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The Role And Functions Of Media Media Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Media
Wordcount: 5236 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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The media is analysed in two ways here as an informative aspect as well as a form of entertainment.

Freedom of expression is usually questioned in the media, how ‘free’ is the media allowed to be? Isn’t the media always controlled?

What is the role of media in society?

Is everyone in society treated equally in the media, when being reported on?


It is often a belief that the media is a rather powerful tool, one that gets blamed for all the wrong that occurs in society.

What we read in the papers and view on television is usually what we believe.

This study unit focuses on the functions of the media and what its role in society should be.

In other words the function and the role of the media in society within the context of functionalism as a theoretical paradigm.

1. What is functionalism?:


Functionalism refers to a system, a belief in function over form.

Functionalism with regard to the media – refers to how the media operates as a whole ‘system’ in society to help create a balance in society.

Society as an integrated, harmonious and cohesive whole.

Different social systems function to maintain equilibrium, consensus and social order.

Media as a powerful socialisation instrument should contribute towards integration, harmony and cohesion through information, entertainment and education.

Functions of the media:

Wright’s model of functions: Main functions of the media are – to inform and entertain ® this allows the media to contribute manifestly or latently to cultural growth for individuals and society.

Though its rather a simplistic model especially when it comes to the political functions of the media

An example, think of a documentary “Special Assignment” this genre aims to educate and inform society on issues of reality.

® Latent: existing but not yet active or developed.

® Manifest: clear and obvious to see or understand.

MODEL OF FUNCTIONS: Inventory of questions

What are …


The manifest




Functions and


Dysfunctions of mass communicated


Surveillance (news)


Correlation (selection)


Cultural transmission


Entertainment for the








Cultural systems?

Objections (Short comings) to Functionalism:

Functionalism takes for granted that agreement prevails over, and disregards conflict in society.

The media will not have the same functions for all the people in society. Interpreted differently by individuals. Cultural barriers could arise when interpreting different media

Functionalism does not account for social change ® well established democratic societies Vs societies in the process of transformation.

Neglects to provide for feedback (seeing that feedback modifies both the message and the context)


(Functions / tasks of the media)

Information: the media (can) : with examples

Provide information about events and conditions in society and the world

Indicate relations of power

Facilitate innovation, adaptation and progress

Correlation: the media (can)

Explain, interpret and comment on the meaning of events and information

Provide support for established authority and norms


Co-ordinate separate activities

Contribute to consensus building

Set orders of priority and by so doing signal the status of a topic

Continuity: the media (can)

Express the dominant culture and recognise subcultures and new cultural developments

Forge and maintain commonness of values

Entertainment: the media (can)

Provide amusement, diversion and the means of relaxation

Reduce social tension

Mobilisation: the media (can)

Provide social objectivity in issues such as war and politics and economic development

Nevertheless Denis McQuail argues Functionalist models provide us with basic ideas about the role of the media in society.

As such, they provide a structured framework for reviewing the significant tasks of media as key socialization and ideological instruments

Plurality in the media:

Media plurality refers to the diversity in media content available to society.

Media should exist in various forms such as radio, television, and print among other forms catering for all of society.

Think of DSTV as an example ® does a wide range of channels mean a wider range of program content? Are more groups of people catered for with the diversity of channels?

Plurality aims to produce democracy and freedom in the media.

The Political functions of media – the case of Pluralism:

To inform about political developments.

To guide public opinion about political decisions.

To express different views about political development and decisions.

To criticise political developments and decisions.

The media can only be empowered to perform these functions if…

Media policy ensures media pluralism (the existence of different media: various newspapers, radio stations, television stations, magazines, films and so on.

Media content reflect social plurality.


Internal plurality: differences within the information and entertainment content of newspapers, radio and television stations ® should be balanced, offer different opinions etc.

External plurality: differences between different newspapers, radio and television stations.



Concerns each medium on its own; internal; the variety of perspectives and voices within a single outlet.

Like a specific radio station


Concerns media categories; the variety of choices available within the same category.


Concerns all the media, regardless of category, available in a society; the variety of choices.

