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Mass media is one of the dominant tools that define a nation. The greatness of a country lies in her adherence to the rule of law and media. Primarily, the mass media works round the clock to ensure that the sociopolitical and economic pillars of the nation stand on equity, equality and the rule of law. Consequently, media plays a critical role in oversighting the state machinery and raising the alarm in case of deviations from the expected state of affairs. In most countries and organizations, freedom to access and disseminate information is a fundamental human right and media is the brain in the enforcement of this right. However, media has been idolized to the point that it is more credible than any other organ in society. The unprecedented elevation of mass media to the extent of being believed beyond doubts has sunk many countries into precipices historically popular for the destruction of human life and property. While mass media is a fundamental source of information, its power cannot supersede that of citizens because of its ease of manipulation and systemic limitations.
Mass media is a creation of man for the benefit of humankind. Primarily, the central role of media is to facilitate the exchange of information between two or more entities, people, institutions or various state agencies. According to Adrian Chen, media is a critical element in the communication process, without which it would be incomplete. However, it remains one of the five constituents: sender, message, receiver, media and feedback. Each of these components plays a vital role that cannot be overemphasized over the other. On face value, media convey the message from the sender to the receiver and vice versa. Its role is, therefore, not primary but intermediary. Analytically, more weight should be given to the message itself, which also benefits the two entities- sender and receiver, thereby placing people at the center of the communication process. Operating at the discretion of man that can be biased by principle or opinion, mass media can therefore, not be empowered more than its master, human being. In other words, it is unreasonable to let the media houses rather than independent people have the final decision on issues.
According to Umberto Eco, people are divided into smaller groups governed by culture and traditions that differ from one social grouping to another. Therefore, as much as we may receive information from the same source, we subject it to our cultural lenses that consequently give the conveyed information different meanings from what was initially intended. For this reason, the society cannot afford to esteem mass media above itself. It, therefore, means that such a step would be treading on cautious grounds marked by cultural codes and principles, hence leading to more disharmony and incongruence. Umberto Eco postulates that the meaning deciphered from mass media channels is interpreted differently by different people. Varied understanding is caused by the fact that society is highly blocked and stratified based on dissimilar parameters. For instance, education level, culture, religious affiliation and political viewpoints among others are some of the lenses through which received messages are interpreted. Consequently, the same information is understood differently, thereby prompting divided action lines.
As a result, mainstreaming mass media as well as esteeming them above human intellect is detrimental; because of two reasons. First, it is tantamount to believing in the seniority of the opinion of particular class of people. The present world believes in relativity and post-modernity whereby every opinion is subjective. Therefore, there is no superior judgment in comparison to the other. On the other hand, the parameters according to which entities are measured vary in many ways. Consequently, while mass media may be instrumental in shaping the belief system of one category of people, the subject under study may be in sharp and direct contradiction to the culture of a different group. Therefore, what one group regards as information may be poison to another category. For instance, what Islam considers to be ethical may be unacceptable in Christianity; hence religion may be the basis upon which two scholars view information from the mass media. In most cases, although religion is highly merchandised as the opium of masses, it is highly esteemed by its adherents in relation to ethics and morality.
Secondly, mass media is a for-profit establishment. Media owners are magnates who endeavor to make a huge amount of money out of disseminating information. Research indicates that people are more likely to presume true what they read in newspapers, watch on television or listen to on the radio because these three mass media channels are believed to be authoritative. According to New York Times, business moguls take advantage of the masses need for information and feed them with their recipe of news, provided they pay for it. Information sells but lies sell better. Being driven by profits, media houses will voice the concerns of the highest bidder, even if they are not culturally, ethically or even morally sound. Necessity of having bills to pay at the end of every month, propels mass media owners to resort to treating the public to the desire of opinion shapers, hence leading to cultural and ethical erosion in some cases. When the output of mass media is subjected to neutral parameters, people are bound to separate chaff from the grain, hence making informed decisions guided by principle. However, such judgments are difficult to form by in the present generation. The society itself craves for sensational stories.
Mass media is purposely instituted to serve people. Man is the consumer of mass media products and the level of consumption is increasing rapidly. The consumers include mass media employees, sponsors, general public and the government among others. Each of them benefits from a specific output of the mass media products. For instance, while employees derive their livelihood from working for mass media houses, the general public provides the media houses with an income by buying newspapers among other products, the sponsors buy airtime on television, hence also a source of revenue. There are many reasons why man should be held in higher regard than the mass media. Umberto Eco affirms that media cannot be given more than enough power and I agree with this point of view for two main reasons.
First of all, mass media is the creation of man, hence exists at his discretion. It is human who determines the usefulness of mass media. For this reason, the direction and limits of it are defined and restricted by man. If no slave is greater than his master, then a creation without life is less significant in comparison with the creator. However, media has been instrumental in shaping the agenda of societies by informing the public of emerging issues and battles worth fighting for. All this is aimed at making the world a better place to the advantage of mankind. Therefore, all media initiatives are for the benefit of man, hence human beings are superior to mass media. Nevertheless, it remains the link between the policy makers and policy consumers. While making life better, mass media remains a louder voice of the voiceless.
Secondly, media has been used and disused in almost equal measure, both for good and bad intentions. Tyrants and despots have used it to rally support of their unpopular and evils missions. For instance, radio stations were instrumental in fueling civil war and genocide in Rwanda in 1994. Given that, people believe that media is in touch with national issues. What comes through the airwaves should be pure enough to discourage the germination of seeds of discord and strife. However, very few media houses have been guided by patriotism, professional journalism and ethics. It accounts for the leading eruption of fake news and innuendos. that has been weaponized by strong countries. Ethics and moral responsibility should be the backbone of media but unfortunately, many media houses are in pursuit of profits rather than social responsibility. A profit-driven entity does very little to inculcate accountability culture, hence not dependable.
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The growth of mass media has been at the peak in recent decades. However, the world is yet to reap the benefits of media freedom and expansion. Most notably, mass media has played a critical role in opening marginalized regions of the world and making the neglected nations featured globally. Further, media has been instrumental in fighting atrocities and unfairness in many spheres. Despite the considerable amount of positive impacts of mass media, it still lacks merit to be more esteemed than man. Being a strong entity, mass media nevertheless remains susceptible to manipulation and bias in the process of propagating unpopular policies. There are reasons to believe that media has not become independent enough to fund its operations. The ability of mass media to withhold ethics, morality and professional journalism remains contestable, hence not believable enough.
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