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Television and political alienation in Japan
Department of Communication
Tokyo Woman's Christian University
2-6-1 Zempukuji, Suginami-ku,
Tokyo, Japan, 167-8585
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Paper presented at the Mass Communication & Society Division of
the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication
annual meeting at San Antonio, August 10-August 13, 2005
Putnam's time displacement hypothesis and Robinson's videomalaise
hypothesis have not received sufficient supporting evidence from
studies undertaken in the United States and a number of European
countries. However, it remains unknown whether television causes
similar demobilization effects in Japan. Therefore, this study
examined whether television cultivates political alienation in Japan.
To address this issue, this study was based on the assumption that
effects resulting from television content and use of the medium per
se combine in a complex manner to produce political alienation. Past
research has indicated that Japanese political alienation is
comprised of three dimensions: political apathy, political
inefficacy, and political cynicism. Data from a survey conducted in
Tokyo revealed that frequent viewers were more likely to be
politically apathetic and feel politically inefficacious than were
infrequent viewers. Among viewers who did not watch the news on NHK
(public television), television viewing was also related to political
cynicism. We examine the implications of our findings and provide
some directions for future research.
Television and political alienation in Japan
In many democratic societies, including Japan, political apathy,
disaffection, distrust, and indifference are common among the general
public, especially the younger generation. This sort of negative
political consciousness (negative attitudes or feelings toward
politics) can only have a negative effect on democracy. Some
researchers argue that along with various other factors embedded in
political systems, mass media, especially television, play a crucial
role in promoting or intensifying political apathy or cynicism (e.g.,
Cappella and Jamieson, 1997; Ootake, 2003; Patterson, 1993, Putnam,
1995, Robinson, 1976, Taniguchi, 2002).
Condemnation of mass media as a negative force against democracy can
be traced back to Lazarsfeld and Merton's (1948/1971) idea of
narcotizing dysfunction. These authors argued that mass media allow
the general public to be in touch with the world, but that mass media
"may elicit only a superficial concern with the problems of society,
and this superficiality often cloaks mass apathy" (p. 565). According
to them, the audience "comes to mistake knowing about problems of the
day for doing something about them" (italics original) and "quite
apart from intent, increasing dosages of mass communications may be
inadvertently transforming the energies of men from active
participation into passive knowledge" (p. 566). Concerning
narcotizing dysfunction, Wright (1986) wrote that "the individual,
overwhelmed by matters brought to his or her attention by mass
communication, escapes to private concerns over which there seems to
be more control" (p. 18). In other words, too much information from
mass media may lead an audience to privatization, which in turn may
lead to individual apathy about civic activity.
Although it was not well documented in their work, the process (or
underlying mechanism) by which media induce mass apathy and inertia
may include at least three components: time displacement of civic
activities owing to media use, privatization resulting from
information overload, and misperception of passive knowledge about
public issues as active social participation. These processes may
take place at the same time as media use, regardless of the content's
quality or type. Thus, narcotizing dysfunction could be regarded as a
social consequence that is brought about by the use of media per se,
rather than by media content.1 If this is the case, this negative
social consequence should be more clearly demonstrated among frequent
media users than among infrequent users.
When Lazarsfeld and Merton (1948/1971) published their theory, radio
and newspapers were the dominant mass media. With the addition of
television in modern times, narcotizing dysfunction seems to have
become more and more prevalent. It may be one of the most significant
unintended influences of mass communication. In the past, however,
authors have discussed narcotizing dysfunction in the absence of
empirical testing, partly because it was under-theorized and
oversimplified, and partly because functional analysis has been
widely unpopular since the early 1970s (Bryant and Miron, 2004).
Although not directly referring to the term 'narcotizing
dysfunction', some researchers have investigated an issue similar to
that set out by Lazarsfeld and Merton (1948/1971) half a century ago.
For example, Putnam (1995) has argued that television has led to a
decline in social capital in the United States. He noted that "TV
watching comes at the expense of nearly every social activity outside
the home, especially social gatherings and informal conversations"
(pp. 678-679), and claimed that television has, therefore, privatized
our leisure time. Although the theme under discussion is the decline
of social capital, and does not refer directly to negative political
consciousness, Putnam's 'time displacement hypothesis' (Moy,
Scheufele and Holbert, 1999) can be considered an important extension
of the concept of narcotizing dysfunction.