All media in society

You must understand and be able to explain each theory and to integrate it practically in a case study. In the assignment, you had to integrate a specific theory into the article provided. In the examination you will be given a similar case study and asked to explain the specific theory referred to. Please ensure, therefore, that you familiarise yourself with the various theories.

Media Theories

Normative theory: (theories are concerned with):

Views about the ideal role of the media in society, both to the power structure & the recipient.

Theories are concerned with issues like



And objectives of the media

Concerned with restrictions on the media in various situations.

Authoritarian theory:

MAIN press theory

the media according to this theory is controlled and presented according to societies best interests. (Press is a mouthpiece of government)

Dictatorial societies.

Justifies government suppression of the media in extraordinary circumstances


Media should not undermine government, vested powers and interests

Media should be subordinate.

Should not contravene prevailing moral and political values.

Censorship is justified.

Editorial attacks on government = criminal offences.

The media under these governments should propagandise the government’s ideology.

E.g like Hitler and in Zimbabwe

Analyse article and then integrate the normative media theory, namely the Libertarian theory into article below. Explain the Libertarian theory; practically integrate the belief in the theory into article (describe how journalists reporting on this case tie into the belief of the Libertarian theory.

Libertarian theory:

Provides a philosophical basis for the on-going, three-way relationship between the news media, government and society.

This duty and right seeks to maximize the freedom of the press, and in effect be a watchdog towards the state.

MAIN press theory

Media should be able to publish what they see fit, the media is also allowed to publish information against the ruling power and society should interpret the messages accordingly. (Example of article)

People are rational beings capable of distinguishing between truth and falsehood, and between good and evil. Give them all factual information and let them decide. (Example of article)

Its the responsibility of the media to keep the citizens of a country duly informed of the actions of its government. By having written this article, Boyle is performing this duty set out by the libertarian theory.


The media is a source of information.

The media is a platform for expression of divergent opinions.

Free from government control.

Media should be free from external censorship.

Should be accessible to any individual or group.

Editorial attacks should not be punishable.

No coercion to publish anything.

No restrictions on the acquisition of information.

No restrictions on import and export of information across borders

The media should be free from censorship that is external from it, so that certain officials from a political party can’t restrict or delete certain remarks that were made to the public because they would want to dictate what the public reads and what not.

– Publication should be free without a licence for the people reading the material. There are no restrictions like this in South Africa currently.

– If there are any “editorial attacks” on government it should not be punishable; this paves the way for free speech like the article of Boyle, giving his opinion and informing the public.

– There should be no compulsion to publish anything as this will give an unjust and skew view of what is happening in South Africa. With parties exerting their power to help their own cause.

– The “acquisition of information” should not be restricted if they are obtained through legal channels. For instance the number of South African Police Service members that were suspended because of corruption – those are available thus it can be published if the journalist wishes and to inform the public.

– There should be no restriction so that information about the country may or may not be imported or exported.

Social responsibility theory:

Variation of first 2 theories

media should be equal and fair in its reporting of incidents and issues. It must be diverse and responsible towards society.

Based on the following premises:

Reconcile the ideas of freedom and independence with responsibility towards society.

Media should support democratic political principles.

Create a form for different viewpoints.

Should meet certain standards.


Through regulatory bodies, independent of government. (E.g. ICASA for broadcast and telecommunication and the Press Ombudsman for newspapers.)

Professional bodies such as the South African National Editors Forum (SANEF)

Basic principles:

Media should accept responsibility towards society.

Set professional standards (truth, accuracy, objectivity, balance)


Avoid information that could lead to crime, violence or social disruption. Not offend ethnic or religious minorities.

Be representative of all social groups. Reflect the diversity of society.

Intervention if the media fail to meet these standards.

Soviet communist theory:

Variation of first two theories

Media must work and be owned by the working class.

Main assumptions:

Act in the interest of, and be controlled by the working class.

Media should not be privately owned.

Socialisation, education, information, motivation, mobilisation.

Media should respond to needs of recipients.

Society can use censorship.

Marxist-Leninist view of society must be reflected in programming.

Supporting progressive (communist) movements

Development theory:

Independent of these theories because of the unique conditions in third world countries

Individuals as well as minority groups must be catered for by the media.

Basic assumptions:

Media should make a positive contribution to the national development process.

