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Assess the role of the media

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Assessing The Role Of The Media

In society the media is, arguably, one of - if not the - most powerful of institutions however some sociologists would argue, for example Baudrillard, that its’ power is diminishing or weak. The media is debated widely both assessing its’ influence and functions, or in some cases dysfunctions. The media’s primary function is to inform the masses  which is the origin of its’ overwhelming power in society because obviously through manipulating what the masses are informed of - censorship - and the altering the portrayal of parts of the news the media - propaganda - they are able to control our thoughts - ideological control.

The media is associated with not only informing the public but furthermore representing the public and bringing up moral, political and social issues on behalf of the public. Also the media gives the public freedom to express and broadcast their views and opinions; take Youtube for example, Youtube allows anyone to broadcast online videos, newsfeeds and blogs it enforces freedom of speech and Youtube along with other independent media sources, such as The Independent, ITV etc. increase and extend democracy in the UK. Dahl, a pluralist would agree with this view of the media, that the media informs us, and he says that the media demonstrates thousands of millions of different views and opinions, it broadcasts many different takes on various events and portrays parts of the news in millions of different ways. The wide range of media sources, Dahl says, are good because it allows individuals to sift through all the information and opinions and form their own views - it gives us choice in what, or who, we listen to.

Interactionists and Functionalists would support Dahl’s theory and acknowledge that there is choice concerning what sources of information we listen to and those we may choose to ignore. The argument that supports the Pluralist view on the roles of the media are the Post Modernist and to some extent the Post Structuralist view. Post Modernist, Anthony Giddens says that the media has weakened the power of tradition and that it’s been a major part of the globalisation (merging the social and cultural boundaries) of the UK. He says that the media is continuously making our society more permissive - reducing tradition and slackening the norms and values and creating more equality.

An example of where our society has become more permissive is with ethnicity, racism which previously was a massive problem in society has gradually reduced and is not so widespread now and our society is far more diverse and accepting of diversity, also shown in Gay Rights or gender roles - it’s now socially acceptable for a woman to pursue a career alongside or instead of maternal duties. Hakim, a postmodernist-feminist talks about the Myth of Patriarchy saying that there’s no gender inequality nowadays and the traditional feminist argument is out dated.

Other post modernists such as, again Baudrillard, and also Bagguley, Baudrillard says that the media has caused a “death of class” in the UK.

Bagguley adds saying that there is now a class deallignment - people no longer vote on class based issues but rather vote on moral issues and global issues - in summary class is no longer important in politics, which is mainly the doings of the media and New Politics which again without the media would be difficult. The emergence of New Social Movements and Pressure Groups too, which Dianni talks about, would be difficult without the support of the media.

The media itself is a form of democracy, it represents a large proportion of the public

The PostStructuralist view, by Foucault, doesn’t directly address the roles of the media but can be linked as Foucault says that “knowledge is power” and that power comes from experts and intellects. Obviously the primary role of the media is to transmit news and knowledge to the masses - giving them power which obviously is similar to Dahl’s ideas.

So another role of the media would be to act as an extension to democracy.

There is obviously the parallel argument to this that the media shapes the public opinion, controls what the public is interested in and serves only its’ own needs.

Feminists, Marxists and Elites would argue this is the case; the feminist idea  being that the media is a patriarchal institution (dominated by men) and serves what Walby calls the malestream reinforcing traditional gender roles. Marxists, or Neo-Marxists, have a similar view however they would say that the media is a dominant force that serves its’ own capitalist needs and reinforces consumerism through excessive advertising which links into the Radical Elite view that the media uses something that Gramsci calls hegemony, which he says is a form of ISA that pressures us to conform to certain prototypes, it pressures us to buy certain things, to have certain opinions and to act a certain way.

The last theory to consider is that of Weber, who gives the analogy of the iron fist in a velvet glove, the media would be the velvet glove that softens and legitimizes the authority of the iron fist - the government or mass producers - upper classes.

The media is able to perform this role because it has class, party and status which Weber says are the three qualities needed to legitimise power, having these qualities makes the media a highly powerful institution as I suggested in the summary but taking into account that the media is mainly owned by Elites (who possess Virtu - having the cunning qualities of a fox and the strong qualities of a lion qualities that classical elitist Machiavelli suggests are the reason the elite rule is so natural) the power of the media can easily be corrupt and used to enforce inequality, control the masses and benefit the already-powerful elites.

In conclusion, there are many different ideas on what roles the media performs in our society: the Marxist and Elite theories both revolve around the same basic principals of class inequality and corruption of the higher classes. These higher classes maintain control through the media, as Althusser says the media is an ideological state instrument, supported by Neo Marxist Milliband who says the media alongside other institutions are instruments of the ruling class.

They both talk of concepts such as the myth of democracy and hegemony which the media externalizes , both of which I mentioned earlier.         

All of these critical theories agree that the media serves the interests of a higher supreme class though the name of this group of puppeteers varies among which theory you’re talking about - Feminists: Men, Marxist: Bourgeoisie, Neo-Marxist: Ruling Class, Radical Elite: Elites.

Then there are the more optimistic views such as the Pluralist, Postmodernist and Functionalist view.

Which also seems to have much truth in it despite being parallell  to  the critical theories which too have elements of truth in them.

Weber and Foucault offer more detailed explanations into each side of the argument, but from what I’ve assessed in this essay I would say that within the vast mass media and all of its sub-institutions all of these roles are performed and it mostly depends on what elements of the media you’re looking at.

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this essay has moments of great clarity in describing some very complex theories. However, the theories are too often jumbled together and not sufficiently evaluated or criticised. To get higher marks the candidate should have made a plan which would have helped him/her to structure this better.

Marked by teacher Lesley Clark 27/02/2012

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