In today’s society, the flow of information among the citizenry plays an important role towards the development of an informed society. To this effect, the media has been instrumental in ensuring that the population gets current news and information on different issues affecting various societies. Arguably, without the media, the world would consist of an ignorant population devoid of any relevant information relating to issues affecting their environment.
With this in mind, it could be argued that the media provides the backdrop against which we make sense of any new conditions and information that we encounter in a world that is increasingly becoming globalized. Since its conception, the media has been hugely influential in the development of the society. The media can be used to drive public opinion, report on current news and advance some social values. The media is at best a complex genre which may be broken down into a large number of sub-genres such as news stories, opinion columns, advertisements, sports and horoscopes to name but a few. As such, the role of the media in today’s society is important because it essentially helps individuals get access to valuable information, educate the people in the communities and is a useful, affordable and an economical tool for entertainment. In today’s society, the social issue that has particularly struck individuals through the decades is that of the media. In this study, the various opinions held in regard to the media and how it operates shall be provided.
Through the analysis of relevant literature, a brief yet informative discussion of the various benefits that have been enjoyed as a result of the media shall be presented. This shall be done by highlighting key areas where the media has been instrumental. These areas include but are not limited to: provision of information, a source of education and knowledge, link between members of the global community and a source of entertainment.
The differing opinions propagated by media critics shall also be presented. This shall at the end help us understand the roles that the media plays in society as well as the extent to which the media has been successful in performing its duties. As such, it shall be a worthwhile endeavor to shed some light on the benefits as well as the costs that have risen due to the presence and effects of the media in our societies. This analysis shall help in the provision of a clearer understanding on how the media affects society.
Overview of the role of media in society
The media is arguably one of the most powerful agents for change and the betterment of society. Its role as the society’s eyes; indeed a ‘watchdog’ constantly monitoring and critiquing the actions of those in authority for the betterment of society are some of the attributes that previously made the media seem as a positive influence to society.
The ability of media to so accurately reflect the mood of the society and advocate for people to fight against social injustices and vices portrays the media as a tool for promoting justice, equality and harmony among the masses. In regards to this statement, the current states of affairs indicate that societies are ridden with selfishness and actions aimed at advancing individual goals. This can be derived from the argument raised by Michael Meyers who claims that today’s media does not educate the audience but train them (Kramer, Meyers and Rothstein 582). This he attributes to the fact that the media outlets no longer providing credible information. In this regard, the audience does not buy the truth, but what prominent figures want them to believe. The author is trying to bring out the fact that media is biased.
The proposed biasness has its root in the anti-intellectual and anti-democratic media. In addition, the media’s advertisement of products and services is an act aimed at enabling the consumers to make informed choices. As Bernt explains, the skills and artistic nature used to present persuasive advertisements help consumers relate products to their lifestyle and preferences (193). Texts and images represented in advertisement can signify a myriad of meanings to the viewer.
All this is in an attempt by the creator of the advert to persuade the consumer to think, feel or act in a predetermined manner (Bernt 194). Advertisement is therefore more of an educative venture than a deliberate attempt to sway the consumer in any predetermined direction since in the end; the consumers are better informed of the variety of brands that are at their disposal. Bernt suggests that the heavy emphasis of advertisements in media is due to the fact that advertisers are the dominant sources of revenue for most modern media (193). The influence that advertisements have on the people is colossal as can be inferred from the rise in sales for corporations that engage in large-scale advertisement. Bernt further asserts that the persuasive nature of advertisements has had a great effect on American culture in regards to the relationship between working hard and purchasing power (193).
Bernt asserts that advertisements have “replaced Puritanism or the Protestant work ethic as the driving force in American society that causes people to work hard in order to shop even harder (193).” The various forms of entertainment availed e.g. Movies, sports, interactive programs and Music productions are very important means of relieving stress after a long day at work. In addition, they help alleviate boredom.
