Home Introduction to mass communication FUNCTIONS OF MASS COMMUNICATION CONTENTS

FUNCTIONS OF MASS COMMUNICATION CONTENTS

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1.0 INTRODUCTION

The function of mass communication in the society is enormous. This is evident in the different appellations or names the journalists are called. Names like watchdog, intellectual peeping toms, fourth estate of the realm and so on. The Press helps sanitise the society of all forms of corruption by scrutinizing the actions, policies, and performance of those who govern. The press, in its watchdog function, is the vital communicating link between the concerned citizen who wants to assess how those who are running things are doing and the evidence that can indicate the quality of their performance. The press checks the potential for inefficient, irresponsible, unethical, or even illegal behaviour on the part of those we trust as leaders. The importance of the press as the eyes and ears of the public in monitoring governmental activities has never been greater and its task has never been more difficult.

2.0 OBJECTIVES

At the end of this unit, you should be able to:

  1. mention and explain the roles of mass communication in the society 
  2. discuss why the Press is so useful and important in every society 
  3. identify the perceived negative roles mass communication play in the society. 

3.0 MAIN CONTENT

The functions and dysfunctions of mass communication are discussed in this unit under different subsections (3.1-3.7)

3.1 Surveillance Function

This is otherwise known as news function of mass communication. It involves scouting the environment to bring the evidence essential for information [news] about major happenings in the society. The word ‘surveillance’ connotes a careful monitoring of something done in secret. The idea behind surveillance is to protect things or someone under watch from falling below public expectation or going astray. This surveillance concept is synonymous to ‘watchdog’ role of the press. As a watchdog, the media monitors societal ills and exposes them. These ills include corruption in any sector of the society, politics, education, church, organisations etc.

By exposing corruption, the journalist is sanitizing the society and at the same time, putting public office holders on public scale which measurement is done by members of the public. By watchdog role, the journalist owes the public duty of digging out hidden deeds and untold/unheard dealings. For instance, it was the press that exposed the controversial award of N628 million for the renovation of the official quarters of the Nigeria first female Speaker of the Federal House of Representatives, Patricia Olubunmi Etteh and her deputy. The surveillance or watchdog function of the press enables the mass media to beam their searchlight on the three arms of government, parastatals and the society at large. The surveillance function of the press is its basic responsibility. Any mass media worth its salt must constantly live up to its social responsibility role which is done through the watchdog approach.

Sambe (2005), in underscoring the surveillance function of the press on crime, cites cases:

In 1986, two gangsters emerged from the crime scene in Nigeria, namely Lawrence Anini and Monday Osunbor. The press, in living up to its responsibility as surveillance for society, kept on
beaming searchlight on the activities of the duo until they were arrested with some of their collaborators, among them, an assistant superintendent of police, George Iyamu.

The press also uncovered the involvement of the police in the Anini case. This week magazine puts it this way:

From the evidence before the two tribunals, it was quite clear that the Anini saga would not have
reached its frightening proportions but for the inherent conditions in the society. The police gave him information, sold him weapons and shared in his loot in perfect symbiosis.

The surveillance role of the press in tracking down another notorious armed robber, Shina Rambo in 1992 was equally cited. The media described his identity, which turned out to be useful to the police in tracking him down. Rambo was described as a dare-devil kingpin, slim, dark and of average height, possessing two tribal marks one on each cheek characteristic of indigenes of Ondo town (Sambe 2005:42)

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 1

Why is the surveillance function of the press regarded as fundamental to journalistic practice?

3.2 Correlation Function

The correlation function of mass communication is otherwise known as the opinion or editorial function of the press. This refers to the process of editorial selection, interpretation and prescription through which the mass media help their consumers to better understand the information brought to them. By the correlation function, the media provide the background social context and critical analyses necessary for that understanding. The press also helps to monitor public opinion, for example, through phone-in radio or television programmes.

