We are living in a media-saturated age. We are witnesses to an unprecedented torrent of media messages that are making an impact by leaps and bounds. The mass media are the fruit of human ingenuity, research and hard work, passed on, with accelerated quality, potential and reach, form one generation to the next. They have shrunk the huge ‘undiscovered’ world of Christopher Columbus to the ‘global village’ of Marshal McLuhan and, from there, within the span of less than half a century, to the computer friendly ‘global living room’ of Bill Gates and his contemporaries. In order to clarify our idea of mass media further we could look at the following eight points.
1. Varieties of Mass Medium
There were times when the human being was constrained only to the limited print media like newspapers and magazines. Today however we can boast of variety of mass medium that we can have access to. Besides the development in the print media we also have audio-visual media like radio, transistor, taper recorder, digital camera, television, VCR, large screen films, LCD projectors, computers etc. The revolution in the communication technology and electronic media has further introduced us to satellite channels, e-mail, websites and a host of internet facilities. Different styles, contents, channel, sites abound in each of them. Whilst there are some fundamental ethical principles which we might advocate throughout this diversity (respect for other people, non-advocacy of racial hatred, telling the truth, etc), it would simply be silly to expect the same values in a documentary and a sitcom, a children’s magazine and an adult web-site. Generalized assessments and judgments are risky in so diverse a territory.
2. Plurality of Mass Media Theories
Besides the plurality of the mass mediums there are also numerous theories about how media affects people and that there are periods when scholars seem to agree that media effects are powerful and other periods when they tend to think that media effects are weak. It all seems to depend upon which theories of ‘how the media work’ are in vogue with the social scientists who study the media. Theories arise, seem to be useful, are tested and generally found wanting in one respect or another, and are replaced by other theories.
3. Negative Outlook towards the Media
Talk of values often leads to criticism forgetting the positive contribution of the media. The older generation for example tends to point to the media for the destruction of the traditional value system and its forgetfulness by younger generation. The religious leaders blame the media for the lack of congregational attendance and diminishing spiritual values. While we all speak from our particular bias (that depends upon our social, political, religious and educational context), we need to become more and more aware of it so as to transcend it as much as possible to increase objectivity in our media perception and attain a balanced evaluation of media.
4. Shallow and Limited Vision of Media
TV and other media are sometimes seen as something unserious, if not frivolous, whose main role is just to provide entertainment. Without forgetting their fun dimension that brings joy and laughter to the tension filled human life we need to recognize their deeper significance. We need to broaden our outlook of how media can be used in variety of manners for our personal as well as social growth in the field of psychology, politics, education and spirituality. Instead of limiting the usefulness of media for purely recreational purpose, we could extend it further for informative and educative purpose.
5. Difficulty in Scientific Measurement of Mass Media Effects
We all spend a great deal of time watching television, listening to the radio, reading magazines and newspapers, surfing internet for diverse web-sites and getting engaged with the e-mails. Yet, so many media researchers tell us that the effects of media on individuals seem to be trivial. That is, it is not possible to prove, scientifically, that media effects are powerful. While one may not able to demonstrate and measure the effects of media scientifically, one can not deny the fact that media are powerful and have a profound impact on people’s lives and our social and political order.
6. Diversity of Media Audiences
While we look at the variety of media available at our disposable, we also need to keep in mind the media audiences which too are diverse and varied. Just as there is enormous diversity within the media so too are media audiences diverse and varied. From a child to an adolescent and further to a fully grown adult everyone in the society is exposed to media in some way or the other. The diversity of media audience does not only consist in the age difference but it also depends upon gender difference, cultural heritage, social background, work experience, educational qualification and a whole lot of other factors. In fact each human person with its own mind and specific social, cultural, educational and religious upbringing provides a variety to the media audience. We need to take care not to assume that TV watchers, internet users and filmgoers are naïve, uncritical and impressionable. There is considerable sophistication and discernment in the way in which millions of people handle this aspect of their lives.
7. Diverse Effects of Mass Media
The media have sizable direct impact on the public. Besides the often-mentioned intended effects, they also include many unintended effects. We could delineate them as follows. Intended effects include: (1) the influence of commercial advertising on buying behaviour; (2) the impact of mass media political campaigns on voting; (3) public service announcements’ efficacy in promoting beneficial behaviour; (4) the role of prolonged multimedia campaigns in changing lifestyles; (5) monolithic indoctrination effects on ideology; and (6) the effects of mass-mediated ritual displays on maintaining social control.
The most often cited unintended effects of the mass media include: (1) the impact of programmes involving violence on viewers’ antisocial aggression; (2) representation on the media as a determinant of social visibility; (3) biased presentation on the media as influencing the public’s stereotyping of groups; (4) effects of erotic materials on objectionable sexual behaviour; (5) modes of media presentation as affecting cognitive styles; and (6) the impact of introducing new media on pubic thought processes.
8. Personal Responsibility in Media
Finally, it is the responsibility of each one to be self-critical in our role as media consumers/users. We often live in an illusory world thinking that we reign supreme in our own consciousness, that we are masters of what our minds accept or reject. One needs to become aware of the “mirage image” provided by the media and realize how the few self-appointed elites with their multinational industries and desire for total media control and try to manipulate people’s mind with ideas. What each one of us accepts or rejects, what we think and decide…all these are heavily influenced by the media bombarded messages. One needs to bear personal responsibility to the problem of how much control we have over our minds and how susceptible we are to being influenced (if not manipulated) by the media.
Fr Robert Pen, sdb