Economic development and society should be more important than press freedom.

National, cultural and language issues should be high on the media’s agenda.

Media should give preference to information about other developing countries that are geographically, culturally and politically akin to each other

Journalists have both responsibilities and liberties in obtaining and distributing information

State has the right to intervene by restricting and censoring the media. State subsidiaries and direct control is justifiable

The Media Development and Diversity Agency in South Africa

Democratic participant theory:

This is the outcome of the shortcomings in these theories

Reaction against commercialisation and monopolies

Against centralisation and bureaucracies in public broadcasting

Developed societies


Media multiplicity

Small-scale use of media; media’s local nature

De-institutionalising the media

The reciprocal role of communicator and recipients

Horizontal communication

Interaction and involvement


Right of access and right to have needs served by the media

Content should not be politically influenced

Justified in terms of needs and interests of recipients

Groups, orgs and communities should have their own media

Small-scale, interactive and participatory forms of media are more beneficial. Local content

Social needs are neglected by established media

Communication is too important to be left to the professionals

Rethinking normative theory:

Theories of the functions and roles of the media fall into 2 types of theory:

those prescribing normative tasks for the media in society (the theories mentioned above)

those describing the real role of the media in society

(there are 5 possible paradigms)

Liberal-individualist paradigm: emphasis is on individual liberty and upholding democracy.

Social responsibility paradigm: the media should contribute to the upliftment of society and its citizens.

Critical paradigm: the media should question prevailing and oppressive ideologies.

Administrative paradigm: emphasis on professionalism.

Cultural negotiation paradigm: emphasis on the rights of subcultures.

The media can play one or more of the following roles:

® Collaborative

young and insecure nation, collaborate towards development ideals, nation building and national interest, usually the role the governments want the media to play

® Surveillance

adversarial role, watch-dog and agenda-setter, the media exposes violations of moral and social violations

® Facilitate

create and sustain public debate

® Critical / dialectical

Journalists examine assumptions and premises of a community. Constitute public debate about prevailing political order

New thinking about normative theory:

Normative theories are changing. It is being questioned by post-modern and post-colonial perspectives:

The post-modern perspective: A new media environment

In post modern societies the distinction between public and private is blurred, in other words it is difficult to recognise a coherent population with shared values and a single ideal.

New channels of public communication have introduced a

Multi-media approach, (new technology) interactivity

Commercialisation – market driven – what is interesting, not what is important.

Popular culture. New genres – infotainment, talk shows, reality tv. Like Idols and Survivor

A shift in social responsibility – from public organisations (broadcasters) to commercial enterprises.

Pluralised society.

Acknowledgment of difference and diversity

EXAMPLE: Even democracy is seen to be in crisis. Ideal democracy is being questioned Ideal democracy is being questioned as it has become much more fluid and evolving.

Democracy in South Africa is also seen as complex and diverse – why?

“For the post modernists, both society and the media have become so complex, diverse and abundant with choices, so overloaded with media genres, outlets, products, meanings and messages, that normative media theory had lost its grip.” (Fourie 2007:206)

The post-colonial perspective: de-westernising

Colonial: Relating to the colonies of the former British Empire

Post colonial: Existing or occurring after the end of colonial rule and the gaining of political independence.

This is seen as a product of the Western way of thinking about the role of the media in society

the idea of “de-Westernising” media theory and specifically normative media theory is not new

Post-colonialism and comparative theory provide the groundwork for investigating

ubuntuism in South Africa (Africa) as a framework for changing normative theory from an Afro-centric viewpoint.

Some norms set for the media can be regarded as very Eurocentric and bias.

“It emphasises the need to develop comparative theories that consciously avoid ethnocentric bias, to focus on elements that appear to be universal in most societies.”

Revisiting normative media theory in South Africa:

Although the post-modern argument is eagerly adopted by the South African market, post-colonial theory provides a foundation for investigating the philosophy of Ubuntu in SA as a framework for the revision of normative theory, using an Afro-centric perspective.

Ubuntuism as an African moral philosophy. (why or why not can it work as a normative theory)

What is Ubuntu as a normative theory:

Ubuntuism places the emphasis on sharing and participation in collective life, which is in contrast to Western individualistic freedom of the self.

