Home Introduction to mass communication NATURE AND CHARACTERISTICS OF COMMUNICATION


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This unit assumes that students have acquired a considerable knowledge of the concept of communication, as dealt with in unit 1. This unit delves more into communication under two main subheadings:

  1. Nature of mass communication 
  2. Characteristics of mass communication 


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

  1. discuss the inherent nature of communication 
  2. specifically highlight and discuss in great details the characteristics of communication. 


3.1 Nature of Communication

Having established the basic concept of communication in unit 1 as the process of sharing meanings or transmitting meanings to individuals, one needs to reiterate here that for human beings, the process of communication is both vital and fundamental. It is vital and fundamental so far as all human societies – primitive to modern – are founded on man’s ability to transmit his intentions, desires, feelings, knowledge and experiences from person to person. It is vital as the ability to communicate with others enhances an individual’s chances of survival while inability to do so is generally regarded as a serious form of personal pathology (Sambe 2005:28).

Mass communication got its origin from the fundamental process of human communication that enables man-to-man discussion and communicative interactions. This was done chiefly through verbal and written cues. With the emerging trends in electronic engineering, people are increasingly aware of how to communicate to many people at the same time – ‘one to many’. This ‘one-to-many’ concept is the peculiar nature of mass communication. A man in the broadcast studio somewhere in Lagos, Nigeria can communicate to billions of people across the globe simultaneously. The President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria can sit down in Aso Rock and speak to 140 million Nigerians at the same time. This is mass communication in practice. Broadcast journalists cast news to an audience of millions at the same time; newspaper editors write on issues of public importance to be read the next day by all concerned. These are all mass communication in practice. This unique way of communicating to countless number of people at the same time is a unique nature of mass communication. It is very peculiar because no other form of communication has this attribute.

This brings us to three distinguishing features of mass communication. They are:
a. nature of audience
b. the communication experience
c. the communicator

Nature of Audience By nature, mass communication audience has four peculiar features.They are:

The large nature of the audience of mass communication makes it very difficult to address mass communication messages to specific audience or group of people. This presupposes the fact that messages that undergo mass communication process must be directed to very many people, like the ones sent through mass media of radio, TV, newspapers etc.

It must be pointed out that messages meant for very few people or specific individuals are not regarded as mass communication. For instance, a love letter sent from a boy to his lover girl; a GSM conversation between two or more people (as in conference call) or telegrams do not belong to the mass communication family. This is because such messages could be regarded as either one-to-one or one-to-few as against mass communication which is one-to-many.


By heterogeneous, we mean mass communication messages cannot be segregated. It cannot be directed towards certain people without others hearing it. Every human being, irrespective of age, creed, sex, wealth and affluence get the messages at the same time. Biblically speaking, mass communication message is not a respecter of any man. It does not have regard for positions, and class. It is for all.

Messages sent in mass communication are not to be received by a named receiver. It is addressed to whom it may concern. In other words, he who receives the messages is not known to the sender. It is assumed that messages in mass communication are sent to nobody, everybody and somebody.

SimultaneityThis holds that messages of mass communication are at the disposal of the audience at the same time or simultaneously, or instantly. The word ‘disposal’ is used because, even though the message is available to one, the audience might decide not to expose himself to the message almost immediately, the audience might delay his exposure to such messages for different reasons. This message is often associated with the print media of mass communication like newspapers, magazines and books. A reader might decide not to read the pages of a book almost immediately. The same way someone who got the delivery of fresh news on a daily newspaper early in the morning might delay reading such news till bed time.

Hence, the simultaneity in mass communication audience is mostly applicable to messages sent via the broadcast media, but the fact is that everybody is disposed to such message instantaneously.

The Communication Experience

The idea here is that mass communication messages are rapid, public and transient. It is public in that the content is for public good; it is not directed to only selected few but the general public and that the messages are sent for the consumption of every member of the public.
Mass communication messages by nature are rapid because the messages get to audience almost immediately. With the aid of new communication technologies, it takes seconds to pass across the globe.

The messages are said to be transient because of its fast ‘moving’ nature. The messages are meant to be consumed almost immediately. The newscaster does not wait for anybody to be ready before he casts the news, nor does he need to wait until the listener is ready before continuing his job. In the broadcast media of mass communication, listeners have the opportunity to hear the messages once.

Nature of Communicator

This talks about the particular medium through which the medium will pass through. The media is managed by media organisations and run by experts. The various media of mass communication have features peculiar to each and every one of them as they operate within a complex organisation that may require great expense.


Would you regard a tutorial facilitator in a study centre of National Open University of Nigeria who uses microphone to communicate to a fairly small number of students as a mass communicator? Give convincing reasons for your position.

3.2 Characteristics of Mass Communication

Although some scholars tend to mix characteristics of mass communication with features of mass communication as discussed in unit 1, but painstaking attempts have been made here to bring out specific characteristics of mass communication. They include:
a) Impersonality
b) Portability and mobility
c) Transportability/proximity
d) Fidelity
e) Permanency
f) Cost
g) Universality

ImpersonalityMessages of mass communication have remained impersonal since there is no “personal” touch or warmth of a medium. The impersonality of mass communication is informed by the need to reach large, diverse and scattered audiences almost at the same time.