The correlation function is best illustrated in columns and editorial pages of news papers where the columnist may compare statements made by political office holders with conflicting statements made by other politicians or personal views on a matter. It may also be observed in broadcast commentaries and editorials in television documentaries designed to make viewers aware of an issue or supportive of a prescribed course of action (Sambe 2005:44)

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 2

As a trainee journalist, invoke the correlation function of the press to write an interpretative article on the aborted planned redenomination of the Naira by CBN. Your article must be suitable for publication in a National daily.

3.3 Entertainment Function

One of the most popular functions of mass communication is entertainment. As a matter of fact, higher percentage of audience prefers entertainment to information. Those in this category include students, youths, teenagers, sport lovers, kids (cartoons). Except for very serious minded individuals who tune the media for information, quite a number of people consume media products during their leisure time, and as such see media as a tool of enjoyment and entertainment.

By nature, entertainment is meant to ease tension and stress. It is synonymous to relaxation. Through home videos, film comedies, sports and cartoons, families can be glued to television for hours while catching their fun. Besides, viewers catch their fun through talk shows, advertisement (especially on Nollywood movies), live matches, television drama etc. The newspapers and magazines as well entertain through editorials and satirical cartoons. Omoba cartoon strip in Punch Newspaper is a good example. Just like the then popular Josy Ajiboye satirical cartoon of Daily Times.

In the contemporary world, pornographic magazines and newspapers are on the increase and their targeted audiences who are predominantly the youths are patronizing the print media products.

Of all the available media of mass communication, television as a broadcast medium is rated to be performing the entertainment function most; this is because it combines sound with sight. In other words, because it has audio-visual effect. For instance, a Nollywood video is better watched on TV screen than listened to on radio or read on the pages of newspapers or magazines. Television stations like African Magic, Channel O, are must watch stations for every audience interested in entertainment and relaxation. While African Magic strictly broadcast African movies and drama on a 24-hour basis, Channel O does nothing better than round the clock musicals. The growing interest of the public in sports, especially football has necessitated an unprecedented increase in sport-biased newspapers and magazines like Soccer Star, Complete Football, Sports World etc. Besides specialized newspapers on sports, back pages of most weekend national newspapers are dedicated to sports where vivid details about footballers and their teams are showcased for the entertaining pleasure of sports fans.

Apart from sport newspapers and magazines, there are other soft-sell media products that are more often than not, regarded as junk journalism or yellow journalism. They oftentimes engage in writing stories not well investigated. They carry ‘rumours’, sometimes ‘falsehood’ and half truths. Their primary aim is not to inform but to entertain. Examples are Encomium, Fame, City People etc.

Still on entertainment track, there are other specialized magazines on specific sector of the society, like education, fashion shows etc. For instance, Across the Campus and STUDENTS TONIC magazines focus on true life stories on campuses. Besides, the magazines showcase and celebrate uncommon faces on campuses-be it students, lecturers and administrators .These magazines have been the toast of the average Nigerian student because of the way the reality stories packaged in the magazines entertain them.

Magazines like Ovation are doing purely photo journalism. The magazine gained popularity for the way it captures pictures of people and events. Ovation no doubt is more for entertainment and relaxation than information. Radio as a broadcast medium which lifeblood is sound is equally doing well in entertaining the public through programmes. For instance, radio drama, talk-back programmes, quiz, riddles and jokes and story telling (especially for children) are designed for relaxation and entertainment. Radio stations like Brilla FM were floated primarily to entertain people through sports.

We need to emphasize the entertainment inherent in what is regarded as the economic life wire of the broadcast media which is advertisement. Of a truth, most broadcast media houses cannot survive without advertisement. Nowadays, advertisers are spending heavily in the production of highly entertaining advert copies-most of them unbelievable. Advertisers in the soft drinks companies, beer producing companies and other manufacturing and product marketing companies pass across their commercial messages in a more entertaining way.

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 3

  1. Try and recollect the number of advert messages you have been exposed to in the television or radio, recall the way any ten of them entertain you. 
  2. Apart from the ones mentioned in this unit, mention ten other print media products that were floated primarily to entertain. 

