It would not be a mistake to say that the media are firmly entrenched in daily life. Electronic and printed newspapers, television, radio, and social networks broadcast every minute about new events, some of which may well prove to be inaccurate. However, information sources create a specific environment in which viewers live. This process is based on the hypothesis of cultivation put forward by George Gerbner and Larry Gross back in the middle of the 20th century. The case study aims to discuss this hypothesis in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
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Description of Concept
The cultivation hypothesis was initially developed as a concept studying the connections between U.S. television in the second half of the 20th century and the viewer. It originated in a project of a research program to establish the impact of media violence, led by George Gerbner in the 1960s (Shrum, 2017). According to the suggested ideas, under the influence of constantly watching TV programs, imprints of events and facts accumulate in people’s minds, which affects the perception of reality. Studies have shown that viewers who watch TV quite often have more consistent opinions about reality than people who do it less often (Shrum, 2017). In other words, one of the main provisions of the cultivation effect is to unify and direct people’s different, perhaps even opposing, views on social reality in a single way. Subsequently, individuals form their notions of the real world based on information stored in their consciousness. On the other hand, this effect means that mass communication can be used as an information weapon.
Application to the Pandemic
The study of this concept is of particular interest when it is applied to the current international situation. The coronavirus pandemic, which has covered almost all countries in a few months, has been showing a slow decline in the last week. Nevertheless, when it appeared, the virus caused a big information wave, becoming the main topic of all news reports. It is worth noting that this is a relatively new type of virus. In this regard, humanity was not ready to resist, hence the most effective measure was self-isolation. Once the virus had spread beyond China, most countries had firmly closed borders and quarantined populations.
This, in turn, produced an astonishing effect: most conscious citizens stayed at home and, accordingly, made more use of social media and television to receive up-to-date information about the virus. As a result, the media could create an environment in which people began to believe in reality. Nevertheless, the effect of accepting an alternative reality could also have been an outcome. In an effort to hide from the news of the coronavirus, people were more likely to turn on their television in search of entertainment. However, because most of the channels have changed their broadcast network to information about the coronavirus to remain relevant, viewers received a portion of data involving them in the virtual world.
Specific Examples of the Integration
An example of the integration of the cultivation effect into the life of a modern person is the recording of news programs published on YouTube video hosting. Not all citizens of the world are interested in the life of Italy or have relatives or friends living on the peninsula. Consequently, only the media become the mouthpiece through which a person receives information about the current situation. In the video published on March 19 on DW News (2020), the presenter said that the Italian authorities reported a record number of deaths from the infection compared to other countries in the world. More can be impressed by the footage that the directors used to convey the emotional mood of the broadcast. In particular, the introduction of dozens of military equipment in Bergamo to dispose of dead bodies was mentioned.
An untrained viewer who knows little about Italy will undoubtedly be impressed. Especially when they want to check the information additionally, they can find further articles that will talk about the almost daily record for the dead. Thus, as early as March 7, BBC News reported on the increase in mortality in Italy (“Coronavirus,” 2020). In other words, the viewer will find themselves in a situation where everything around them is talking about an extremely unpleasant situation that humanity has faced. However, not all people have the developed skills of critical thinking to assess the peak form of any pandemic. As a result, it will lead to panic and rash action. Given the above, it is justifiable to argue that news reports can influence some people on a cultivation basis.
In conclusion, it should be noted that the cultivation hypothesis may indeed influence people, but it should be borne in mind that not all viewers are equally affected. This effect allows creating an information environment in which those who perceive this material find themselves. Coronavirus pandemic demonstrates the work of the effect every day: a particular part of people trust television or the Internet, therefore, they let the information in from there. As a result, their views on objective reality can be distorted.
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- Coronavirus: Italy reports biggest daily jump in death toll. (2020). BBC News. Web.
- DW News. (2020). Coronavirus update: Italy reports record death toll +++ zero new domestic cases in China | DW News [Video file]. Web.
- Shrum, L. J. (2017). Cultivation theory: Effects and underlying processes. In P. Rössler, C. A. Hoffner, & L. Zoonen (Eds.), The International Encyclopedia of Media Effects (pp. 1-12). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc