PUBLICS OF THE MASS MEDIAThe mass media have not just one public but many publics, depending on the sex, age, race, nationality, educational, political affiliation, religious affiliation, and geographical location of those who receive the message with the exception of house organs issued for restricted groups. The mass media, seeking to appeal to two or more of these publics, must constantly strive for the least common dominator, for a variety of
content and programming that will attract many.
A weekly newspaper tries to represent the interests of all members of the local community, a daily newspaper, its entire circulation region with something for each age group, a magazine may make a general appeal to all ages and groups or slant its material for a more limited audience, such as teenage girls, the trade book publisher seeks the novel universal appeal, radio, television and movies all gear their offerings to mass
With the content offered by each of the media will be found articles of particular interest to special groups, e. g., in the newspaper, the children page for children and the women page for women, youth page for youngsters, in television and radio programmes for children, for teenagers, and for adults of varying tastes, in movies, books and magazines likewise special interest groups, special pleaders also are given opportunity to
use the mass media, on either a paid or gratis, to get their message or product before the public.
Social Responsibility of the Mass Media :
There is no question but that mass media are the greatest social force in all over the world. The only forces that even approach them are the governments, organized religion, formal education, and politics, all four of which seek to utilize the mass media to a greater or lesser extent.
In a democracy at least, responsibility necessarily comes with potentiality. How responsible the mass media are in fulfilling for social obligation is a matter of keen debate. In truth, of course, it is unfair to label them good, bad or indifference with each media. However, these media are responsible in some fields. Their first duty is to be impartial. They should present facts as they are not slanted or angled. Also, in developing
countries, like Indian, media should educate their publics as an extra national responsibility. We may say that in every country, media have at least idealistically two purposes today :
(A) To serve the interests of the general population as well as those of special interest groups.
(B) To stress reliability, honesty, and impartiality in the handling of ideas, issues and propaganda.
Ethics and Moral Obligations :
Mass media generally have an interesting dual nature. They are first a commercial product just as a suit of clothing or a tablet of paracetamol is a commercial product. As such they have the ethical responsibility of being only what they represent themselves to be. But they also have the nature of a social product and as such have the moral obligation of accepting the responsibility that comes with such a significant role. There are still elements of “sensationalism” among the mass media, just as there are undesirable elements in every aspect of society. Unfortunately, nowadays Indian media are not exemplary ethical institution, but to some extent their products are reliable, and commendable. Indian media are not exemplary because of poor democracy, less discerning public, week economic conditions, less sources, less qualified journalists, governmental control over electronic media and government influence over press. Indian people have not come to that critical point because of less opportunities for education, low literacy rate and less awareness of international and national responsibility, hence, no strong demand for highly responsible and trusted journalistic product. In a democratic country, press shows more maturity. Whereas in semi-democratic countries, press role becomes manifold.
Independence from Pressures :
Before partition, press was personal show. In USA and West Europe, for many years, much of the press was owned or subsidized by: - and thus under control of political parties and other special interest groups owned press was little more than a propaganda organ for the hand that fed it.
Through income from commercial advertising, paid subscriptions and cash purchase of their product, the journalistic media have achieved financial independence from such pressure groups. And the evidence seems to point to the media’s editorial independence from advertisers as well.
Indeed the advertisers, being generally in a highly competitive market, are as dependent upon the media as the media are upon the advertisers. They need each other and neither is in a position to dictate to the other. True, advertisers occasionally attempt to do so.
This does not mean that a publication or station does not sometimes indicate political partisanship or preference in a campaign or controversial issue. Publishers and managers of mass media have the same right to personal opinion and to express that opinion as anyone else. But this should not be at the cost of national interest or ethical principles. What it does mean is that they are free to make such choice, free from dictation by any outside force.
Government Pressures :
In India, governments exert pressure on press by various means, which is harmful not for democracy but also for press role. The journalistic media today are in business primarily as a business venture - to make money. Therefore, they cannot risk producing an unreliable product or risk offending any sizeable segment of their clientele. If, for example, a certain newspaper, to satisfy the personal interests or whims of its owner or any interest group, were deliberately to give a biased or inaccurate account of a major news event or seek to suppress news, it would quickly be exposed by its competitors’ accurate coverage. Let such an offense be repeated often enough, and that newspaper would likely suffer in reduced readership, prestige, credibility and thus income. Consequently the mass media generally try to label news and opinions clearly, and to differentiate between them.
A book publishing firm operates on the assumed understanding that the views expressed by an author do not necessarily represent the views of publisher. Indeed, the company’s next book may express quite a different point of view. Or, if the firm does deliberately publish books of a certain point of view, it does not seek to hide that fact but rather offers its wares with that understanding.
A newspaper departmentalizes its wares. It tries to keep its news pages strictly objective. It reserves any editorial opinion for the editorial pages. And even here it will generally provide points of view other than its own by printing a wide variety of columns with divergent ideas. “Letters to the editor” are also open to any responsible contribution from readers.
Improved Caliber :
The growth of news agencies has greatly improved the quality of the mass media. Agencies or wire services, all, and to a lesser extent, the radio and television have been key factors in this. The news agencies (AP, AFP, APA, DPA, APP) gather, write, purchase and distribute news to several newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, having different views on many news topics. The wire services must obviously
be unbiased and objective in their treatment if they are to stay in business.
Higher standards, more enacting requirement, better pay and better training and schooling of journalists have been other important factors upgrading the products of mass communication media, just as they are in medicine, law and other professions.
Media Affect Issues :
In the matter of local and national issues, however, the media do more than just influence the public. They influence certainly, but they also help by informing citizens by clarifying these complex matters of public affairs which exist on both the local and national level.
As most public issues involve politics, and few citizens in spite of the media bother to become enlightened about the nature of politics - its machinery. and professional implications-the influence of editors and commentators, when they act as political analysts and sway the opinions of those who are interested in civic problems, is of extreme importance.
Thus, as the media give the public a better understanding of the economic and social issues with which it must deal and influence those who resolve these issues, they have a measurable effect on public affairs.
The media do not always act as persuader however. They sometimes serve as sounding boards for the expression of citizen opinion. The “letter to the editor” section is a familiar one in most newspapers.
The federal government maintains a branch office in every large city; but their services are not good. They do not meet the informative thrust and requirements of citizens. But to know such issues as foreign policy, national defence, taxes, trade, labour, management problems and other equally important issues, the public have to go to the media. Numerous and complex are the problems dealing with the relation of the government to mass communications but the basic objective of the media in this area is to make available the kind of communications content that will enable people to maintain a peaceful and productive society as well as provide them with personal satisfactions. Although, the disseminators of news, information, and opinion attempt to pursue these aims objectively, the conflict of interests in our society results in a close relationship
between national issues and the political party in power.
Use of the Media by Organizations :
Sociologists have shown that members of a family usually share similar views on religion, politics, and other matters dealing with social experiences. Society beyond the family is also made up of groups of people who share common bonds or ideas. Groups are small, medium, large and all degrees between, depending on their purpose and other factors. A book discussion group may have as few as five members. Members of one
group normally belong to several others. So that the population actually is a structure of persons in overlapping, interlocking group situations. Just as an individual writes a letter or uses the telephone to communicate a personal message, so does the group, through its leaders, use the mass media to “sell its views and win its objectives”. All the major media and the related forms may be exploited to such ends and may thus become propaganda instruments for every conceivable group goal.
Without the available resources of the mass media, pressure groups, also called interest groups, would be severely handicapped. In seeking to win support for their programmes, they use letters, paid advertisements, lobbyist, and every other possible method to influence politicians, the public and government officials. By means of special columns, maps, articles, cartoons, and photographs, they disseminate information
intended to elicit action in the group’s behalf, liberals, conservatives, labour unions, private organizations, religious political parties, advertisers, student organizations and government exert pressure on newspapers.
It is evident that the impact of well-organized groups is powerful whether they implement the democratic process or exploit the public depends greatly upon who benefits from their activities. And while~the pressure groups use the media to further their own interests, the media in turn, should expose much of the behind-the-scene struggle of these groups’ interests about which the average citizen would otherwise be ignorant.