“A person is defined with reference to the community” or “A person is born for the other”.

Emphasis on community and collectively.

We need to be careful not to “see” collectivism in the sense of communism or socialism, but rather to see the individual as a unique centre of shared life.

Community is the context in which personhood is defined.

Negotiation, inclusiveness, transparency and tolerance.

Ubuntu as a normative theory:

when it comes to mass communication the emphasis is on community and collectivity

when it comes to public interest the emphasis is on the community

A media that provides freedom of expression, space for the concerns, ideas and opinions of the community.

Freedom of expression is measured in terms of the wellbeing of the community.

When it comes to public interest, the same emphasis would be placed on the community.

Thus Stimulating citizen and community participation.

It is therefore important that the journalist should act (ethically) in harmony with the morality or principles of the community.

This is therefore a journalism that does not place a high value on objectivity. The journalist needs to get involved in dialogue with the community. Whatever goes to print should be assessed in terms of the impact of the story on the community.

Fourie (2007) argues that South Africa should adopt the post-modern acknowledgement of difference and diversity.

In this way South African media would reflect the realities of South African society.

In practice this requires reporting that:

Stimulates interaction among citizens and reporters – and between citizens and politicians

Enables people to come to terms with their everyday experiences

Acknowledges the complexity of a matter or an issue

Is not the hurried conclusion of an observer

Penetrates the moral dynamics underlying the issue

Is interpreted against the background of the community’s contexts, beliefs, values and needs.

Ubuntu’s role:

Bonding a community

Dialogue towards reaching consensus based on the social values and morals in and of a community

SA suited for postmodern thought, thus including UBUNTU

How does ubuntuism differ from the functions and social responsibility of the media in western normative theory?

Western media thought and focus:

Information, surveillance, entertainment and educational roles

Media freedom and right to protection in order to be able to fulfil its social responsibility

The individual right to information, surveillance, entertainment and education

The emphasis thus moves:

From the media as informant, gatekeeper, entertainer and educator TO media as mediator

From the media as observer TO the media as participant and negotiator.

May have negative consequences for freedom of expression:

Fourie mentions

May have severe media restrictions, (as in the history of apartheid where the country excluded the majority from rights) with regard to patriotic media

Distinctiveness of ubuntu as an African moral philosophy compared to Western communitarianism and its associated civic journalism

Changed nature of contemporary African culture and values, values often far removed from traditional African culture and values

Political misuse of moral philosophy

Nature of media in a globalised world and the changed nature of the media landscape needs to be considered.


Much of the media produced today serves for the purpose of entertainment

Inform and educates on a latent and manifest level

the five motifs prerequisite for experiencing pleasure and gratification

identity, = entertainment focuses on human relations

ability, = gives problem-solving possibilities

survival, =awareness of eternal values (freeing from anxiety about destruction and death)

understanding = of reality and knowledge. shedding new light on reality (you’re not alone)

From a rhetorical perspective the individual determines their interpretation of entertainment ® according to identity, social relation

You can consider family series, police and action dramas or situation comedies, soap operas, game shows,

From a behavioural perspective

entertainment is associated with the human ability to identify with others

project and introject feelings

but also with distancing from others

Entertainment also makes a visual impact on the viewer

Viewers become outsiders (not participants)

Entertainment content (like any form of play) is always voluntary.

Introjection = viewer adopts feelings of other party

Projection = viewer projects feelings on other party (actors, characters)

People are entertained when they produce their own opinions on these situations.

Study Unit 5 (Chap 5) – The Effects of mass communication (Effect Studies)

Importance of understanding media effects:

Strategic importance: to understand that messages – specific response – certain circumstance = strategically important in political, social awareness, marketing and advertising campaigns.

Scientific importance: contributes to the beneficial use of the media for the improvement of people’s circumstance and society in general

Ethical importance: Responsibility of communication workers to know about the possible consequences of their work on the lives of people and society

Effects studies seek to discover describe and explain the media’s specific effects on our behaviour and thinking in a specific way.

E.G. The impact of pornography, violence and / or crime portrayed in and by the media on people’s behaviour.

Makes use of mainly quantitative research techniques such as content analysis, survey research.