3.4 Cultural Transmission

This function entails the passing on or the transfer of a nation’s (or society) social heritage from one generation to another. Sambe (2005) describes the cultural transmission function as the preservation of past heritage or culture from one ethnic group to another, one nation to another and from generation to generation for the purpose of promoting and even integrating culture. Okunna (1994 cited in Sambe 2005) holds that the mass media disseminate cultural and artistic products for the purpose of preserving the past heritage of the people; they also help in the development of culture by awakening and stimulating the creative and aesthetic abilities in individuals, thus leading to the production of artifacts.

Mass media transmits culture by the way the programmes transmitted reflect the behavioural norms and standard practice in the society. If for instance, the contents of media messages emphasise morals and religious harmony as an acceptable way of survival in the society, then those who consume such contents are most likely to pattern their lives accordingly. Another way of transmitting local culture is the programme policy of most broadcast media organizations such that 70% will be for local content and 30% for foreign content. For instance, Radio Lagos (Tiwantinwa) promotes and transmits Yoruba culture mostly.

This cultural transmission function brings us to examine the relationship between mass communication and culture.

3.4.1 Mass Communication and Culture

Culture defines our realities but communication constructs and maintains our culture. So it is in communication that cultural power resides. The mass media of communication are therefore very significant, leading to examination of the interaction between mass communication and culture.
Various thoughts have been put together on the power of the media and mass communication. We identify three related dichotomies of the debate on the power of the media in relation to culture.

  1. Micro versus Macro-Level of Effects:The micro thought is that the media have relatively few direct effects at the personal level. The micro-level view is that the media have little impact because most people are not directly affected. The macro idea is that the impact of media operates at the cultural level. Media have a great impact because they influence the cultural climate.
  2. Administrative versus Critical Research:Administration research asks questions about the immediate, observable influence of mass communication, critical research asks larger question about what kind of nation we are building, what kind of people we are becoming- would serve our culture better. While administrative concerns itself with direct causes and effects, critical research looks at larger, possibly more significant cultural questions.
  3. Transmissional versus Ritual Perspective:Transmission school sees media as senders of information. The ritual perspective views media not as a means of transmitting “message in space” but as a central to “the maintenance of society in time”. Mass communication is not the act of imparting information but the representation of shared beliefs.

3.4.2What is Culture?

Culture is the learned behaviour of members of a given social group. Harris says culture is the learned, socially acquired traditions and lifestyles of the members of a society, including their patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling and activity. Geertz says culture is a historically transmitted pattern of meanings embodied in symbolic forms by means of which (people) communicate, perpetuate and develop their knowledge about and attitudes toward life. The definitions agree that culture is learned. The learning process is of course communication.

Functions and Effects of CultureCultures help us categorise and classify our experiences; helps define us, our world and place in it. These result in a number of conflicting effects.

  1. Limiting and Liberating Effects of Culture

A culture’s learned traditions and values can be seen as patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling and acting. Culture limits our options and provides useful guidelines for behaviour. For example, when conversing, you do not consciously consider; “Now how far away should I stand?” You just stand where you stand. Culture provides information that helps us make meaningful distinctions about right and wrong, appropriate and inappropriate, good and bad, attractive and unattractive, and so on.

This happens through communication. Through a lifetime of communication, we have learned just what our culture expects of us. But culture’s limiting effects can be negative, like when we are unwilling or unable to move past patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling and acting, or when we entrust our “learning” to teachers whose interests are selfish, narrow, or otherwise not consistent with our own. E.g. US culture values thinner women (compare with Nigerians) What about Nigeria’s culture of worshipping ‘money’ and that of corruption? Culture can be liberating as well; because cultural values can be contested. Liberation from these limitations imposed by culture reside in our ability and willingness to learn and use patterned, repetitive ways of thinking, feeling, and acting, to challenge existing patterns; and so create our own.

