Agency and control in and of the media AOS 2 – Unit 4

Agency and control in and of the media

Unit 4 – Area of study 2

In this area of study we focus on learning the following dot points:

• The arguments and issues surrounding control of the media in a digital world.
• The dynamic and changing relationship between the media and its audiences. The power and agency of audiences.
• The use of media by globalised media institutions, the government and the individual.
• Regulation of the relationships between the media and its audience in Australia.
• Issues and challenges relating to regulation and control of the media.
• Ethical and legal issues in the production, distribution, consumption and reception of media products.

By the end of this area of study you should be able to Discuss, analyse and evaluate these dot points.

From the study design

The relationship between the media and audiences has never been more complex. The contemporary media
landscape poses issues and challenges for the way that academics and commentators have traditionally theorised
the nature of communication. The media has always been considered to have the capacity to influence, but now
the balance of power is shifting and arguments around who influences who have become highly contested. The
media and its audiences are now both thought to exercise agency; the capacity to act and exert power.

Today the media not only produces and distributes content to audiences, it also generates and sustains social
networks, which have, in turn, enabled new modes of production, distribution, consumption and reception based
on the sharing of commercial and user-generated content. This has contributed to business models based on data
aggregation and the harvesting and sale of personal information collected from what many individuals consider
social and personalised media engagement.

Laws and policies of the Australian Government and self-regulation by media institutions define and maintain
standards through regulatory bodies and codes of conduct, but individual interaction with other media users, as in
social networks, is not subject to these constraints. As the media increasingly crosses national borders, governments
struggle to maintain control over the laws and policies created for their jurisdictions. These issues pose challenges
for managing and regulating the use of the media by globalised media institutions, governments and the individual.

Key knowledge

• the dynamic and changing relationship between the media and its audience
• the influence of both the media and audience
• the way media is used by globalised media institutions, governments and the individual
• the rationale for regulating the relationships between the media and its audience in Australia
• the issues and challenges relating to regulation and control of the media
• ethical and legal issues in the production, distribution, consumption and reception of media products
• media language.

Key skills

• discuss the dynamic and changing relationship between the media and its audience
• discuss the extent of the influence of the media and media audience
• analyse the regulation of relationships between the media and its audience in Australia
• analyse issues and challenges relating to regulation and control of the media
• evaluate ethical and legal issues in the media
• use media language


This area of study is called ‘agency & control’ because it analyses the power and influence the media is claimed to have over audiences, and that audiences are claimed to have over the media. Our experience makes it clear that the media does not have absolute power to influence audiences. We do not do everything the media suggests. On the other hand, audiences can do and exert power over the media but, their extent of their power is not always easy to determine.

This much is known……the media needs audiences and audiences need the media. The question that media theorists have tried to answer over 100 years is how and under what circumstances do they influence each other? The job of the media student is to determine how and to what degree agency and control are successfully applied by audiences and the media.

-Nelson Media, Flack 2018

Agency & Control Definitions

Agency refers to the ability to act and make choices. When a media audience, producer or institution has agency, they feel they can use a medium or platform however they choose – to express themselves, to use the media for a specific purpose, or to communicate a message.

Control refers to the ability to exert power over somebody else’s actions or choices. When a media audience, producer or institution has control, they may be able to shape messages or direct how the media is used.

Heinemann Media Third Edition - 2018

The tension between Agency & Control

Tension between these two ideas – agency and control can be seen in many different audience relationships with the media. Many social media platforms sell the illusion of agency to an audience when in fact their use of the system is tightly controlled. In turn, some audiences enjoy subverting the systems of mediums or platforms to give themselves more agency. Media institutions are often fighting for more agency in how they interact with the different regulation systems that attempt to control them.

The media as a socialising force

These days, when we think of ourselves and the media, we think about our relationship with our friends on Facebook and Instagram or we think of ourselves as audience members choosing and engaging with a film, television program, app or site. We think of ourselves as individuals, perhaps as a gamer or as a reader of a magazine or newspaper or a listener to music or a podcast. If we think about it at all, we tend to see media as a free or paid service that benefits our lives. We rarely stop to think what it means to be one of nearly 2 billion Facebook users or one of the million of Star Wars fans across the world. We think that we have complete agency over our media experiences, but do we?

Nelson Media, Flack 2018


Edward Snowden, the idealistic young military officer who became outraged by illegal, rampant NSA surveillance techniques. He turned whistleblower by leaking classified government documents to the world press, ending up as an (accidental) asylum-seeker in Russia.

Is Snowden a hero or a traitor?

Snowden Trailer

The Bobo Doll Experiment

The Bobo Doll experiment is one of the best known studies used in an attempt to explain the way the media could influence audiences. The study was conducted by a Canadian psychologist Albert Bandura in 1961 and 1963. It claimed that children who were shown violent behaviour towards an inflatable Bobo Doll (a child's toy, designed to be knocked over - pictured in the image beside) would act accordingly. It has been used to draw links between violent imagery in the media and violent behaviour in the real world. Today, this study is not quite redundant, but it certainly struggles to factor in the vast reality of modern media. In short, the modern media has long since moved.

