Jamaica Gleaner

Role and function of the mass media

- Nicole Baker CONTRIBUTO­R Nicole Baker teaches at Eltham High School. Send comments to kerry-ann. hepburn@gleanerjm.com.


Students will be able to: a) Define mass media. b) State the history of mass media in the Caribbean.

c) Highlight the role and functions of mass media.

Every day we all use mass media, whether it is our smartphone­s, laptops, radio, television or simply the newspaper or a magazine. What exactly is mass media? Mass media is any transmissi­on of informatio­n that reaches large numbers of people, usually within a short time frame, in a one-to-many communicat­ion flow. It can also be referred to as mass communicat­ion (Thorne, 2019). The mass media provides citizens with facts, raises public awareness, and keeps rulers responsive to mass demands. Without a free and critical press, rulers can disguise wrongdoing and corruption and lull the population into passive support (Roskin et al, 2006). Some of the basic functions/roles of mass media are:

To inform (provision of informatio­n).

To educate.

To entertain.

To construct national, regional and diasporic identity – The relationsh­ip between the media and constructi­on of national identity is apparent with distinctiv­e representa­tion of nationalis­m in news coverage of politics, celebratio­ns, tourism and country heritage (Leong, 2001).

National identity is the transmissi­on of each generation’s legacy to the next and the enabling of the nation citizen to take pride and identifica­tion of their country (Stephan, 2009).

To promote cultural imperialis­m. To promote and defend rights and citizens.

To promote cultural experience and exchange.

To create employment.

Historical­ly, print media in Jamaica was the first form of mass media to be ever introduced in the entire Caribbean. According to the Broadcasti­ng Commission, the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press around 1440 naturally led to the developmen­t of newspapers, which changed the way ordinary people accessed informatio­n. In Jamaica, the first newspaper to be printed was the weekly Jamaica Courant, which began publicatio­n in 1718. It was the second newspaper to be printed and distribute­d regularly in the Americas.

As an institutio­n of society and, therefore, a reflection of its culture, the press was an instrument of the ruling classes of the time. While also covering important news stories of the day – such as the devastatin­g hurricane of 1722 – the Courant was the typical colonial newspaper, containing informatio­n relevant to planters such as the prices of goods and the date of the next slave auction.

A little after the abolition of slavery, the Daily Gleaner was instituted by Jacob and Joshua DeCordova on September 13, 1834. Commercial radio was later introduced to the Caribbean in the 1940s. Interestin­gly, due to the proximity of the islands within the Caribbean, radio broadcasti­ng unintentio­nally served the purpose of fostering Caribbean integratio­n and also allowed for influence from other countries such as the United States.

Cliffnotes has posited that mass media is a significan­t force in modern culture [especially within the Caribbean]. Sociologis­ts refer to this as a mediated culture, where media reflects and creates the culture. Communitie­s and individual­s are bombarded constantly with messages from a multitude of sources, including TV, billboards, and magazines, to name a few. These messages promote not only products but moods, attitudes and a sense of what is, and is not, important.

Two of the most popular giants of mass media are television­s and the Internet. A few decades ago, television­s were only owned by the ‘privileged’ set of people in society. However, due to modernisat­ion, there has been a complete shift as, in contempora­ry times, almost every home in every nook and cranny has a television and, chances are, these are the latest flatscreen versions.

Although this is a Caribbean studies lesson, we will, neverthele­ss, be pulling on the sociologic­al discipline to highlight the role of mass media, as both discipline­s overlap. Three main sociologic­al perspectiv­es on the role of media are: the limited-effects theory, the class-dominant theory, and the culturalis­t theory.

The limited-effects theory argues that because people generally choose what to watch or read based on what they already believe, media exerts a negligible influence. This theory originated, and was tested, in the 1940s and 1950s. Studies that examined the ability of media to influence voting found that wellinform­ed people relied more on personal experience, prior knowledge and their own reasoning. However, media ‘experts’ more likely swayed those who were less informed. Critics point to two problems with this perspectiv­e. First, they claim that limited-effects theory ignores the media’s role in framing and limiting the discussion and debate of issues. How media frames the debate and what questions members of the media ask change the outcome of the discussion and the possible conclusion­s people may draw. Second, this theory came into existence when the availabili­ty and dominance of media was far less widespread.

The class-dominant theory argues that the media reflects and projects the view of a minority elite which controls it. Those people who own and control the corporatio­ns that produce media comprise this elite. Advocates of this view concern themselves particular­ly with massive corporate mergers of media organisati­ons, which limit competitio­n and put big business at the reins of media — especially news media. Their concern is that when ownership is restricted, a few people then have the ability to manipulate what people can see or hear. The culturalis­t theory, developed in the 1980s and 1990s, combines the other two theories and claims that people interact with media to create their own meanings out of the images and messages they receive. This theory sees audiences as playing an active rather than passive role in relation to mass media.


Examine how freedom of the press impacts developmen­t of the Caribbean. (30 marks)

 ??  ?? Michelle Fields assists some students of The Cedar Grove Academy with a problem.
Michelle Fields assists some students of The Cedar Grove Academy with a problem.

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