Mutz (1998) pointed out that Putnam's arguments are "clearly within
the mass society tradition; mass media are conceptualized as
displacing close-knit interpersonal networks and thus producing an
alienated public" (p. 267). Moy et al. (1999) conducted an empirical
examination of Putnam's time displacement hypothesis, namely, that
"the time one spends watching television should be related negatively
to civic capital" (Moy et al., 1999, p. 31). Their results supported
the hypothesis that television has a negative impact on civic
capital, but they found that the relation is not mediated by
perceptions of time pressure. They concluded that "television
undermines civic engagement. However, blaming television for taking
time away from other activities is not warranted. Therefore, our
research calls for a modified time displacement hypothesis" (p. 40).
A number of researchers have provided unsupported evidence for the
time displacement hypothesis (e.g., Norris, 1996); however, Putnam's
thesis deserves further investigation, above all in countries other
than the United States.
It is important to note that the mechanism hypothesized by Lazarsfeld
and Merton (1948/1971) and Putnam (1995) does not provide a complete
picture of how media induce political apathy or cynicism. With regard
to this issue, Norris (1996) pointed out that "we do not know whether
the public is affected by the simple amount of television viewing, as
Putnam (1995) claims, or whether the contents of what people watch is
equally important" (p. 475). Obviously, television content also plays
an important role in cultivating political alienation among viewers.
Among studies that have addressed the issue of the impact of media
content on political alienation, Robinson's (1976) study, which set
out the "videomalaise hypothesis", is clearly one of the earliest and
most influential studies to date. He argued that growing political
discontent and a decline in feelings of political efficacy can be
linked to the media, particularly television. Robinson demonstrated
that exposure to TV news about politics was related to political
inefficacy, distrust, and cynicism. Robinson listed several factors
that may lead to videomalaise, including unmotivated television news
viewing, the high credibility attributed to the television networks
by the audience, the interpretive character of television news
coverage, the emphasis on the negative and on conflict and violence
in television news, and the anti-institutional theme of network news programs.
However, follow-up studies on the videomalaise hypothesis by other
scholars have shown mixed findings, partly because of their "diverse
conceptualizations, research designs and indicators" (Holtz-Bacha,
1990, p. 74). Several studies have been conducted in the US, but few
provided evidence supporting the hypothesis (see Bennet, Rhine,
Flickinger & Bennet, 1999; Norris, 2000). Bowen, Stamm and Clark
(2000) suggested that the videomalaise hypothesis was subject to a
number of contingencies that limit its generality. Some European
studies have revealed that, while the viewing of commercial TV news
and entertainment programs has a negative effect on political
engagement, viewing TV news on a public channel has a positive effect
(e.g., Holtz-Bacha, 1990; Hooghe, 2002; Aarts & Semetko, 2003).
Cappella and Jamieson's (1997) "spiral of cynicism" argument can be
regarded as a variant (or extention) of the videomalaise hypothesis.
From the perspective of media-framing effects (see Scheufele, 1999
for a comprehensive review), Cappella and Jamieson hypothesized that
the media undermine political trust and participation. They divided
styles of news reporting about political campaigns into two types:
issue frame and strategic frame. The former emphasizes "policy
issues, problems, and solutions" and the latter focuses on "candidate
strategy, win-or-lose aspects of the campaign, and politicians'
selfish interests" (Rhee, 1997, p. 30). Using experimental studies,
Cappella and Jamieson (1997) demonstrated that news coverage using a
strategic frame leads audiences to political cynicism. They also
provided a thoughtful explanation, from a social cognition
perspective, of the underlying mechanisms of this type of media
framing effect (See also Rhee, 1997).
In Japan, Taniguchi (2002) expanded on the work of Cappella and
Jamieson (1997), examining the relationship between viewing specific
news programs and political cynicism. Taniguchi's content analysis of
two major nightly news programs (NHK's News 10 and TV Asashi's News
Station) categorized 76.3% of News Station news items as using a
strategic frame and 15.3% as using an issue frame (8.5% were
categorized as other); corresponding figures for News 10 were 55.6%,
40.3%, and 4.2% respectively. Based on panel data along with the
content analysis, Taniguchi concluded that News Station relied on a
strategic frame and depicted politicians in a more negative context;
this tended to lead viewers to political cynicism. This negative
influence was not observed in News 10 newscasts.
