Free Resources for Students and Teachers of English as a Foreign Language in China - by Paul Sparks

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Paul Sparks, Sino-Canadian International College, Guangxi University, Online English Lesson Plans, Lesson Material and Ideas for Reading Lessons...



Reading: Viewpoints and Opinions


Lesson Objectives: To identify fact from opinion in various types of media. To demonstrate awareness that media can be biased or show things out of context. To analyse readings to establish fact or opinions and to realise that there are cultural differences between media in different countries.


What does “Media” mean? ‘Media' is the Latin plural of 'medium', meaning the means by which something is communicated. Common examples of media are Television, Radio and Newspapers.

Advertising, Music, Posters, Books, Magazines, Theatre, Cinema etc. are also types of media - methods for reaching many people with lots of information.

Vocabulary associated with media:
Profane language
Mass media

Activity: Read the following article and discuss in groups:

"Current Media Issues:" Many Americans are disturbed by the amount of violence their children see on television. In response to citizens' complaints and pressure from Congress, the four major TV networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox), agreed in 1993 to inform parents of violent content at the beginning of a program, and cable networks have agreed to give similar warnings. In 1996, the commercial and cable networks went a step further and established a rating system, based on the amount of violence, sexual content, and/or profane language that a program contains. A symbol indicating the show's rating appears on the television screen at the beginning of, and intermittently during, the broadcast.

Such voluntary measures seem preferable to government regulation of programming content, which would probably violate the First Amendment. Another possible solution to the problem is technological. Beginning in 1998 new television sets sold in the United States will be equipped with a "V-chip," a device that will enable parents to block out programs they would rather their children not see.

Similar complaints have been voiced about the words and images accessible on computers. Congress recently passed a law attempting to keep indecent language or pictures from being transmitted through cyberspace, but a federal court struck it down as unconstitutional. If this problem has a solution, it probably lies either in close parental supervision of children's time on the computer or the development of a technological barrier to use of certain computer functions.

Activity 2: Each group will be given an English magazine. Look at and read the magazine, discussing the style of writing and the design of the magazine with your group.

  • How does it compare to Chinese magazines?

  • Is the magazine for men or women? Or both?

  • What age group is the magazine intended for?

  • Read one short article – what is your opinion of the writing style used? (formal / informal etc.)

Additional Information about Media:

British Television: There are five free television channels in Britain (BBC1, BBC2, ITV, Channel 4 and Channel 5). There are also satellite and cable channels paid for by subscription. BBC television has no adverts, it is funded by a licence fee. All other channels have advertising.

The largest satellite broadcaster is BskyB (British Sky Broadcasting).

The BBC is the one of the worlds largest media organisations, providing five national radio networks, 39 local radio stations and World Service (radio and television) in addition to its two TV services. Its main source of income is the licence fee, although it is having to become increasingly commercial, for instance through the sale of programmes, merchandise and technical resources.

Improved technology is leading to pay-per-view television being linked with phone lines, radio, the Internet, and interactive opportunities such as home shopping and banking.

American Television: From the 1950's to 1980's three privately owned television networks offered free programs financed by commercials, they were NBC, CBS, and ABC - controlling  90% of the TV market. Since the 1980's there has been an increase in pay cable TV transmitted by satellite. Among the new cable channels were several that show movies 24 hours a day, channels such as MTV, which shows music videos, and many news and entertainment channels.

A fourth major commercial network, FOX, has expanded quickly, broadcasting local and national shows.

There are over 300 public television stations across the United States, each of which is independent and serves its community's interests. But the stations are united by such national entities as the Public Broadcasting Service, PBS, which supplies programming. American taxpayers provide partial funding for public television.

Television shows are divided up into different times of day: Daytime, Primetime and Weekends.

Radio: The expansion of FM radio, which has better sound quality but a more limited signal range than AM, led to a split in radio programming in the 1970s and 1980s. FM came to dominate the music side of programming, while AM has shifted mainly to all-news and talk formats.

Developed over the past 25 years, talk radio features a host, a celebrity or an expert on some subject, and the opportunity for listeners to call in and ask questions or express opinions on the air.

85% of people in Britain today listen regularly to the radio. The sector which attracts the largest audience is independent local radio, broadcasting to young people in a largely music format.

British Newspapers (“The Press”): More daily newspapers, national and regional, are sold for every person in Britain than in most other developed countries. On an average day, nearly 60 percent of people over the age of 15 read a national morning paper and over 65 percent read a Sunday newspaper. There are 10 national morning daily newspapers, 9 Sundays, about 1,400 regional and local newspaper titles, and over 6,500 periodical publications on sale. There is no state control or censorship.

There are two types of newspaper, Tabloid and Broadsheet. Tabloids dominate the market; they provide a mainly entertainment and sports news, usually in a sensational or scandalous way, they use their own interpretation of current news issues. The Sun is bought by around 4 million people every day, four times the number who buy the highest selling broadsheet paper, the Daily Telegraph. Middle-range papers (Mail and Express) claim about a quarter of readers, with 'quality' newspapers (The Times, Guardian, Independent etc) less than 20% .

In addition to national newspapers, there are also 43 million local or regional papers bought or delivered free to homes in Britain every week.

American Newspapers: In 1990 the press celebrated its 300th anniversary as an American institution. In 1734 the governor of New York charged John Peter Zenger, publisher of the New York Weekly Journal, with seditious libel. Zenger's lawyer, Alexander Hamilton, argued that "the truth of the facts" was reason enough to print a story. In a decision bolstering freedom of the press, the jury acquitted Zenger.

The "New York Tribune" began in 1841, and it quickly became the nation's most influential newspaper. Early in the 20th century, newspaper editors realized that the best way to attract readers was to give them all sides of a story, without bias. This standard of objective reporting is today one of American journalism's most important traditions.

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