Write a paragraph in which you discuss the media effects that can be identified in these articles.

Behavioral effects:

Cognitive effects

Media messages can affect our knowledge and thinking about something (e.g. thinking about racism)

Affective effects

Media messages can affect our feelings about something (e.g. child abuse, terrorism, violence.)

Cognitive effects

Media messages can affect our behaviour towards something or someone (e.g. contribute to political rising against a government, org or group

Manifest and latent effects

Manifest – when we know that we have been influenced by media messages

Latent – when we are not aware of its influence

Intended and unintended effects

May have been planned to achieve a specific effect (e.g. HIV awareness campaign may be intended to warn people against disease

Or not planned or intended (e.g. May teach certain people how to spread the disease

Time-scale effects

Short term message exposure

Exposure to single message like one programme – after that person forgets about it

Intermediate message exposure

Exposure to a series of related messages like a series on TV – (e.g product campaign, stopping smoking)

Long term exposure

Many exposures to related messages over time (e.g. media violence, pornography or awareness of environmental issues) may change our response or behaviour over a long time

McQuail main kinds of media-induced effects:

Intended change

Unintended change

Minor change (intended or not)

Reinforcing what already exists (no change)

The media can prevent change

Planned and unplanned effects:

Planned effects:


An ongoing campaign to influence people’s minds by focusing on negative aspects of an opponent / topic. Withholding positive or objective information

E.g. in the political arena’



Media campaigns

An advertising campaign to promote a specific product or educational development.

E.g. Topic people knew initially little or nothing about like global warming and its effects

Knowledge distribution

Unplanned effects:

The media’s contribution to cultural change

The media’s contribution to Socialisation

Reality defining – the media’s interpretations of the realities of daily life and how we should understand them

Media violence – if the film or tv programme causes violent behaviour in an individual or amongst group

The media’s contribution to Institutional change

The media’s contribution to Collective reaction

Effect theories:

Short-term theories: The hypodermic needle theory

Two-step-flow theory

The uses and gratification theory

Long-term theories: Accumulation theory

Diffusion of innovation theory

Modelling theory

Social expectation theory

Meaning theory

Stereotype theory

Agenda-setting theory


Spiral of silence theory

List the theories and briefly discuss

Also list some of own examples to illustrate the theories discussed

1. Short-term theories:

The hypodermic needles theory:

What do the media do to people?

Certain values, ideas and attitudes are injected into the individual media user, resulting in particular behaviour. The recipient is seen as a passive and helpless victim of media impact.

Anomie – state to which a group or individual is prone when they feel that their accepted values, norms and culture is threatened

Usually in countries in the throes of change. New legislations and media reports on them extensively, reflecting on thinking of society, infusing moral debates often to the point of mass hysteria. (e.g. Malema AWB.)

Two-step-flow theory:

What do people do to the media?

Mediating factors.

Media users are not at the mercy of the media, but selectively expose themselves on the basis of culture, education, expectations etc. Thus exposing themselves selectively to what they agree to or understand

Family, colleagues and friend filter media users’ interpretation and experience, acting as buffer for one-sided interpretations

Opinion leaders represent a further buffer

In a commercial media system, media represents a divergent of interpretations on a certain topic

The uses and gratifications theory:

What do people to with the media?


As a distraction to escape from their routines and problems

The gratification is an emotional release of a temporary nature

Personal relations

Interaction with others, discussing what they have read, seen or listened to

The gratification is one that provide content of companionship and sociability

Personal identity

Media content is used to explore, challenge, adjust or confirm personal identity

Use content to compare themselves and their values and situations with those of others


Media users need and get information about issues that can affect them directly or indirectly

The gratification is one that satisfies the need for information about immediate and distant world circumstances

2. Long-term theories:

Accumulation theory:

Media focus (a newspaper or different newspapers by example)

– repeatedly + consistent + over a long period, focus on a specific topic= changes in beliefs, attitudes and behaviour.

Focus attention and produce messages on specific problems or issues (E.g. race, discrimination, the environment, social habits, crime, divorce, style, sex, politics)

Over extended period of time focus stays and presentation corroborate each other

Individuals become aware of these messages, and a growi


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