Unlike Lazarsfeld and Merton's narcotizing dysfunction or Putnam's
time displacement hypothesis, Robinson's videomalaise hypothesis and
Cappella and Jamieson's media-framing effects hypothesis directly
deal with the impact of media content, rather than the consequences
of media per se. Thus, their theoretical foundations or conceptual
frameworks differ from those of Lazarsfeld and Merton (1948/1971) and
Putnam (1995). Since the question of whether media content or the use
of media per se plays a greater role in inducing political apathy or
cynicism remains unsolved, this study assumes that both media content
and the use of media per se combine in a complex manner to have an
impact on viewers' political consciousness.
Recent trends in television news and information programs in Japan
Recently, there has been worldwide criticism of television news and
information programs. Researchers have coined the terms 'newszak'
(Franklin, 1997) and 'tabloid news (or tabloidization)' (Grabe, Zhou,
Lang and Bolls, 2000; Hayashi, 1999; Langer, 1998) to refer to mainly
entertainment-oriented news programs, and have examined the possible
negative impacts that these programs may have on an audience.
In Japan, television news programs have dramatically changed since
the mid-1980s. News Station, first aired in 19852, was the first to
change the way in which news was reported. Since then, other
television stations have also revised their news programs.
Consequently, there has been a so-called 'news war', in which news
coverage (mostly programs on commercial stations) has become
increasingly sensational and entertainment-oriented (Hagiwara, 2001;
Ootake , 2003; Takase, 1999).3
Hagiwara (2001) conducted a content analysis to examine how
television news programs tend to be entertainment-oriented. He
focused on two aspects: news content and news format. His analysis
showed that 'soft' news (e.g., sports, lifestyle, or culture)
occupied on average about half of the total broadcasting time. He
also found that a variety of attention-catching techniques such as
bridge sounds, computer graphics, charts, BGM, sound effects, or
unnecessary telops were excessively used in news programs on
commercial stations. (He termed these 'excessive stage effects'.)
According to Hagiwara, the tendency of news programs to be
entertainment-oriented has accelerated in recent years.
Such entertainment-oriented tendencies can be observed not only
during regular news programs but also during weekly information
programs such as TBS's Sunday Morning or TV Asahi's Sunday Project
(these are often termed 'political talk shows'; see Inaba, 2003).
Ootake (2003) argued that while entertainment-oriented news programs
and political talk shows certainly contribute to enhancement of
political interest and a better understanding of complicated social
issues among the general public, the programs simultaneously foster a
tendency to regard politics as a form of entertainment. Ootake (2003)
further charged that these television programs have manufactured
political spectators who are similar to sports spectators.
In addition, several weekly 'infotainment' programs hosted by
comedians are aired in Japan; these deal with mainly political
issues, and often turn political issues into comedy. Although they
may help the audience, especially the younger generation, to learn
about recent political issues, the way in which politics is presented
in these programs could also have a negative impact.
This study examines whether television cultivates a negative
political consciousness in Japan. In this study, we do not rely on a
single theoretical model. As mentioned above, this study is based on
the assumption that both media content and the use of media per se
play significant roles, which interact in a complex manner, to induce
political alienation. Robinson's (1976) videomalaise hypothesis was
the most influential study with respect to the present undertaking.
Applying this hypothesis to the impact of entertainment-oriented news
and infotainment programs, we hypothesized that more frequent viewers
of television are more likely to be politically cynical or to have a
sense of political inefficacy. It seems plausible to suppose that
frequent viewers can become so engrossed in being informed, and so
mesmerized by entertainment-oriented programs dealing with political
matters, that they equate being an informed citizen with being an
active citizen, and subsequently become apathetic or cynical toward politics.
The concept of 'political alienation'
So far we have used the terms political apathy, cynicism, distrust or
indifference rather loosely when referring to negative attitudes
toward or feelings about politics. Some researchers in the US have
attempted to clarify the conceptual foundations of these similar
concepts, often used as synonyms. For example, analyzing the National
Election Study (NES) data on political alienation, Chen (1992)
concluded that political alienation consists of four dimensions: (1)
normlessness or distrust, (2) powerlessness or inefficacy, (3)
meaninglessness, and (4) apathy. Similarly, Austin and Pinkleton
(1995) described four components of a model of political
disaffection: (1) cynicism, (2) apathy, (3) negativism, and (4)
third-person perceptions. Austin and Pinkleton summarized several
concepts relating to negative political attitudes and feelings (e.g.,
apathy or cynicism) and created a questionnaire to measure them
(Austin and Pinkleton, 1995; Pinkleton and Austin, 2004).