2)Defining, Differentiating, Dividing and Uniting Effects of  Culture
We are defined by our culture. As citizens of Nigeria, we are Nigerians, Africans, Yorubas, Igbos, Hausas etc. This label will conjure up stereotype and expectations in the minds of those who use and hear it. Culture also serves to differentiate us from others. Problem thus arises when this leads to division. Culture can divide us, but culture also unites us. Our culture represents our collective experience.

From the foregoing, we offer this definition of culture: Culture is the world made meaningful; it is socially constructed and maintained through communication. It limits as well as liberates us;:it differentiates as well as writes us. It defines our realities and thereby shapes the way we think, feel and act. (Baran 2004)

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 4

With your limited knowledge of some broadcast media houses in Nigeria, give a brief assessment of how any ten of them perform the cultural transmission function.

3.5Status Conferral

This function holds that the mass media confers higher status on individuals in the society through the frequency of reportage done on the individual. Whenever the press beams their reportage on an individual, he automatically acquires a status of public figure and the name of such individual becomes a household name. For instance, individuals like Lamidi Adedibu, Chris Uba, Chris Ngige, Ayodele Fayose, Gani Fawehimi, Wole Soyinka, etc became household names in Nigeria because of the high level of frequency of reportage given to them by the mass media. The status conferment concept is coined by Lazarsfield and Merton who posit that the more someone is featured in the media, the more one’s status is raised to prominence. The duo also wrote that mass media audiences apparently subscribe to a secular belief that if you really matter, you will be a focus of mass attention and if you are a focus of mass attention then you surely must matter.

Apart from individuals who get higher status by virtue of the prominence given to them by the mass media, media men and women especially those who appear on screen – the newscasters, reporters, hosts and hostesses of shows / programmes get themselves into public fame by virtue of their work. People get to see them every time and then make them their models. Abike Dabiri, a newscaster in NTA who was elected as member of the Nigerian House of Representatives, built on the fame she made as a broadcaster. During her electioneering campaign, people whom she never knew just called her and made financial donations to her campaign team. Other broadcasters- turned celebrities are role models for others. Besides, actors and actresses in home videos are becoming celebrities because of their frequency in film acting and shows.

It must be pointed out however, that the weight of status conferred on individuals by the medium is a function of the social status or rating of such medium of mass communication. In other words, the higher the rating of mass medium in public eye, the higher the status conferred on such individual. Someone who was shot into prominence by the western media, say CNN or BBC will have higher status than someone with a national or local TV like NTA or Galaxy TV. In the same vein, someone who was brought into fame by Ebony magazine or Wall Street Journal will assume higher status than someone who was read in Genevieve magazine or Nigerian Tribune newspaper.

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 5

Mention ten Nigerians who were shot into prominence by the mass media. Give reasons for your cases and note that you are not permitted to repeat any of the cases already cited in this section.

3.6 Enforcement of Norms and Cultural Values

The mass media enforce the basic norms and values of the society through their reportage of cultural issues and events. It is through the media that people get to know how cultural festivals are being celebrated, how people dance and sing in the traditional way. These cultural products are exhibited through Television (documentary, news coverage); radio (folklore, storytelling); magazines and newspapers (pictures, write-up/ features).

This function of the media was underscored by MacBride (1980) when he said that the media promote the dissemination of cultural and artistic products for the purpose of preserving the heritage of the past, as well as the development of culture by widening the individual’s horizon, awakening his imagination and stimulating his aesthetic needs, values and creativity.

Akpan (1987) corroborates the enforcement of cultural values function of the media when he states that the transaction of social heritage from one generation to the next involves shaping of values, notions, traditions, customs etc and passing them on from generations to generations. Also adding his weight is Emenyeonu (1992) when he supports the notion that through their coverage, the mass media help to promote heterogeneous cultural groups, thereby correcting any misconceptions and building a sense of pride in the citizens.

