Article | Open Select
Media Watch | E-ISSN 2249-8818
Media: An Inspiring Energy of Social Change
Suresh Chandra Nayak
Amity University Chhattisgarh, India
In any democratic country, the media plays a crucial role in creating and reflecting public opinion. Over the years, the media became so powerful that it soon acquired the “Fourth Estate” status, as the British politician Edmund Burke rightly described it. The media scenario in India is among the most vibrant in the world. Media growth rates over the last decade have been phenomenal. Newspaper circulations are up rather than down, beating a worldwide decline in newspaper readership. Close to 500 cable and satellite channels are available, including more than seventy 24-hour news channels, a couple of hundred FM radio stations, more than 70,000 registered newspapers, a fledgling community radio movement, and the state broadcasters — Doordarshan and All India Radio. In addition, cell phones have brought connectivity to rural India to the rest.
Social media would be the next step in the transformation process. Various television channels have also allowed ordinary citizens to air their views in the form of citizen journalists, thereby promoting democratic participation. Newspapers have educated the masses by informing them of the developments in science and technology. They have also expressed strong views against prejudices which harm society. Much developmental news has also been aired through the medium of radio. In India, public service broadcasting was given much importance after independence. It was used as a weapon of social change. AIR and Doordarshan, the country’s public service broadcasters, had the responsibility of providing educational programs apart from information and entertainment. Media plays a significant and crucial role in enlightening and educating the masses. It can aid public involvement by advocating various socially relevant issues and transferring knowledge, skills and technologies to the people. For example, awareness about various rural development programmes and the propagation of family planning could be spread by using the media. It made farmers aware of the new and improved agriculture methods and crop protection. This paper attempts to understand the role of media in bringing social change.
Keywords: Media, Social Change, Democracy, Social Media, Citizen Journalism, Agenda Setting Theory
In the 1950s and 1960s, the signal of decolonisation in the developing world created a need for nation-building and social, political, and economic development. In that context, development communication emerged as a strategy to use the mass media to foster positive social change, which, in turn, was believed to increase the socioeconomic development of a country. Among the pioneers in development communications were Daniel Lerner and Wilbur Schramm. Lerner’s The Passing of Traditional Society (1958) and Schramm’s Mass Media and National Development (1964) were the beginning texts of development communication. Their fundamental principle was that scientifically designed and executed communication campaigns could produce desirable social change.
Social change may be defined as the process in which the significant alteration or modification in the structure and functioning of a particular social system takes place. When we speak of social change as a process, we imply continuity and persistence. Different aspects of social change are in different forms, which is why it is difficult to generalise the problem of social change. There are cumulative changes in the empirical field and the application of this knowledge to the actual living conditions. In some aspects, there is a change in the upward direction, but afterwards, there is a reversion. There may be a continuous increase, maybe for some time. Social change may be like a sea wave with its ups and downs. In nature and society, many phenomena follow this cyclical course. Oswald Spengler, Arnold Toynbee and others say that society and civilisations follow this course.
Development communication theory, research, and practice were grounded in what Everett Rogers (1978) termed a “dominant paradigm” Until the late 1970s. This dominant paradigm, according to Rogers, was a consequence of a specifically Western legacy. That legacy includes the Industrial Revolution in North America and Western Europe, colonialism in the developing world from Latin America to the Middle East and Africa to East Asia, the quantitative tradition of American social science, and capitalism. These historical, geopolitical, economic, epistemological, and ideological factors moulded the dominant paradigm on the role of the mass media in development and social change. That perspective led to shortsighted theories and applications. For example, Rogers (1978) wrote that the dominant paradigm wrongly relied on the introduction of technology to solve the social problems of the developing world. In addition, the strong dependence on quantitative information inherited from American social science reduced living standards to mere numbers, often failing to reflect actual social situations in the developing world. More relevant to this discussion was the gradual realisation by development researchers and practitioners that the role of the mass media was indirect and more limited than previously assumed. Advocating a shift in the general orientation of development communication, Rogers (1978, p. 68) gave a new definition of development that he called “a widely participatory process of social change in a society, intended to bring about both social and material advancement … for the majority of the people.”Every media, from print to digital media, contribute a lot to the nation’s overall growth, ultimately leading to social change.