In Japan, reviewing relevant literature about negative political
consciousness, Yamada (1990; 1994) suggested using the term
'political alienation' in a generic way to cover various concepts
about negative attitudes toward or feelings about politics. Political
alienation may be defined as "alienated feelings from politics among
members of mass democratic society" (Yamada, 1994, p. 92). Yamada
(1994) constructed a scale consisting of nine items to measure
political alienation among Japanese citizens. His research indicated
that Japanese political alienation is comprised of three dimensions:
political apathy, political inefficacy, and political cynicism (or
distrust). Because of differences in the political culture and
climate of Japan and the United States, this study used the scale
proposed by Yamada (1994).
With regard to political inefficacy, Bandura (1986) introduced the
idea of self-efficacy, which influences self-regulation. According to
Fiske and Taylor (1992), "Self-efficacy beliefs are conceptualized as
highly specific control-related beliefs which concern one's ability
to perform a particular outcome. The stronger one's perceived
self-efficacy, the more one will exert effort and persist at a task"
(p. 198). Applied to political communication, political efficacy is
defined as "the feeling that an individual citizen can have an impact
on the political process" (Tan, 1981, p. 136). Three items in
Yamada's scale apply to political efficacy; more specifically, the
items measure political inefficacy. Austin and Pinkleton (1995) found
that apathy and cynicism toward politics were negatively correlated
to political efficacy. These researchers regarded political efficacy
as a mediating variable between political disaffection and voting
behavior (i.e., disaffection such as cynicism and apathy precede
inefficacy). Yamada (1994), however, proposed the opposite
relationship, namely, that people become politically apathetic
because they feel politically inefficacious. Arguments about causal
relationships among apathy, cynicism, and efficacy are, however,
beyond the scope of this article. For the sake of convenience, here
we deal with these three elements independently.
As mentioned earlier, this study is based on the assumption that
effects resulting from both television content and use of the medium
per se combine in a complex manner to produce political alienation.
Although both Putnam's time displacement hypothesis and Robinson's
videomalaise hypothesis have not necessarily gained supporting
evidence from studies conducted in the United States and a number of
European countries, the question of whether television causes these
demobilization effects in other countries, including Japan, remains
to be answered.
Based on the arguments of a number of prominent Japanese political
scientists cited earlier (e.g., Ootake, 2003; Taniguchi, 2002;
Takase, 1999), and previous relevant findings by Hagiwara (2001) and
Taniguchi (2002), it may be assumed that television fosters political
apathy, cynicism, and inefficacy among viewers in Japan.
This study uses two measures to indicate television exposure: the
amount of overall viewing and the amount of television news viewing.
Both measures could be predictor variables, but which one has more
power to predict political alienation? Specifically, this study
formulated the following hypotheses:
H1a: The more time people spend watching television, the more likely
they are to be politically cynical.
H1b: The more time people spend watching television news programs,
the more likely they are to be politically cynical.
H2a: The more time people spend watching television, the more likely
they are to feel politically inefficacious.
H2b: The more time people spend watching television news programs,
the more likely they are to feel politically inefficacious.
H3a: The more time people spend watching television, the more likely
they are to be politically apathetic.
H3b: The more time people spend watching television news programs,
the more likely they are to be politically apathetic.
Although not formally included in these hypotheses, we also pay
careful attention to possibly different effects created by viewing
public and commercial TV broadcasting4.
To test these hypotheses, a sampling survey was conducted in November
2003. The sample for this study was drawn from the city of Tokyo.
Using a two-stage probability sampling method, 1000 people aged 20 or
above who lived in Tokyo were selected. The sample was chosen using a
Tokyo poll-book that lists all electorates at least 20 years old.
Trained interviewers administered questionnaires in person from
November 15 to December 1, 2003; 619 interviews were completed.
