Journalism and Mass Communication © Kalyani Suresh


Changes in the Social and Economic Scenario

In today's modern democratic society, it is a common belief that the freedom enjoyed by the media is an essential prerequisite. Yet, at the same time, it is also believed that the media are turning politics into a trivial entertainment for couch potatoes. Yet the mass media was created for citizens of a democracy to decide the important issues of the day amongst themselves through public debate, including in print. In the late-eighteenth centuries, this participative form of media freedom was put into practice. The exercise of the fundamental right of the freedom of expression was made possible by the widespread ownership of cheap wooden printing presses.

Despite its libertarian claims, media freedom was the monopoly in the hands of a few rich men, who could produce only a limited number of expensive copies of publication. However, the industrialization of printing allowed printed material to become cheap enough for almost everyone to purchase. When the new electronic media were introduced, information production spiraled and was made available free to their audiences. But now the news content was determined by the management hierarchical business institutions or the State.

The role of the media now came under the magnifying glass, with different functions being attributed to it by different people. For some, the interests of the audience were best served by the media being objective and truthful in its reporting. For others, the media had to serve the future interests of the people by disseminating revolutionary ideas. But there was one common thing - the complete passivity of the audience. Although almost everyone could receive the output of the media, most people weren't able to use the media to express their own views.

Over the past few years, the introduction of new information technologies has intensified the centralization of the media. The spread of new technologies has also encouraged the growth of community media such as radio stations, cable television channels and e-mail, having mass distribution potentiality. For example, in cyberspace, a single global network or a web is being spun out of a network of contributors and bulletin boards. The community media are used by all sections of society as a means of free expression.

Karl Deutsch, in his "Social Mobilization and Political Participation", developed the concept of social mobilization, the process whereby people become uprooted from their traditions and become available for new patterns of communication and behavior. According to him, the process of modernization should be accompanied by an increase of exposure to mass media. Shaun Moores in his 'Media and Everyday Life in Modern Society' talks about the position that television, radio or other electronic media like telephones and computers have come to occupy in people's day-to-day lives and social relationships. He discusses how these communication and information technologies have helped construct new arrangements of time, space and place in a culture with globalizing tendencies, and the types of identity, experience and interaction the electronic media make available to their different audiences or users. Combining theory with empirical research, he discusses topics such as the meanings of satellite dishes, the formation of imagined communities and the presentation of self in virtual realities.

Communication and Development: Socio-Economic Impacts of Media on the Traditional Structures of Developing Countries

Scholars have made interesting efforts to fashion meaningful theories about the role of mass mediated communication in the national development process. Most studies indicate relationships among factors like economics, religion, press freedom etc. Daniel Learner's study entitled 'The Passing Of Traditional Society' noted high correlation among four factors: urbanization, literacy, media participation and political participation. Deutsch pointed out a correlation between mass communication of a country and its national spirit and action.

One school of thought attributed to the Western media an essential role in overcoming undemocratic and unjust social structures, while another school looked upon it as the essential agent of destruction of indigenous cultures and identities.

Similar discussions about the socio-economic impacts of information technologies (ITs) on society, independent of the discussion concerning the developing countries, have led to the argument on one hand that advancing technicalization of our societies puts different individuals on the same platform and blends them together; while on the other hand the opponents of this thought argue that ITs break up societies into single groups, which brings about disintegration and waning of solidarity.

John T. McNelly of the University of Wisconsin has written of the lack of well-developed theories of the role of mass communication in national development., but postulates at least 4 general positions or points in the same context:

1- The Null Position: This holds that mass communication has little or nothing to do with national development. Those taking this position place emphasis on literacy and education and not on the mass media

2- Enthusiastic Position: This is usually a position held by UNESCO and other development-oriented agencies and individuals. Here the mass media has a decisive role not only in development but also establishing peace and stability.

3- Cautious Position: The 2-step flow theory (see Chapter 2 - Theories of Communication) proposed by Katz and Lazarsfeld relates to this position. This position supports that mass communication is not omnipotent and a number of social and cultural factors (such as opinions of opinion leaders) serve to mediate or even nullify the impact of the mass media.

4- Pragmatic Position: Persons accepting this position realize that there are no adequate theories to predict the impact of information flow for all types of messages in different societies, in all situations. McNelly advocates adopting the pragmatic position where the researcher seeks empirical evidence on the effects of mass communication in a culture or society.