Key Features of Social Change
The definition of social change is when culture and social institutions convert over time. It’s how we change the way of life we live. The key features of social change can be triggered by scientific or technical forces, religious or even economic forces. However, there are a few features of social change that include unplanned events, and this complex process has four primary characteristics:
- Social change happens all the time. As the old saying goes, “Nothing is certain in life except death and taxes.” This is one thing I have believed in all my life. I cannot even believe that people paid little to no taxes back in the early 1900s, and look at the taxes now. But, I will say that they are incredibly high compared to back then. Even the death rate has changed. In the early 1900s, a male’s life expectancy was about age 46, and a women’s life expectancy was 48. Now, the average male lives to see 74, and the woman lives to see 80. Everything is subject to change, and our society is no different. With the rise of technology in our society, we are bound to keep changing. VHS, cassettes, and Nintendo were the “hip” things when I was a child. Now it is more like iPods, iPhones, and Playstation 3 are the things that are “in” (Macionis, J. J. 2006).
- Social change is sometimes intentional but often unplanned. Since changes in society are never-ending, knowing the consequences of what will happen due to these changes are nearly impossible. One example of this is the creation of the automobile. It used to be a horse or horse and buggy, but it was a long journey. The unknown consequences that were not predicted were; the reshaping of suburbs and cities, pollution, and more civilisation (Macionis, J. J. 2006).
- Social change is controversial. Controversy will always be because there will always be opinions over right and wrong. For example, the creation of the Industrial Revolution increased productivity. It swelled profits, but the workers feared that the machines would make them obsolete and kick them out of their job (Macionis, J. J. 2006).
- Some changes matter more than others. Some changes are more critical than others. For example, how we style our clothes has changed dramatically since the 1900s, but it is only a “fad”. Now, something like computers; is a new revolution called the Information Revolution. The Information Revolution has its’ negative and positive effects on society. It not only helps pass along information much more quickly and allows students like me to do “online schooling” from the comforts of my home, but its’ adverse effects can include making it easier for paedophiles to gain access to young, vulnerable children (Macionis, J. J. 2006). Apart from the above features, there are also some features of social change: (i) Social change is a universal phenomenon; (ii) Social change involves a change in the community; (iii) Speed of social change is not uniform; (iv) Nature and speed of social change are affected by and related to the time factor;(v) Social change occurs as an essential law; (vi) Definite predictions of social change are not possible; (vii) Social change shows chain reaction sequence; (viii) Social change results from the interaction of several factors; and (ix) Social changes are chiefly those of modifications or replacement.
Democracy and Media
U.S. president Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865) defined democracy as the “Government of the people, by the people, for the people”. Democracy is the most challenging form of government for politicians and the people. The term democracy comes from the Greek language and means “rule by the (simple) people”. The so-called “democracies” in classical antiquity (Athens and Rome) represent precursors of modern democracies. Like modern democracy, they were created as a reaction to the rulers’ concentration and abuse of power. The normative view of the press argues that the media’s conduct has to consider public interests. The primary public interest criteria that the media need to consider include freedom of publication, plurality in media ownership, diversity in information, culture and opinion, support for the democratic political system, support for public order and security of the state, universal reach, quality of information and culture disseminated to the public, respect for human rights and avoiding harm to individuals and the society (McQuil, 2005).
The modern definition of democracy can be a form of government where a constitution guarantees fundamental personal and political rights, fair and free elections, and independent courts of law to its citizens. There is no such thing as the “perfect form of government” on earth, but any other form of government produces even less desirable results than democracy. Until today, no other form of government has been invented to regulate public affairs better than democracy.
There are certainly critical elements of modern democracy; a country needs to fulfil some basic requirements – and they need not only be written down in its constitution but must be kept up in everyday life by politicians and authorities:
- Guarantee of basic Human Rights to every person vis-à-vis the state and its authorities as well as vis-à-vis any social groups (especially religious institutions) and vis-à-vis other persons.
