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Effects of online news websites on constructing political opinions among youths in Klang Valley Chan Hoi Cheong
Department of Communication
MCH390 Honours Thesis
Mr. Liew Chee Kit
July 15, 2011

The emergence of new media tools such as online news websites over the past five years have significantly changed the political landscape in Malaysia. This was evidently clear during the general election in March 2008 when the ruling National Front party suffered its worst defeat in 50-year after losing its two-third majority in the Parliament. One of the reasons which were being pointed out is the shift from traditional media especially among youths to new media such as online news websites to obtain information as well as to keep abreast with current political affairs in the country. It was in fact acknowledged by the former Prime Minister, Abdullah Ahmad Badawi by saying that his party has lost ‘the internet war’. This research article examines the relationship between online news websites on the construction of political opinions among youths in Klang Valley area. Through this research, it is hoped that a clearer understanding of this tool, which might shaped the future of politics in the country will be obtained. The results of this paper are based on quantitative surveys conducted on students from few universities and organizations in this area.

I would like to express my gratitude to my thesis supervisor, Mr. Liew Chee Kit, for his support and guidance from the beginning till the concluding level of this research paper. This paper would not be a success without his constant advice, which also enhances my understanding into the topic of research. In addition, I also would like to acknowledge the support provided by Department of Communication, HELP University College during the research period. Not only that, I also would like to thank the 100 respondents from four universities and two organizations around Klang Valley for their willingness to spend some time and participate in the survey conducted.

Last but not least, I also would like to thank my parents and others around for their encouragement, which helps me to complete this research paper.

Table of Contents
Chapter One 8
Introduction 9
Problem Statement 12
Purpose of Research 14
Objectives of Research 14
Relevant of Research 15
Chapter Two 16
Theoretical Framework 17
Literature Review 20
Hypothesis 27
Chapter Three 28
Methodology 29
Conceptualization 31
Operationalization 31
Chapter Four 33
Data Analysis 34
Discussion 57
Chapter Five 66
Limitations of Research 67
Suggestions for Future Researchers 68
Conclusion 70
Appendix 71
Questionnaire Form 72
Output of SPSS 86
References 100

List of Tables
Table 2A 34
Table 3A 36
Table 4A 38
Table 5A 39
Table 6A 41
Table 7A 43
Table 8A 45
Table 9 47
Table 10 48
Table 11 50
Table 12 52
Table 13 53
Table 14 54
Table 15 55
Table 16 56
Table 17 56

List of Figures
Figure 1 19
Figure 2B 35
Figure 3B 37
Figure 4B 38
Figure 5B 40
Figure 6B 42
Figure 7B 44
Figure 8B 46
Figure 18 70

Chapter One

Do online news portals affect the political opinion of youth in Malaysia? As part of new media, online news portals have been viewed as playing a major role in this context today. In recent years, many online news portals have been formed amid the fast-growing usage of internet as well as changing political landscape in the country. Regardless of whether the organization is affiliated to a political party or act independently, such portals and other new media tools have definitely played a major role in the 2008 General Election, which many analysts describe as the ‘political tsunami’ in Malaysia (Deuntzer, 2009). Despite its soaring popularity since then, the validity of this statement has yet to be verified as the tool is still relatively new in the country. There have been many research conducted on the area of new media in connection with political preference of the society across the globe with some claiming that it is playing a role while some rejecting this notion by saying that traditional media is still the major player and new media have limited effect in this context. Henceforth, more researchers are needed to be done in order to determine if this relationship is applicable to youths in Malaysia. In this research paper, the effects of online news portal on political consciousness can be mainly divided into few different categories namely awareness on political situation in the country, voting rights and participation in social movements as well as political parties and preferences when it comes to political parties. For this paper, it will focus on youths aged 18 to 25 in varsities as they are the key group of voters in the future.