Portability and MobilityThese two terms are mostly used interchangeably to describe the character of mass communication. Portability has to do with the fact that messages of mass communication are handy and that the medium through which the messages are passing could be carried from one place to another.

Mobility refers to the ease with which a medium’s paraphernalia (facilities) of production can be moved from one place to another. One way of distinguishing between the two terms is to note that portability concerns the receiver and the geographical location of message consumption while mobility relates to the source and place of production.

It needs to be pointed out, however, that while miniaturization of radio has made it portable and much easier to be carried around, mobility has been greatly hampered by bureaucratic nature of media management as well as by media laws of access in the country.

Transportability/ProximityBy proximity, we mean the power of the medium of mass communication to carry the recipient over to the scene of an event. For instance, people in a place like Ota in Nigeria could watch live a football match in far away Adelaide, Australia. In other words, the medium of mass communication is able to “take” a recipient to the scene of an event without the recipient stepping out of his bedroom.

One good advantage of today’s electronics especially, TV is hi-fidelity. Most times, the logo Hi-fi is printed on electronic products to show that the electronics device is capable of giving the audience a near the original form of the figure that is being transmitted

Fidelity refers to the exactitude with which a medium reproduces the original physical dimensions of images of the messages being sent across. The original dimension includes:
a)Verbal symbols
b)Picture symbols
d)Sound and

In actual sense, only television and film can reproduce all the five dimensions, while radio can only produce speech and sound exactly. Print media can reproduce pictures, symbols and colors. With the emergency of flat screen television and home theatre, fidelity of the medium is becoming higher by day. It must be pointed out that aside television; internet communication can reproduce all the five dimensions with higher fidelity than that of Television.


Every medium of mass communication requires one to pay before sending messages through it. A full colour page advert in an average Nigeria newspaper costs no less than N150, 000 while a 60 second slot in NTA costs one an average of N100, 000. Depending on the medium being used, the cost of mass communication messages is on the relatively high side. This is solely because of the reach of the medium.


This refers to the extensiveness or commonness of a medium. A person does not need to be literate in a particular language before he listens to a radio programme or a watch television programme in that native language.

PermanencyThis refers to the period for which a medium can hold its message thereby making the message reviewable. Unlike in the electronic media which are transitory in nature, a reader of a book, newspapers and magazines can read and re-read what is there, because what is in the print media products may be there for a long term if not permanent.

Sambe (2005:35) highlighted the elements of the characteristics of media of mass communication as follows:

SELF ASSESSMENT EXERCISE 2Most television users around the world, especially in Nigeria now prefer to use flat screen television and home theatre electronics gadgets in their home. What specific characteristic of the media of mass communication is responsible for such growing interest

3.3 Attributes of Communication

As contained in Folarin (2002), Micheal Burgoon and Micheal Ruffner pointed out five attributes of communication; added to that are other six by Bert Bradly. They are briefly presented below:

1.TransactionalCommunication is transactional because both the source and the receiver are having an impact on one other.
2. Affective Our emotional responses affect the way we communicate with others and the way others communicate with us. This makes communication affective.
3.Personal This means that the meanings attached to communication exist in the participants and not in the non-verbal symbols we employ in communicating. But each participant is able to understand the other because of the codes of verbal and non-verbal symbols that they share.
4.ConsummatoryThis means that communication provides satisfaction to the communicator.
5.InstrumentalCommunication can be used as a tool to control our environment and to affect or influence other people.
6. Dynamic Communication is not static. It involves changes and effects as the elements interact.
7.ContinuousThere is no beginning and no end to communication in a person’s life.

8.ComplexIt occurs at many levels and reflects many influences.
9.IrreversibleOnce a message is sent, it cannot be withdrawn. Communication process cannot be turned back.
10. Non-sequential 
The elements in the communication process are not rigidly patterned, as in a linear or circular manner.
11.UnrepeatableA given communication act cannot be recreated.


One of the attributes of communication is that given communication act cannot be recreated. How would you justify this statement using both the radio and newspaper as two different instances?


By virtue of its nature, communication takes place in three ways, namely Mass (one-to-many), interpersonal (one-to-one), and computing (many-to-one) with a fourth communication mode, many-to-many, emerging. On the Internet, everyone can be a producer or a receiver, individuals can receive and send personal or mass messages, and information can be provided by many and accessed by many as a mass audience or stored for individuals to select and retrieve.


In this unit, we have been able to establish that communication has peculiar nature and characteristics. The characteristics include Impersonality, Portability and Mobility, Transportability/Proximity, Fidelity, Permanency, Cost and Universality. A team of scholars equally combined about eleven items to be attributes of communication, which include Transactional, Affective, Personal, Consummatory,Instrumental, Dynamic, Continuous, Complex, Irreversible, Non-sequential and Unrepeatable


Take a cursory look at the nature, characteristics and attributes of communication discussed in this unit. Do they all apply to all forms of communication? If no, group them as they apply to forms of communication. For instance, ‘large nature of audience’ as an attribute belongs to mass communication and not inter personal communication.


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