- Separation of Powers between the institutions of the state:
Government (Executive Power),
Parliament (Legislative Power) und
Courts of Law (Judicative Power)
- Freedom of opinion, speech, press and Mass Media
- Religious liberty
- General and equal right to vote (one person, one vote)
- Good Governance (focus on public interest and absence of corruption)
The political system in India is close in spirit to the model of liberal democracy. In the constitution of India, the power of the legislature, executive, and judiciary have been thoroughly demarcated. The party system in operation is competitive, with the flexibility of roles of 3 governments and opposition. There is also freedom of the press, criticism, and assembly (Pelinka 2003). Indian democracy has always attracted the attention of the whole world and has made scholars wonder about the secret of its success. The role of media in India, the largest democracy in the world, is different from merely disseminating information and entertainment. Educating the masses for their social upliftment also needs to be in its ambit. Media is responsible for developmental journalism in a country with large-scale poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment. It has a role in forming public opinion, which can force the political parties to address the core issues haunting the country’s progress. However, vested interests can manipulate public opinion to serve their own goals (Corneo, 2005).
Media and Social Change
“Media” refers to various means of communication through which information can be disseminated to the masses. Television, radio, newspapers and new media are different types of media. All these forms use technology to propagate the message. Hence we could define all these media as a media technology. When behaviour pattern changes in large numbers and is visible and sustained, it results in a social change. Once there is a deviation from culturally inherited values, it may result in a rebellion against the established system, causing a difference in the social order. Media technology has played a crucial role in everyone’s life today. Media has a great job of bringing social change in whatever the topic covers -from entertainment to all the ongoing issues. Currently, there exist revolutions in fighting against corruption in the country. People started realising that corruption is the element to be eradicated. Internet and social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, along with traditional media like print and television, are powerful weapons that can curb the menace of corruption and lead to greater transparency in public life by publicising India’s situation vis-a-vis economic and Governance, highlighting ongoing corruption cases and applying pressure on corrupt organisations and individuals. The free distribution and broad reach of the Internet and social media channels are critical in reducing corruption and renewing the social fabric. This can give rise to a virtuous cycle of transparent policy-making, clean government and faster economic growth
Barnett (2004), in the book named ―Media, democracy and representation: Disembodying the public it in the article on ―Spaces of Democracy: geographical perspectives on citizenship, participation and representation,” says that It has already been discussed that media has been regarded as the fourth estate in democracy. Democracy provides the space for alternative ideas to debate and arrive at conclusions for the betterment of society. The publicly agreed norms are weighed over the actions of economic organisations and political institutions (Barnett, 2004). Parceiro (1999), in his article ―The Role Of Media in Democracy: A Strategic Approach explains that by informing the citizens about the developments in society and helping them to make informed choices, media make democracy function in its true spirit. It also keeps the elected representatives accountable to those who elected them by highlighting whether they have fulfilled the wishes for which they were elected and whether they have
stuck to their oaths of office. Media, to operate in an ideal democratic framework, needs to be free from governmental and private control. It needs to have complete editorial independence to pursue public interests. There is also the necessity to create platforms for diverse mediums and credible voices for democracy to thrive. Khamis (2009), in the research article ―New Media and Social Change in Rural Egypt: Transformations, Paradoxes and Challenges, reveals that Media opens the doors to the outside world.
There are several ways in which media can bring social change, and it provides a common platform for both the advantaged and disadvantaged groups to raise their voice against any malpractice that is taking place in society. All the forms of Media put together can help in generating positive interaction and by being agents of social change. In the following lines, the researcher has discussed some of the areas where media can bring change in society:
- Creating awareness among the people about their rights and duties
- Enabling people to have access to government programmes, schemes and benefits
- Educating the people on social, economic, environmental, and political issues and options and helping to stimulate debate on those issues
- Drawing attention to corruption, fraud, waste, inefficiency, cronyism, nepotism, abuse of power and the like and raising voice against them
- Encouraging people to exchange best practices, knowledge resources, access to better technology, and better choices
- Creating pressure on the government to improve performance, accountability and quality
- The rise in transparency and accountability
- Right to be informed and aware
- Encourage people to Participate in the decision-making process
- Building trust among people and state
- Limited opportunities to indulge in corruption
Social Media and Agenda-Setting Theory
Social media is a massive network where a small effect can pull down the government. We saw a regime change after a Facebook post. The recent rage due to gang rape has been amplified through social media. Anna Hazare’s voice against corruption gained momentum due to only for social media. Because of social media, people can unite at a quicker pace than ever before. The social media world is one complicated network where we are all connected through some degree of separation. We use social media in different ways, that is, in politics, business and society. We know that social media has affected lives in urban India as well as rural India. There is a massive increase in the number of internet users in India. Every citizen of the country can now communicate more freely than ever before. The last two decades have witnessed unprecedented expansion and growth of electronic media and social media worldwide, and especially, the last decade saw the influence of social media. This has been achieved mainly due to the digital revolution in computer networks, compression technologies and the proliferation of satellite broadcasting. Radio and, later, television, as the dominant medium of the so-called “information explosion” during the Seventies, became one of the most powerful forces for stimulating social change and technological advancement. Its global impact, however, was on people living in industrialised countries and, to a lesser extent, on those in urban areas of developing countries. Now, it’s the time of social media that revolutionised the entire communication network globally. It impacts urban and rural areas due to the advancement of mobile technologies.