A study titled ‘Selective Exposure to Online Foreign News during the Conflict with Iraq’ by Samuel J. Best, Brian Chmielewski, and Brian S. Krueger (2005) of Harvard International Journal on Press/ Politics has revealed that those who opposed George W. Bush government’s policies during the war will most likely use online news portals instead of mainstream media which constitute to what it called selective exposure. In addition, it has also been pointed out that the diversity of opinions from different online sites in the country and abroad will keep the public away from having a single opinion on an issue thus promoting democratic values. The method that has been used in this research is quantitative method with surveys being carried out on 642 respondents through phone. The major problem that can be associated with this research is that it only uses telephone survey which makes it difficult for the researchers to present visual aid where necessary. However, researchers can get instant feedback and clarifications as well as additional details from respondents which can answer them on the spot. Besides that, a research paper by the name of ‘Effects of New Media on Perceptions of the Congress’ which has been conducted by Richard Forgette and Jonathan S. Morris of University of Mississippi and East Carolina University has revealed that continuous exposure to new media including online news have negatively affect the views of respondents to the US Congress. The research involves a field and laboratory experiments conducted on 500 people being exposed to different types of stimuli related to new media and how it will affect their views. By doing so, the researcher will avoid problems associated with internal and external validity as causal connections can be made in the lab while the field experiment provides a clearer picture of the reality. More importantly, there is also a present of a control group for the laboratory experiment which is exposed to nothing and this makes the result more valid as the researcher can make a distinction between those exposed to new media and those who do not. Despite this, this research also has its weakness as the time provided for the experiment is insufficient. Therefore, the result will be unable to provide an accurate picture on the effects of those stimuli on their political awareness.

On the other hand, there are also some research articles that point out the limitation of new media when it comes to political effects. One of them occur in Spain and Portugal where researcher, Irene Ramos Vielba of Indiana University in Bloomington has found out that blogs have only promoted participation in the democratic process in a small scale instead of a larger one than previously thought. The research article titled ‘Political Blogs and Participatory Democracy: Evidence from Portugal and Spain’ argues that blog is unable to generate collective political action as it only involves personal involvement in a small scale (Vielba, 2004). There is a major flaw which has been identified for the research methodology which uses content analysis method based on nine blogs from both Spain and Portugal respectively. The method of analyzing political contents of numerous blogs is unsuitable as it leads to subjective interpretation by the researcher. This reduces the reliability of the research as what written in the blogs analyzed might not reflect the true situation in both of the countries.

Another research titled ‘Weblogs, traditional sources online and political participation: an assessment of how the internet is changing the political environment’ by Homero Gil De Zuniga of University of Texas and Eulalia Puig-I-Abril and Hernanda Rojas from University of Wisconsin has revealed that online news sources are playing a complimentary role in reinforcing traditional media in a networked public sphere. It adds that new media tool will not substitute traditional media as its role is just limited to integrating issues instead of shaping political discussions and preferences under such circumstances. Despite this, there is a limitation that needs to be highlighted in the methodology of this article. This study which relies on previous data collected by Pew Research Journal might not accurately reflect the views of the intended respondents as it has gone through a research company before reaching the researchers. Henceforth, the survey questions will be beyond their control and this makes the determination on certain issues difficult for them.

In conclusion, all studies ‘against’ are found to have been using too simple methodology while all studies ‘for’ have good methodology which do not rely on subjective interpretation. The studies that have been conducted so far are based on countries outside Malaysia namely those in the West and unable to show that online news websites have influenced political consciousness among youths in this country. This is because the maturity and process of democracy in those countries are different when it comes to local politics. After weighing evidence from both sides, it appears that news websites are not as effective as being claimed by certain parties when it comes to politics. Therefore, more researches are needed to be done in the local context

Problem Statement
As usage of internet among youths continue to grow, it is also likely that more and more people from this age group will engage online news websites to gather information on politics as well as the government that in turn led to the construction of opinions toward these institutions. This engagement also means that they will have two fundamentally distinctive medium at their disposals for news and information, the other being the traditional media. Besides that, the different perspectives offered by online news website, compared to their traditional counterparts such as newspapers also require this group to assess a particular issue critically.

