technologies. Schlesinger (2009) examines how ‘experts’ and ‘power plays’ shaped UK Labour government policies that developed the ‘creative industries’ as a new way of configuring and controlling cultural production. Zhang (2006) offers an account of how Chinese policy-makers conceptualise and implement their control of the internet.

Athique, A. (2008). ‘The global dynamics of Indian media piracy: export markets, playback media and the informal economy’, Media Culture and Society, 30: 699-717.

Bar, F. and Sandvig, C. (2008). ‘US communication policy after convergence’, Media Culture and Society, 30: 531-550.

McKnight, D. and Hobbs, M. (2011). ‘'You're all a bunch of pinkos': Rupert Murdoch and the politics of HarperCollins’, Media, Culture and Society, 33: 835-850.

Schlesinger, P. (2009). ‘Creativity and the Experts: New Labour, Think Tanks, and the Policy Process’, International Journal of Press/Politics, 14: 3-20.

Zhang, L. (2006). ‘Behind the 'Great Firewall': Decoding China's Internet Media Policies from the Inside’, Convergence, 12: 271-291.