As such, the sole agenda of such products is recreational and providing means for people to enjoy themselves and connect (Bellah et al 67). For example, through satellite television providers like DSTV people all over the world are able to enjoy the entertainment genre that best suit their preferences. Examples include movies, sports, music and news. Truth be told, football clubs would never have gained such a strong and wide fan base were it not for the media. In regards to change in journalism, Pavlik highlights on how journalism has been affected by the transformation of the new media (Fernback 163).
In his opinion, new media technologies have greatly affected the traditional perspective of journalism. This he explains by expounding on the new journalistic trends such as changes in the contents provided to the audience as news, changes in how journalists work, structural changes in news organizations and changes that have occurred in the correlations between media outlets, journalists and different audiences (Fernback 163). These changes brought about by new media technologies have to a large extent led to the contextualization of journalism; a situation whereby journalism has become less objective and practical. On the same note, Palvik (as cited by Fernback 163) further notes that these new trends perceive journalists as interpreters of current events who in their efforts “empower the audience and reconnect communities (Fernback 163).” According to Palvik, the new transformations being experienced in media outlets can be attributed to the availability and emergence of online infrastructure, high degree of customization, instantaneity and interactivity that characterize new media.
In his point of view, Palvik believes that such developments will at the end make journalism a better tool to promote democracy (Fernback 163). Evidence of such developments can be derived from the emergence of the internet and the online architecture that supports this vast source of information. Through online encyclopedias such as Wikipedia and the various search engines, people are able to access information and learn about different issues that affect their lives. In addition, students in all academic fields are able to do more research in their designated fields and as a result, they become more knowledgeable in these areas than they would have been while using the traditional means of acquiring knowledge. Similarly, the internet has also provided people with a global means of communicating and learning about each other through websites like “facebook” and “twitter”. People from different countries globally are able to interact and socialize in the comfort of their homes without the inconveniencies caused by travelling as well as the enormous costs that would have otherwise been incurred.
These facts prove Palvik’s assertion that new media is at the forefront in empowering the masses (by providing useful information) and connecting communities (interactive nature of the internet, radio and TV talk shows e. t. c.
). On the other hand, Preston (as cited by Fernback 163) contends that the transformations being experienced in media are as a result of political, social, economical and communication patterns rather than technological developments. Preston asserts that the interrelation that exists between social and informational sciences accompanied by non-academic and industrial literatures can be used by media so as to develop an equitable society and ensure social order (Fernback 163).
In his book reshaping communication, Preston uses the aforementioned aspects to develop a model that explores the social role of information and communication in societies today (Fernback 163). In his opinion, Preston argues that our cultural, informational and social bearings are hinged not on technological advancements, but on the socioeconomic, political and communication trends that we adapt (Fernback 164). In this regard, it can arguably be stated that the role of the media in society is not determined by technological advancements, but by the socio-technical paradigm (Fernback 164). The positive view of the media has greatly been challenged with time. No longer do the various media outlets stand out as the ‘last front were nobility and idealism still had a foothold.’ Instead, the media just like any other business has been influenced by competition and ratings. As such, it has been noted for a fact that media outlets do at times express their own biased opinions which may not always be ideal or noble at that. For example, Gay Talese attests to the fact that the New York Times editor Gerald Boyd refused to print a story about an interracial wedding simply because it never emphasized on Black victimization (Kramer, Meyers and Rothstein 575).
According to Gay Talese, any story that would soften the perception people had on such issues was disallowed and could not be printed (Kramer, Meyers and Rothstein 575). In this case, the Media’s actions which were previously perceived as being selfless and socially motivated have been exposed to not always have been driven by benevolence. These actions are at times resounded with self interests and personal gains for the media houses and the corporations that sponsor them. The previous view of the media’s ability to correctly reflect on the society’s mood has also been greatly questioned as the media does at time appear to affect the set the society’s mood as opposed to reflecting it through the use of propaganda. (Kramer, Meyers and Rothstein suggest that the one of the media’s greatest power is in its ability to subtly influence our opinion (575). They further assert that in events that elicit a lot of public opinion, propaganda plays a great role and polarizes people along lines that they may not necessarily have taken had they not been “persuaded” to do so. This subtle psychological nudges can be used to further the cause of big corporations in the form of advertisements or by politicians who want to sway public opinions for their own good.