The Internet, a newer entrant in mass media, has proved to be more democratic than newspapers and television (Coronel, 2003). The Internet has allowed citizens to conversant with the medium to express their views about a number of issues. In many cases, groups have been formed by like-minded people who discuss and debate over several decisions on the part of the government and seek new ideas for the way ahead. The power of the Internet can be easily judged from the developments in Egypt in recent times. Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter were used to garner support against the regime of President Hosni Mubarak (Kuwait Times, 2010). Various public service organisations and NGOs have used the Internet to inform people about their objectives and also to make them aware of various initiatives on the part of the government as well as non-government organisations for social upliftment. On the Internet, the barrier to communication is minimal, which helps form a participative environment. There is also greater empowerment of the users through a higher level of interactivity and flexibility in the choice of media outlets. The potential of 6 the medium lies in its ability to be more personalised by offering user-developed content (Flew, 2009).
Maxwell McCombs and Donald L. Shaw poised agenda-setting theory. The Agenda setting describes the media’s potent influence – the ability to tell us what issues are essential. As far back as 1922, newspaper columnist Walter Lippman was concerned that the media had the power to present images to the public. McCombs and Shaw investigated presidential campaigns in 1968, 1972 and 1976. The research done in 1968 focused on two elements: awareness and information. Investigating the agenda-setting function of the mass media, they attempted to assess the relationship between what voters in one community said were important issues and the content of the media messages used during the campaign. McCombs and Shaw concluded that the mass media significantly influenced what voters considered to be the significant issues of the campaign. Media influence affects the order of presentation in news reports about events and issues in the public mind. This theory says what people should think about and how people should think about it. The central concept associated with the agenda-setting theory is gatekeeping. Gatekeeping controls the selection of content discussed in the media; the Public cares mainly about the product of media gatekeeping. An editor is known as the gatekeeper of any media organisation. He is the only person in the media organisation who decides the content to be selected for media. The newsroom receives several pieces of information from various sources; he decides what should appear and what should not. That’s why they are regarded as gatekeepers.
Above all, we can say that the agenda-setting theory sets the agenda for the public or the consumers. Still, so far as social media is concerned, it sets the agenda for media organisations. Most political leaders worldwide are using Twitter or Facebook to communicate or disseminate information to the masses. In the present scenario, the public sets the content for the media indirectly.
Text messaging, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the Internet have given rise to a reservoir of political energy that posits a new relationship between the new media technologies, politics, and public life” (Giroux). These digital technologies influence the formation and activities of civil society groups: mobs, movements, and organisations. While mass popular protests are no new phenomenon, digital tools facilitate their formation (Etling et al., 38).
In India, the media has a responsibility which is deeply associated with the people. The present scenario is not encouraging, and certain areas must be addressed. Media organisations, whether in print, audiovisual, radio or web, have to be more liable to the general public. It should be monitored that professional integrity and ethical standards are not sacrificed for sensational practices. Freedom of the press in the country is a blessing for the people. However, this blessing can go wrong when facts are manipulated. The self-regulatory mechanism across media organisations must be strong enough to stop unfair practices in the media field. The Press Council of India needs to be very attentive. People’s participation should be the goal that the media should go all-out for in a country like India. Media has changed the lifestyle, behaviour etc., of people in a very effective manner. Every sector has been affected by media. Hence, due care must be taken to ensure the dissemination of the right kind of information to the public.
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Suresh Chandra Nayak is a Professor and Director of Amity School of Communication, Amity University Chhattisgarh, India. His areas of specialization are development communication, advertising and public relations.