According to Christine L. Ogan, Muzaffer Ozakca and Jacob Groshek (2007), a survey conducted among university students in the U.S. has revealed that they prefer to use online sources for news and information because of two main reasons namely convenience and depth of viewpoints. As the researchers have put it, the internet is becoming increasingly embedded into the lives of most American citizens’ which it claims including students in varsities. At the same time, researchers Borgida and Stark (2005) also state that online websites are also being regarded as a credible place for political discussion although they cautioned that the influence of this tool might be overstated and does not necessary bring positive changes. Tedesco (2007) adds that one of most important factors for youths’ political engagement through websites are its interactivity which allows them to feel more meaningful to the political process therefore, recognizing the importance of voting.

With so many viewpoints offered, it is also vital to look at how this transformation will change the political landscape of a country as well as how this age group continues to readjust themselves to receive loads of information from different types of media. As pointed earlier, it is largely remain unclear on the true extent of such websites on constructing political preference among youths until today as conflicting statements have been given on this relatively new type of medium. Besides that, most of the situations analyzed are largely focused in mature-democracies in the West namely the United States. The questions remained to be answered are; How far do online news websites influence youths’ political opinions? What are the factors that drive the usage of online news websites as source of information on politics? How effective are online news websites compared to their traditional media counterparts in reaching out to youths? What other media used by youths in order to obtain information about politics, if not online news websites?

Purpose of Research
The theory that has been chosen for the purpose of this research is Cultivation Theory. This is because this study seeks to explain how online news websites can create a worldview within a particular individual that becomes the reality as he or she believes in so. The media as stated in this theory will create a framework in which they can relate to in order to understand a situation. In this paper, the relationship between the continuous exposures of online news, which are always more vocal in reporting compared to their traditional counterparts, on the constructing political opinion among youths will be tested. The method that is being used for this research is quantitative study based on surveys conducted among respondents with open and close-ended questions. Hence, this research at the end of the day will be able to provide insights on the impact of online news websites, which is regarded as part of the new media on political landscape of this country.

Objectives of Research
Generally, this research paper is aimed at finding how effective online news portals in terms of constructing political opinion among youths as new media continues to boom in Malaysia. Specifically, there are few objectives that need to be achieved in this study. They are: 1. To find out the penetration of online news websites among youths’ media landscape in Klang Valley area 2. To determine the relationship between online news websites and its usage pattern among youths in the country 3. To find out the influence of online news websites usage pattern on youths’ perception of the medium 4. To understand the effect of youths’ perception on online news website toward the formation of their political opinions

Relevant of Research
The ever-changing environment due to the internet is the main reason why this research is vital for the communication world. As more and more people continue to engage in the online world for information about politics and current affairs, this also meant that the media world in particular journalism will face new challenges in presenting such information to the audience. Hence, it has been hoped that this research will provide some useful analysis for them on how this latest trend will change the ways news and information are being consumed by one particular age group, which is youths.

Besides that, this research is also seek to give a insight to other relevant parties such as politicians and government on how it can use this medium to channel information about themselves to the public in order to keep up with this transformation by evaluating the findings of this research paper. This is because they are still lack of proper research in this area currently and therefore, the findings might be useful for them in campaigning in the future as well as for them to disseminate information effectively. Finally, I hope that the research information presented here can contribute to this field in facing the new communication challenges in the future.

Chapter Two
Theoretical Framework and Literature Review

Theoretical Framework
The theory which is being used as the framework for this research is Cultivation Theory. In a nutshell, the theory simply states that the more a person is exposed to a particular message through a medium, the more likely that he or she will believe that the message is real. Another definition which is being put upon is that a medium creates or cultivates a worldview that, although possibly inaccurate, becomes the reality because people believe it to be so (Baran & Davis, 2007, p. 324). Therefore, it is important to note that this theory stresses on the role of media in bringing up a message to the audience, which at the end of the day shape their world views on different events taking place across the globe.