Political alienation: We used Yamada's scale to measure negative
attitudes toward or feelings about politics. Respondents expressed
their level of political alienation by responding to nine 5-point
Likert-scale items with response categories ranging from 1 (strongly
disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). A factor analysis of political
alienation items using varimax rotation indicated that the scale
consisted of three dimensions suggested by Yamada (See Table 1).
Political cynicism consisted of three items: "we cannot trust what
politicians say"; "dietmen/women do not consider the electorate"; and
"politicians devote themselves to corruption or factions rather than
to planning or carrying out policy". We combined these three items
into a scale (hereafter termed the 'cynicism scale'). The alpha
coefficient for the cynicism scale was .84. Political inefficacy was
comprised of the following three items: "political trends are
determined by power beyond our control"; "our making a fuss about
politics makes no difference in political reform"; and "it is
difficult to reflect public opinion in politics". We combined these
three items into a scale (hereafter termed the 'inefficacy scale').
The alpha coefficient for the inefficacy scale was .85. Political
apathy consisted of three items: "thinking or doing something about
politics in daily life annoys me"; "it is better to devote myself to
my own job than to spend my energy on politics"; and "it is wise to
leave political matters to politicians". We combined these three
items into a scale (hereafter termed the 'apathy scale'). The alpha
coefficient for the apathy scale was .72.
Political orientation: The respondents were asked to indicate their
self-designated political orientation using a five-point scale
ranging from 1 (conservative) to 5 (liberal). They also indicated how
interested they were in politics in general using a four-point scale
ranging from 1 (very much interested) to 4 (not at all interested).
Television viewing: The total amount of television viewed was
measured by asking respondents to indicate how much time they usually
spent watching television (M = 177.43, SD = 104.45 per day). The
amount of television news viewed was measured by asking how much time
they usually spent watching television news (M = 60.79, SD = 41.51
per day). Respondents were also asked to indicate whether they
regularly watched any of 19 specific television programs (Yes = coded
1; No = coded 0). Of these 19 programs, 12 were daily news programs
and seven were weekly information programs.
Internet use: Respondents were also asked about whether they accessed
the Internet using a computer (Yes = coded 1; No = coded 0). Slightly
more than half the respondents were computer Internet users (52.5%).
One of the most notable recent trends in Japanese communications is
an explosive growth in Internet access via cell phone (including
PHS). The number of cell phone Internet users has rapidly increased
since the first cell phone Internet service (i-mode service by NTT
DoCoMo) began in February 1999 (IAJ, 2003; MPHPT, 2003). However, use
of the Internet via cell phone differs from Internet use via computer
(Ishii, 2004). In this sample, the number of people accessing the
Internet only via cell phone was small (n = 52); therefore, we
focused solely on computer Internet use in subsequent analyses.
Evaluation of news coverage of politics: The respondents were
required to evaluate how television news report political matters by
using a four-point scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 4
(strongly agree). Four items were evaluated: "there is too much
sensationalized reporting"; "news reporting on television includes
too many entertaining elements"; "news reporting on television puts
too much emphasis on conflicts between political parties"; and "news
reporting on television is inaccurate and unbalanced". A factor
analysis indicated that these four items consisted of a single
construct, and the reliability coefficient was also acceptable (a =
.83); we therefore combined these four items into a single scale
(hereafter termed the 'television evaluation scale').
Characteristics of the sample
In the sample, 50.6% of respondents were males and 49.4% were
females. Respondents ranged in age from 20 to 70 (M = 46.6, SD =
13.6): 14.5% were 20-29 years old, 19.7% were 30-39, 19.1% were
40-49, 24.1% were 50-59, 22.6% were 60 or over. Of respondents, 8.4%
were junior high school graduates, 35.4% were senior high school
graduates, 22.1% had graduated from junior college (or equivalent),
31.8% were college students or graduates, and 1.6% had attended
graduate school (0.3% were categorized as other).
First, we examined relationships between viewing specific television
programs and scores on the three scales (the cynicism scale, the
inefficacy scale, and the apathy scale). Although the impact that an
individual program has on political alienation was not a main concern
in this study, the data will provide basic information for subsequent
Partial correlation analyses indicated that viewing News 10 on NHK (a
public station) was negatively correlated to scores on all three
scales: regular viewers were less likely to be politically apathetic
(7th order partial r = -.092, p < .05), less likely to be politically
cynical (7th order partial r = -.098, p < .05), and slightly less
likely to be politically inefficacious (7th order partial r = -.078,
p < .10). Regular viewers of TBS's News 23 tended to be slightly less
politically apathetic (7th order partial r = -.075, p < .10).