To this effect, the people’s previous trust in the media report has therefore been greatly clouded by this realization. In terms of the unbiased reporting which had for a long time been viewed to be the hallmark of the popular media, it has been noted that some media reports are actually aimed at making the recipient of the information form a certain pre-determined opinion thus destroying any illusion of un-biasness (Kramer, Meyers and Rothstein 575). Media outlets can therefore set out to further some social cause which they believe in. Using the cultivation theory, Burton propose that exposure to some kinds of media often cultivate certain attitudes and values (Steffen 455). As an example, Steffen sheds some light on how Arab media has in the recent past adopted the western form of journalism and media presentation (455). In this regard, the author states that even journalists from countries such as Egypt and other Arabic countries which has stringent media policies accept western media values such as accuracy and balance (Steffen 455). As such, the reporter’s opinions and attitude will rub on the general population thus coloring their view of some events. In addition, the aforementioned assertion that advertisement aired in different media outlets is aimed at making the consumer better informed has been changed by evidence which strongly suggests that advertisements are aimed at actively influencing the decision that the consumer makes or may make in future (Steffen 456).
What this means is that advertisement is no longer a primary tool for marketing, instead, it has been used to combat the aggressive competition. To this effect, only the consumers suffer because the advertisements no longer help them make informed decisions about the products but instead, the advertisements influence their judgments by giving half-truths. An especially troubling fact that revealed through various research efforts is that uncontrolled media in some instances leads to desensitization of the population on issues such as violence. Continuous exposure to media violence especially on the young and impressionable segment of the population can lead to catastrophic results as has been witnessed before in the various random shootouts that occur in our schools. Research shows that media violence encourages aggressive behavior and leads to pessimism in children (Burton 123; Steffen 456).
This information contradicts the aforementioned perception of the media as a guardian and propagator of social values since the compelling evidence presented by research showed that media also leads to breaking of social values and leads to a disruption of harmony through the violence it encourages. On the same note, rampant advertisements through media outlets have in the recent past characterized modern media. These advertisements aim at influencing the consumer to maintain or develop some form of ideology (Bernt 194).
This close relationship that media and advertising have developed raises concerns over the influences that the media may be willing to wield so as to achieve the advertising objectives. A closer observation of the movies and other entertainment forms presented by the media revealed heavy advertisements therein. These rampant acts of branding were previously unknown to many and their effect though unconsciously administered is substantial. The media’s promotion of social values is also at times only used as a cover to influence consumers by use of advertisement (Fernback 164). Due to these advertisements, naive recipients of the information presented are unwittingly influenced into buying the products that the particular advertisements promote. This is at best a very irresponsible behavior by the media since most people are favorably disposed to agree with sentiments that are projected by the media. These misuses of social issues as a marketing tool have also changed the positive role that the media was supposed to deliver. This is mainly due to the fact that the media is being used as a tool for furthering the objectives of corporations at the cost of an unsuspecting population.
The role played by the media in today’s society cannot be understated. However, caution should be taken because as expressed in this study, not all media is healthy. Through this research, the knowledge that has been transferred herein should not make the public skeptical of the media but should help them become more skeptical about the issues being addressed through various media outlets. This will invariably transform them from being passive, unquestioning and all-believing recipients, to active and questioning recipients of the information which is provided by the media. Nevertheless, a free and vibrant media is necessary for the good of the society. An unfettered media is the hallmark of a truly unbiased society.
However, one should adopt a more questioning stance when dealing with any information provided by the media.
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