This idea was originally founded by George Gerbner in the 1970s and 1980s in which television was used to understand how it could influence people’s perceptions of the reality. Gerbner also made a distinction between heavy viewers and light viewers when it comes to the effects of a particular medium’s exposure. The focus is on heavy viewers as this group tends to take the information as it is because they have less sources of information compared to light viewers. Hence, this led-to the resonance effect when a person experiences what he or she saw in television in real life. The continuous influence of this medium amplifies the cultivation effects as a person continues to engage with that medium.

One of the strengths of this theory which is relevant to this research is that it allows a detailed explanation onto effects of a particular medium toward the attitude of an individual. This is vital as the main aim of this research is to identify the connection between online news websites and political opinion of youths. Nevertheless, this theory also has a major flaw that is it focuses only on heavy users instead of all categories involved. This makes it difficult to study those in the light users’ category as they are little attributes concerning them. More importantly, some media users today not just rely on one medium as a source for political information but multiple ones.

As for the purpose of this research, the effects of online news websites will substitute television as the tool in which will shape youth’s political opinion. Political opinion will therefore be the desired effects when this group is exposed to this medium. In the local media landscape, media organizations largely have different perspectives when it comes to matters concerning politics or current affairs. The construction of social reality through a particular medium will also be fundamental issue in the research, as part of the effects of online news websites. Therefore, it would be vital that this theory acts as a guideline to note the different effects on those who visit online news websites frequently with those who do not.

In his research titled Virtual Cultivation: Online, Offline Perceptions, Dimitri Williams (2006) of University of Illinois says that cultivation is possible when a medium tries to portray a situation as realistic as possible. His research, which focused on video games, reveals that cultivations takes place when a person is given a specific online game. As for this research, it will look at how the content of online news websites used by audience to depict the reality in the political world. This in turn will be used to identify how they reach their decision on events or happenings in the country after being exposed to this medium. Besides that, another research titled Media Gravitation Theory by W. James Potter (2005) puts Cultivation Theory as a comparison between different types of individuals rather than comparison of macro-level influences. He made a distinction between those who exposed to the medium concerned, in this case online news websites and those who do not and how collective consciousness is affected by the messages presented through that medium. Making this distinction allows the different level of influence of the medium concerned to be assessed. As the media world continues to move forward, Cultivation Theory also seeks to accommodate itself for changes that are taking place around. One of the most controversial as many have put forward is its requirement to identify the heavy users. In order to have broad application, theorists argue that the theory needs to have more specific measures for exposure of audience. Despite this, the crux of this theory might just live on for the years to come for other mediums engaged by audience daily.

Figure 1
The flow chart below shows how the Cultivation Theory is applicable to this research (Source: University of Twente)

Usage of online news websites


Capacity, focusing strategies, attention, involvement
Inference skills, social structures, other, experiences

Literature Review
The emergence of online news websites as a tool to disperse news and information has garnered much attention from different entities in the world today. Most social scientists today have been looking at how this tool has created a new trend in the society when it comes to politics. As Malaysian youths continue to spend more time on the internet, this research paper will be used to assess the extent of online news websites’ effects on the shaping of political opinion of this age group, which is one of the key voters of local political landscape.

Cultivation theory was chosen as the basis of this research and it was stated under this theory a medium will cultivate or create a worldview that although possibly inaccurate becomes the reality because a person believes it to be so (Baran & Davis, 2007, p. 324). A research by Meridith Diane Lett, Andrea Lynn DiPietro and Danette Ifert Johnson (2004) underscored the role played by television news in changing perceptions of the reality of September 11 attacks in the United States. The theory that was being used was Cultivation Theory, which said the...

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