Similarly, regular viewers of Fuji TV's Report 2001 were slightly
less likely to be politically cynical (7th order partial r = -.094, p
< .05). We found no significant correlations between scores on the
three scales with any other programs analyzed in this study (see Appendix A).
To examine the relative predictive power of television viewing on
political alienation, we conducted a hierarchical multiple regression
analysis. Predictor variables included age, gender, level of
education, self-designated political orientation, level of interest
in politics, evaluation of television news reporting, amount of
television viewing, and Internet use. Dependent variables were scores
on each of the three scales. A relatively high correlation was
observed between the total amount of television viewed and the amount
of television news viewed (r = .585, p < .001), so we used these two
measures separately in different regression models: the total amount
of television viewed was used in Model 1, and the amount of
television news viewed was used in Model 2. In the first step, we
entered demographic variables (age, gender, and education). In the
second step, we added level of interest in politics, self-designated
political orientation, and the television evaluation scale. In the
third step, we added television viewing and Internet use.
Table 2 summarizes the results, showing final standardized regression
coefficients. Results showed that both the total amount of television
viewed (b = .087, p < .05) and the amount of television news viewed
(b = .076, p < .10) positively related to the inefficacy scale; thus,
more frequent viewers were slightly more likely to feel politically
inefficacious. The total amount of television viewed also positively
related to the apathy scale (b = .112, p < .01), indicating that
viewers with more frequent overall use were more likely to be
politically apathetic. Neither total television viewed nor television
news viewed showed a significant relationship with the cynicism
scale. The results, therefore, supported Hypotheses 2a, 2b, and 3a,
but refuted Hypotheses 1a, 1b, and 3b.
The data also revealed that Internet use was negatively related to
the apathy scale, indicating that Internet users were less likely to
be politically apathetic. In addition, the results showed that
respondents who regarded themselves as liberal were less likely to
feel inefficacious and be apathetic than those who considered
Up to this point, the analyses examined respondents as a whole. In
the next step, we divided respondents into two types: NHK news
viewers, and non-NHK news viewers. We conducted additional regression
analyses for each group separately, using the same independent and
A cluster analysis of 12 news programs indicated that NHK news
programs belonged to a different cluster than other news programs of
five commercial television stations.5 For convenience, we categorized
those who regularly watched either NHK News 7 or News 10 as NHK news
viewers (n = 309), and other respondents as non-NHK news viewers (n = 310).
The results of the multiple regression analysis indicated that among
NHK news viewers, neither total television viewed nor television news
viewed showed any significant relationships with scores on the
cynicism, inefficacy, and apathy scales. Internet use, however, was
negatively related to the apathy scale (b = -.210, p < .001 in both
Model 1 and Model 2), indicating that respondents who accessed the
Internet via computer were less likely to be politically apathetic.
In contrast, non-NHK news viewers showed different patterns; we
examined the results closely (see Table 3). The total amount of
television viewed was positively related to scores on the cynicism
scale (b = .101, p < .10), so frequent television viewers were
slightly more likely to be politically cynical. The amount of
television news viewed was not, however, significantly related to
scores on the cynicism scale. Both total television viewing (b =
.178, p < .01) and television news viewing (b = .164, p < .01) showed
significant relationships with scores on the inefficacy scale, so
frequent viewers were more likely to feel politically inefficacious
than less frequent viewers. Frequent television viewers were more
likely to be politically apathetic (b = .137, p < .05), but
television news viewing was not a significant predictor of apathy
scale scores. The finding that respondents who considered themselves
liberal were less likely to feel inefficacious and be apathetic also
applied to non-NHK news viewers. Accordingly, the results supported
Hypotheses 1a, 2a, 2b, and 3a, but among non-NHK news viewers, the
results refuted Hypotheses 1b and 3b.
As mentioned above, in this study we examined the three elements of
political alienation (apathy, cynicism, and efficacy) independently.
To help with future research, however, we should note that we
attempted to incorporate a model in which cynicism and apathy precede
inefficacy (Austin and Pinkleton, 1995). We ran another regression
analysis specifically for non-NHK news viewers, using the inefficacy
scale as the dependent variable and entering the cynicism and apathy
scales into an equation as a set of independent variables (others
were the same independent variables used in the preceding analyses).
