"Modern Public life could not exist or function properly without the Media"
Media Politics and Public Life MSC 234
“Modern Public life could not exist or function properly without the Media”
In this essay I will be discussing the above statement and arguing that
without Media, modern public life could not exist. I will first explain some key
terms to help in the argument including explaining the meaning of the term
According to the Collins Dictionary “The Public is people in general or the people of a particular place. Public is used to talk about the feelings and behaviours of people in general. If someone is a public figure or is in public life, they are well known. Public is used to talk about things being said or done so that everyone can hear them or see them”.
What is meant by the term Public Life is a space where a body of people can come together to discuss issues relating to their group. These groups can be very small like a book club or large like the United Nations and they can discuss anything from the latest Bryce Courtney novel to world peace. Geoffrey Craig in his book The Media Politics and Public Life explains the concept of public life as:
“..A body of people within a society and a domain within which debate about that society occurs…The public is also a subject, and people come together as a public in modern times when they engage in readings of the events, the stories and the debates that circulate in the society.”(2002. P49)
Public life occurs where private issues are brought to the attention of the general public through the use of the media. Without out the media it would be private life, not public life.
Media, as defined by the Collins dictionary is the plural of medium which “is a means of communicating or teaching something.” When we talk about the media we do not just use traditional forms of media like newspapers, television and radio but we also use other forms of media like movies, the internet, transnationals companies and communication technologies. All of these forms of media are sites where the meanings of public life are played out, debated and evaluated. Our everyday lives could not function properly without the media. Media is a drug that we cannot live in a democratic society without. We listen to the radio on the way to work to hear the traffic reports and to know where the multi-novas are hidden. When election time comes, we can’t invite John Howard round for dinner to discuss his policies so we rely on the media to show us them through television radio and newspapers. When a cyclone is coming our way, how do we know to lock up the house or leave town? The media inform us. Even the very early smoke signals were a form of media, a form of communication. It is important to stress here that there is no way that public life could function without the use of the media as the understandings of our society, the norms and values of the world in which we live are the products of living in a mediated world. We
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as a public only ever see the representations of a breaking story through the television or in the paper. We rely on the media to tell us breaking stories that are happening around the world because of our geographical locations. John Hartley (1992 P1) has noted:
“while [the public domain and the public] don’t exist as spaces and assemblies, the public realm and the public are still to be found, large as life in the media. Television, popular newspapers, magazines and photography, the popular media of the modern period, are the public domain, the place where and the means by which the public is crated and has its being.”
In talking about public life we must clarify the notion of having a public sphere. By public sphere we mean any activities that occur in the public eye or that is brought to the attention of the public through the media.
Habermas argues that the original public spheres originated with the early Bourgeois movement in the tea houses, libraries and reading societies in England. It was here where people gathered to discuss issues concerning their lives and the society in which they lived. What made this a public sphere was that the people were all gathered in one place discussing issues that were relevant to them. Although this was regarded as one of the original democracies that were a voice for the people, Habermas also understood that the early tea house publics were not totally representative of the communities for which they were fighting for. In the early days women were not included in the tea house discussions, also, only a certain class of people were allowed to enter the tea houses and those that could not read would not need to go to reading houses or libraries. Of course those that could not travel to these public events had no said either. This limited the voice of the people to only those that were upper-class, well educated men that could travel. This was not representative of the wider communities.
The next stage in the evolution of public life was when the printing presses made literature available to the mass public. This literature was free from state control and was the newest site for public life to be played out on. Of course if you were illiterate the medium was useless but for those that could read and had access to the literature a new public was formed. The reading public was not tied by geographical restrictions. The development of film was again a new medium that with it brought a new public. By now we have to understand that there are a huge amount of publics that all have their own issues to debate. A person can be part of a number of publics at one time. She may be a single mother, working at the supermarket, she is part of the conservative party, is a part of a sci-fi reading club, she buys Thai cooking books, buys red wine and goers to wineries, is part of a mothers group at day care, has a network of other single friends on the internet and is part of a union at work. All of these publics want very specific things and all lobby for different things, the private issues become public when they are played out through the different types of media. Without the media the issues would not be brought into the public spotlight and would likely not be resolved.
It is essential to point out that modern public life is played out through our media consumption and not through our everyday experiences. We collectively watched the September 11 attacks through our televisions, listened to the disaster unfold on our radios and read about and saw the pictures of the devastation in newspapers. Without these sites we would not have experienced it at all. This highlights the fact that we rely on the media to get information that would not readily be available to us. Peter Dahlgren argues that the public sphere is not just a “marketplace for ideas or an information exchange depot but also a major societal mechanism for the production and circulation of culture”. This idea of the media framing culture is very important because it gives the media great power to give meaning to our identities. Culture, which consist of ideas, customs, norms, values and attitudes are shared by the people of a particular country. Campaigns that promote a type of culture are often produced by government and portrayed through various media outlets. Popular campaigns that frame our culture are the domestic violence ad “Australia says NO to domestic violence” and the drink driving campaign, that enforce that fact that those things are going against our culture and that that type of behaviours is not accepted. These campaigns are dependant on the media getting the message out there.
The main media technologies that are responsible for the communication of public news are television, radio and print and these all function as journalism. These are seen as the most trustworthy sources of information as they are governed by laws that protect privacy, defamation and the use of misleading information. Journalisms main role is to seek the truth and tell the masses. Although these forms of media are self regulated (to be free of outside influence) their guidelines that journalists have to abide by are strict to keep the freedom to self regulate.
Television is the most powerful mass medium and is an absolute must in every household. In my house alone there are four televisions and there are only 2 people living there. “A productivity commission report found that Australia’s spend over 20 hours per week or 36% of their leisure time watching television”(Productivity Commission 200, P62). The ability to actually see an event or person and hear them speak makes television the most trustworthy of the media outlets. Politicians often measure the success of a campaign on the presentation of their image/policy/media events.
Although television has taken over from the print media as the most popular type of news media, many argue that the print media are the most influential mass medium for political debate. Agenda setting for the day is mostly done by the ‘quality’ morning newspapers. Newspapers are often more detailed in their dissemination of public life because they are not restricted by the time factor that is TV. Radio is the secret weapon in the fight for a public life. The radio doesn’t have the ability to show the audience an event or doesn’t even give them a chance to read about an issue but it is the most pervasive forms of media as it can be listened to whilst driving or doing the housework. Politicians often use talkback radio as a direct link to the public. It is often the closet the general public will get to speaking with high profile players.
Because the media is the chief agency to communicate public life and the world that we know is based on the representations of the media, there is much scrutiny placed on the authenticity of the stories that are shown to us. In Australia there are laws that ensure that one source does not have monopoly over the content of our media, Australia’s former prime minister Paul Keating put it best when he said that the cross ownership laws meant you could be a ‘prince of print or a queen of screen’ but not both. This means that one person will not be in control of all of the media of our country and so a true representation of society’s issues would be presented by the media. Again without the media, Australia would not be able to be a democratic society and have a public life.
Through many different sites issues and events are played out and become open to the scrutiny of the general public. These different issues and events create discussion between the people that read or hear about them and this is what is meant by a public life. People that are hundreds of miles away from each other can be discussing the same issues without even having to talk to one another. These systems of communication enable us to live in a democratic society, a society where we can chose who leads us in government and we can discuss issues relating to our society. This would not happen if wasn’t for the role of the media. Without the media to portray issues and events we would never hear about a sale on in the city or about governmental policy that is set to affect us all. Public life as we know it would not be able to function properly without the media.
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