Succinctly, the mass media help a great deal to interprete, define, analyse issues that border on peoples cultures (both past and present). The media through entertaining and educating programmes set agenda for the public as regard which cultural values they should accept or reject. They can also make citizens appreciate their indigenous values, norms, and cultural practices and embrace them. The norms of a society are almost always higher than the personal practices of the individuals within the society. For example, we publicly condemn what we privately condone.Public officers are less likely to succumb to temptation when they know that contemplated trespasses might be discovered by the mass media. Corporations become concerned about the ethics of their business practice when they know that these practices will be observed by their stakeholders, regulatory agencies and the general public. Contributors towards charity tend to be more generous when they know that the amount of their contributions will be published and that peer approval or disapproval will follow (Sambe 2005: 67).

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 6

How would you assess the cultural content of programmes disseminated by NTA? Would you advocate a ban in the dissemination of foreign programmes? Give two reasons for your answer.

3.7 Negative Functions of Mass Communication

Although this unit focuses more on the positive functions of mass communication, meaning that mass communication performs more positive functions than negative ones, however attempt must be made to highlight the negative role mass communication plays in the society.

Two negative roles of mass communication in the society is the propagation of violence and pornography. Researchers have proved that these two have caused negative behavioural tendencies and institute false values in the minds of the people especially children. More often than not, children who are exposed, to violent act in films and on television tend to act violently in their day-to-day affairs. In Nigeria, the exposure of school children to James Bond films and other related violent media products have made the children behave violently. In schools children take on their fellow students in fight similar to what they have watched in Bruce Lee and Hulk Hogan’s on television.

Bittner (1951) corroborates There is a convergence of the fairly substantial experimental evidence for short-run causation of aggression among some children by viewing violence on the screen, and the much less certain evidence from field studies that extensive violence viewing preceeds on the long-run manifestations of aggressive behaviour. Children in formation years therefore, view violence as an accepted way of life and can grow up to engage in it.

Apart from violence, the mass media are used to expose people to illicit sex. Through blue films or adult films, the mass media corrupt the moral sanctity of the youths by increasing their desire to have sex even at a tender age. What is more worrisome is the growing number of websites devoted to sexual activities where people could watch sex films and pornographic pictures at a near zero cost. These websites recorded highest hit recently as school children beseech cyber café to access their sites.

Other dysfunctions of the mass media are: cultural imperialism, and invasion of individual privacy.

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 7

Write a two-page article to access the functions of mass communication, show in your write-up whether the negative functions outweigh the positive ones or vice versa.

4.0 CONCLUSION

It is appropriate to conclude that the surveillance function of mass communication is very vital and fundamental to the survival of every society of man. It is regarded as the most crucial among other functions of mass communication. Every journalist worth his salt must strive at all times to survey his society with a view to uncovering the ills and corruption in the society.

One needs to point out that many other functions of mass communication are closely related to each other, in that, one cannot be discussed in isolation of others.

5.0 SUMMARY

We have been able to underscore the importance of the functions of the press in any society. We also pointed out that every journalist must be able to perform these roles adequately without any fear or favour because by virtue of the oath of objectivity they swore to as journalists; they owe the society the reportage needed to uncover the ills in the society with a view to righting the wrongs.

The media provides essential information (news) on development projects, political activities, sports, judicial reports, violence, instability etc. The media provides warnings on dangers and threat to national stability-on war, rebellion, natural disasters, with suggestions on how to avert such occurrences.The unit reiterated that, through its functions, the media also bring human interest stories – drawing people’s attention to the oddities and fun of human condition. Besides, the press owes the public the duty of interpreting issues being reported so that the readers can better understand the information brought to them. One needs to recap that the functions of mass communication which are surveillance; correlation; entertainment; culture transmission; status conferral and enforcement of norms and values must be constantly performed by the mass media for the betterment of the society.

6.0 TUTOR-MARKED ASSIGNMENT

Write a two- page essay on the role of media in sustainable democracy

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