Results indicated that whereas the standardized regression
coefficient reduced to .102 from .178 in Model 1 and .126 from .164
in Model 2, the coefficients remained significant (p <. 05), implying
that the suggested model may not apply to Japan (i.e., cynicism and
apathy may not precede inefficacy in Japan).
Overall, our findings suggest that, even controlling for several
relevant variables, television viewing is related to political
alienation, especially among non-NHK news viewers. As this study was
based on cross-sectional data, a causal relationship cannot be
established. The results, however, seem to indicate that television
has a negative influence on viewers' political consciousness. As
Holtz-Bacha (1990) has noted, "In complex political systems the
individual citizen has little opportunity for direct political
experience. Politics is almost exclusively experienced through the
mass media" (p. 81). Thus, although it is possible that those with
higher levels of political alienation would be more likely to spend
more time watching television, the dominant causal direction might be
The fact that these results were obtained, given the current trends
in news and information programs toward sensationalism and
entertainment-orientation, has important implications for future
television programs. If television, even unintentionally, plays a
negative role in a democratic system by cultivating political
alienation among viewers, media researchers and creators should pay
careful attention to this dysfunction and be aware of television
programming. It is, of course, also important to pay equal attention
to the positive influences of television; Norris (2000), for example,
has claimed that news media exert a positive impact on democracy, but
more research is needed to examine the net balance between the
positive and negative influences of television.
It may be argued that the size of the effects observed in this study
is negligible (e.g., standardized regression coefficients never
exceeded .20). As Gerbner et al. (1986) have pointed out, however,
"even light viewers live in the same cultural environments as most
others, and what they do not get through the tube can be acquired
indirectly from others who do watch television" (p. 21). The
differences in political alienation between infrequent and frequent
users may be small, but even small differences could have
far-reaching consequences for democracy. When discussing the small
effect sizes found in many studies, Gerbner and colleagues used the
metaphor of climate change, namely, that a shift of even a few
degrees in average temperature can cause significant climate change,
such as an ice age or global warming; thus, small effects should not
be ignored (Gerbner, Gross, Morgan and Signorielli, 1986, 1994). The
same logic could apply to the results of our study.
As already noted, negative influences of television viewing were not
observed among NHK news viewers, although positive influences were
equally not observed at the aggregate level. In addition, at the
individual program level, regular viewers of News 10 showed slightly
less political alienation, although the cause for this is unknown.
These findings indicate that NHK (public television) and commercial
television programs have different effects on political apathy,
cynicism, and feelings of inefficacy. Future research should clarify
whether public and commercial broadcasts have different impacts on
the political consciousness of an audience.
Related to the above-mentioned point, future studies should examine
which kind of measure has the most power to predict political
alienation. Measurements to detect the influence of television appear
to include at least three levels: individual program, genre (e.g.,
news programs in general), and television as a whole.
It is almost impossible to detect the impact that an individual
program has on political alienation using cross-sectional data, as in
this study. Moreover, it is improbable that viewers would watch only
one news program (e.g., NHK's News 10) and avoid watching any others;
it is more reasonable to assume that average viewers watch a wide
variety of programs, even though there will be idiosyncratic viewing
preferences. In reality, the effects of individual programs may
cancel out (or possibly amplify) each other. An experimental study
may be one way to detect the impact that a particular program has
upon viewers. However, even if we were able to conduct experiments to
determine the independent impact of a specific program, it might not
be possible to apply the results to reality.
In current television programming, where genre boundaries are blurred
and entertainment and information elements are becoming increasingly
blended, it is not an easy task to create a reliable measure for
identifying the impact of a genre. Using the total television viewed,
similar to original cultivation analysis (Gerbner and Gross, 1976;
Gerbner et al., 1986, 1994), was one solution on which this study
relied. Future research, however, needs to find a better indicator of
how television induces political alienation.
While this study showed that television viewing is related to
political alienation in Japan, its underlying mechanism remains
undisclosed. The sociological explanations suggested by Lazarsfeld
and Merton (1948/1971) and Putnam (1995) might explain the results,
in part. However, a cognitive psychological mechanism such as that
underlying framing effects, as suggested by Cappella and Jamieson
(1997) and Rhee (1997), may also be at work. It seems that both
psychological and sociological explanations are necessary for a full
understanding of the results of our study. Subsequent studies should
attempt to set out the possible psychological and sociological
mechanisms of the political alienation induced by television.