Media Reframed - Cambridge 2018


The act of searching online is referred to with one word: Googling. There is no other company that symbolizes the transition from old to new media like Google. While not necessarily a media company as such (although its own Youtube), Goggle has the capacity to read all of your data and determine the direction of your search. Google’s success is based on the complexity of its search algorithm. When you type ‘new music’ into the Goggle search bar, it uses the data collected from your previous searches, likes and interests from pages you have visited and the data from billions of other users to predict what you are looking for before you have even fished typing. Its accuracy can both frightening and hilarious. As Goggle is the primary entry point for most media users online, its role must be considered in the whole debate of agency and control.

The users data collected by Goggle leaves that of Facebook, Youtube and Twitter in its wake. The vast majority of what is spoken and typed into Google search bar is recorded and used to your advantage in your next search and then sold to governments and institutions, who are desperate to gather the private conversations all internet users have with their keyboard.

Media Reframed - Cambridge 2018

The effects of the media on audiences – Media Influence

When it comes to determining the nature and control, it is important to avoid generalisations. There are no definitive answers to any of the questions this study poses. Before the media was met with technological change, theorists and academic thinkers would attempt to explain the relationship between media products and their impact on audiences.

Before we dive into MEDIA INFLUENCE as a study we must ask ourselves these......

1. How was the relationship between media creators and the audience once explained?

2. In a new media landscape, which elements of their work are still relevant today?

Media Reframed - Cambridge 2018

MEDIA responsible for self-esteem?

Women’s magazines and their use of underweight and Photo-shopped models have been long maligned for stirring self-esteem issues amount young women. But now, social media, with its filters and lighting and clever angles, is taking over as a primary concern among some campaigning groups and charities.

Social media sites make more than half of users feel inadequate, according to a survey of 1,500 people by disability charity Scope, and half of 18 to 34 year olds say it makes them feel unattractive.

A 2016 study by researches at Penn State University suggested that viewing other people’s selfies lowered self-esteem, because users compare themselves to photos of people looking their happiest. Research from University of Strathclyde, Ohio University of Lowa also found that women compare themselves negatively to selfies of other women.

The effects of THE BOOK

Its not just selfies that have the potential to dent self-esteem. A study of 1,000 Swedish Facebook users found that women who spent more time on Facebook reported feeling less happy and confident. The researchers concluded: “When Facebook users compare their own lives with others’ seemingly more successful careers and happy relationships, they may feel that their own lives are less successful in comparison.

But one small study hinted that viewing your own profile, not others, might offer ego boosts. Researches at Cornell University in New York put 63 students into different groups. Some sat with a mirror placed against a computer screen, for instance, while others sat in front of their own Facebook profile. Facebook had a positive effect on self-esteem compared to other activities that boost self-esteem awareness. Mirrors and photos, the researches explained, make us compare ourselves to social standards, whereas looking at our own Facebook profiles might boost self-esteem because it is easier to control how we are presented to the world.

Even if we want to avoid the site and keep our data protected, it’s not as easy as one might think. According to Roger McNamee, an early investor in Facebook, the company uses techniques found in propaganda and casino gambling to foster psychological addiction in its users – such as constant notifications and variable rewards. By keeping us hooked, Facebook is able to hold a huge amount of data on us. What is surprising, and worrying, is the derived data Facebook has – the profiles it can build of its users based on seemingly innocuous information. The author of the book Networks of Control, Wolfie Christl, noted that a patent published by Facebook works out people’s commute times by using location data from mobile apps. It then uses this and other data to segregate users into social classes.

No one can pretend Facebook is just harmless fun anymore

SOCIAL MEDIA……One conclusion

It is clear that in many areas, not enough is known yet to draw many strong conclusions. However, the evidence does point one way: social media affects people differently, depending on pre-existing conditions and personality traits.

As with food, gambling and many other temptations of the modern age, excessive use for some individuals is probably inadvisable. But at the same time, it would be wrong to say social media is a universally bad thing because clearly it brings myriad benefits to our lives.

Agency & Control Exam questions:

Provide one example in which audiences exercise agency over the media in the contemporary media landscape, and explain how this example conveys the dynamic and changing relationship between the media and its audience.
- 4 marks -

Explain how the globalisation of media institutions has had an impact on the regulation of media content in Australia. In your response, refer to a specific example.
- 6 marks -

Social networks have enabled new modes of production, distribution, consumption and reception based on the sharing of commercial and user-generated content. Describe the impact that these new modes have on the relationship between the media and its audience
- 5 marks -

Describe an ethical and/or legal issue arising from media institutions harvesting and selling an individual’s personal information.
- 5 marks -