Digital Information Revolution

While the mass media (the press, radio, TV) facilitate one-to-many communication processes and the interpersonal media (telex, telephone) enable one-to-one communication processes, the Internet ( an interactive network) is a many-to-many process. The question therefore is whether the experiences gained from mass and telecommunications media can be applied to interactive networks too.

Hiltz & Turoff (1993) have coined the term "superconnectivity" to mean

"1. The phenomenon of almost perfect transmission of communication and information throughout the human habitations of the universe, via computers. 2. The interconnections of all social and economic institutions as a result of communication via computer networks."

Guglielmo Marconi's invention of wireless telegraphy led to the emergence of radio broadcasts almost 100 years ago. Since that time, there have been major advances in broadcasting including; radio, television, cable networks, the Internet, and more recent innovations.

Two new "medias" that have put broadcasting onto the 'next generation' course are Interactive Television and Personalized Broadcasting. Microsoft acquired WebTV Networks, Inc. in 1997, a company that serves thousands today with their technology that integrates the television and the Internet. It consists of a set-top box and a subscription service. The service allows consumers to get access to the World Wide Web, e-mail, and other interactive experiences not normally available through the traditional cable or satellite services. Another service is the 'UltimateTV', that consists of a set-top box and modified computer keyboard along with the satellite TV service. The television then becomes a VCR, an ISP, an e-mail program, and a TV all in one service; the convergence of entertainment and information in an interactive environment.

The wireless/mobile broadcasting medium is also experiencing explosive growth. This type of broadcasting works on the idea that a consumer can access news and information through any wireless device such as a cell phone and receive it in audio instead of text. Several General Audio Download, Mobile Audio Communications and Personalized Broadcast (PB) companies have entered the market to whet the public's appetite for information

This is just the tip of the iceberg. From the initial invention of the radio to the new media technology of today, it is clear that consumer demand for personalization is driving broadcasting and media. Consumers want more choices and more control over the information they receive.

The consumers of the new media can now go interactive with their TV sets. Public television is uniquely positioned to take full advantage of new digital technology to serve the needs of its viewers of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. For the past several years, public television has been an industry leader in bringing digital TV's (DTV) many new possibilities to reality. The digital transition signifies the biggest change in the TV medium since the advent of television itself. DTV technology provides a host of new opportunities for public television to provide interactive education and training programs never before possible with today's analog broadcasting standard.

The Internet is viewed as the 'information utopia', the fulfillment of an ancient dream of a free information flow uninfluenced by government. But the principle of freedom must be complemented by social responsibility. Communication connects people with one another, breaks down prejudices, increases people's knowledge about one another, and supports peaceful coexistence. In all of these cases, the aim is to overcome or reduce superfluous borders. Physical access, however, is not the only issue. Another concerns the ability to use and understand the communication technology. For difficulties to be overcome, including those of time and space, accelerated development of traffic and communication infrastructures worldwide is recommended.

One also has to take into account the dynamical element of identity change inherent in the communication between two cultures. Within the intercultural communication process, the communicating entities are not in the same state during and after the communication as they were before it. If communication weakens, erodes and blurs the participants, then it tends not towards peace, but towards aggression.

>But a case of a 'reduced cues' social environment as facilitated by the computer mediated communication (CMC) has been described by Kiesler, Siegel, & McGuire as having a "democratizing" effect on organizational communication. Visual cues such as complexion and dress, as well as audio cues of accent and inflection are nonexistent in text-only discourse leading to the increase of empathy and alliance.

Technology and Culture

The diffusion of technologies is always accompanied by diverse cultural impacts. Many French sociologists and intellectuals have pointed out the cultural impacts of technologies. Francois Mitterand in the 1982 G7-Summit on Technology, Employment and Growth at Versailles, highlighted this factor. In the 1995 G7-Summit on the Global Information Society, France again suggested that the cultural aspects of the new information technologies be given special attention. Out of the same tradition, the French President, Jacques Chirac, declared the Internet top priority matter in the beginning of 1996.

In his analysis on the implications of the information superhighway on Asia, Jeffrey Goh from the Singaporean National Computer Board summed up that cultural communication tends not towards peace, but towards aggression: "The implications of Internet on heritage and culture are two-fold. On the one hand, it is yet another channel by which Western culture enters the country. On the other hand, given the low cost structure of operating an internet service, it is also a way by which local culture and points of view can be shared. In this new medium developing countries do not have to take the back-seat".


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