In this study, we included Internet use as a predictor variable in
the analyses and found that it was related to less political apathy
among NHK news viewers. However, questions about whether the
relationship is causal or spurious (and if it is causal, in what
direction) remain unresolved, simply because the data available do
not allow us to answer them. In future research, we need to pay more
careful attention to the role of the Internet.
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1. Strictly speaking, narcotizing dysfunction occurs, in part,
through information conveyed by a medium, and not simply through the
medium itself. Even so, Lazarsfeld and Merton's (1948/1971) concept
of narcotizing dysfunction does not pay enough attention to content,
because it addresses only the amount of information (e.g.,
information overload), rather than the type or quality of information.
2. The program drew high audience ratings and continued until 2004,
when the main anchor, Hiroshi Kume, resigned.
3. While every news program has unique characteristics, the
similarities among them are important. To examine inter-media
consonance (Noelle-Neumann, 1973; Noelle-Neumann and Mathes, 1987),
Zhang (2000) conducted a content analysis and revealed that, in terms
of the agenda-setting level and the focusing level, Japanese news
media showed high inter-media consonance. Inter-media consonance at
the level of focusing is of particular significance to this study,
because it is closely related to the concept of media framing.
Zhang's findings also justify the strategy of using TV news exposure
at the aggregate level as an independent variable (i.e., the amount
of TV news viewing).
4. Japan has a dual television broadcasting system that consists of a
public broadcaster (NHK) and a number of commercial broadcasters. As
with the traditional BBC model, NHK is independent of both government
and corporate sponsorship, and relies almost entirely on revenue from
household reception fees. The commercial broadcasters derive their
revenue, in the main, from advertising.
5. Hagiwara (2001) also indicated that in terms of news format, news
on the public station, NHK, should be categorized differently to
programs on commercial stations.
6. Of course, without panel survey data or experimental data, we
cannot be certain about the direction of causality. In addition, it
is plausible that the relationship is reciprocal.
Results of factor analysis (varimax rotation)
We cannot trust what politicians say
Dietmen/women do not consider the electorate
Politicians are devoted to corruption or factions rather than on
carrying out policy
Political trends are determined by powers beyond our control
Our making a fuss about politics makes no difference in political reform
It is difficult to reflect public opinion in politics
Thinking or doing something about politics in daily life annoys me
It is better to devote myself to my own job than to spend my energy on politics
It is wise to leave political matters to politicians
Variance explained (%)
Television and political alienation 2
Results of hierarchical regression analyses: All respondents
Interest in politics
TV news evaluation
Total TV viewing
TV news viewing
R2 increase in Step 3
Note: Table entries are final standardized regression coefficients.
†p <.10, * p <.05, ** p <.01, *** p <.001.
Results of hierarchical regression analyses: Non-NHK news program viewers
Interest in politics
Total TV viewing
TV news viewing
R2 increase in Step 3
Note: Table entries are final standardized regression coefficients.
†p <.10, * p <.05, ** p <.01, *** p <.001
Television and political alienation 3
Appendix A. Simple and partial correlation coefficients between each
program and political inefficacy, cynicism, and apathy scale scores
Upper row = simple r
Lower row = 7th order partial r
News 7 (NHK)
News Plus One (NTV)
News Woods (TBS)
Super News (Fuji TV)
News 10 (NHK)
Today's Events (NTV)
News 23 (TBS)
News Station (TV Asahi)
Weekly information programs
The Sunday (NTV)
Sunday Morning (TBS)
Report 2001 (Fuji TV)
Sunday Project (TV Asahi)
Takeshi's TV Tackle (TV Asahi)
Note: Percentages represent regular viewers of each program. Only
programs that were watched regularly (at least once a week for daily
programs and at least once a month for weekly programs) by more than
20% of respondents were analyzed. Regular viewers were coded 1 and
non-regular viewers were coded 0.
Seventh-order partial correlations control for gender, age,
education, political orientation, interest in politics, TV
evaluation, and Internet use.
†p <.10, * p <.05, ** p <.01, *** p <.001