Mass Communication

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Mass Communication Essay, Research Paper

Mass communications is one of the most popular college majors in the country,

which perhaps reflects a belief in the importance of communications systems in

society. The communications system, consisting of radio, television, film,

newspapers and magazines, effects how we think, how we feel, and how we live.

Therefore, we must ask ourselves, "Is media ‘mere entertainment,’ or are

there serious side effects of the national preoccupation with the media?"

Long-term exposure to the media has a tendency to influence the way we think

about the world around us, but how? Since the printing of the first newspaper to

the introduction of the Information Superhighway, society has been able to view

itself objectively. The men and women who present media to us: radio

personalities, news anchors, and actors included, are given the responsibility

of showing us society as it is. Sometimes, it is argued, this task is not done

adequately. And so, arises an issue: can objectivity and subjectivity in the

media affect how we approach issues? And, more importantly, can the information

presented affect the value system of a society? The media is so pervasive it is

hard to believe they do not have important effects on society. Yet, many people

do not believe that the media have personally influenced them or have harmed

them. However, to attempt to understand how the media may shape the attitudes of

individuals, and how they may shape culture itself, requires that we stand back

from our personal experiences in order to analyze the arguments presented on

each side of the debate. For example, some believe that it is very important to

report serious, society-threatening news with total objectivity. If it is not

reported in such a manner, an indirect inciting of the more radical audience can

occur. In the September 1996 issue of the "American Journalism

Review," Sherry Ricchiardi responded to powerful reporting by Christian

Amanpour on Serb atrocities in Bosnia. Some observers questioned the decency of

the reporter’s approach of support in coverage of these war-torn regions.

Ricchiardi explained that correspondents must walk a fine line between

subjectivity and objectivity in the quest to depict situations as neutrally, yet

as meaningfully, as possible. Another example of subjectivity in the media and

its effect on society is easily viewed in a recent incident in Rochester, New

York. When a controversial biographer visited the University of Rochester to

discuss his book on Mother Teresa and present his negative views on her

compassionate legacy, a local newspaper responded with counteracting religious

reactions and by "furnishing nothing of substance to an inevitably hostile

audience." This, in turn, created a community outrage that might not have,

otherwise, occurred. In an article entitled Journalists or Defenders of Faith?

John H. Summers argued that the newspaper’s biased approach to the speaker’s

visit was not representative of a healthy democracy which "demands

journalistic integrity and intellegence." Some may argue that the

newspaper’s behavior was, in effect, a perpetration of libel. The Sullivan Rule,

decided upon by the Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan (1964), protects

common man from libel and slander. The court held that the First Amendment

protects the publication of all statements, even false ones, about the conduct

of public officials except when statements are made with actual malevolence. As

mentioned above, the First Amendment is the support system of the media. It

simply states that "congress shall pass no law . . . abridging the freedom

of speech." Equally important is its statement concerning freedom of the

press, stating that "the liberty of the press . . . consists in laying no

previous restraints upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for

criminal matter when published." However, these statements cannot prevent

the media from allowing entertainment to take precedence over "vital"

news information. Choices such as these are said to have an effect on society’s

view of the world and its events. For instance, tabloids work hard to convince

society that celebrity lifestyles, private information, and outrageous tales are

important in today’s culture. Because headlines such as "Monica’s Own Story

- Affair started after I flashed my sexy underwear," have boosted sales,

more traditional newspapers have turned their attention to similar events. Many

believe that it is ethically wrong to ignore real news in favor of celebrity

gossip. It can be detrimental to the intelligence of the public to "dumb

down" the news for the sake of ratings. And it seems, day by day, that

ratings take total precedence in the media. Television programming is a

significant example of rating precedence. Much of the population believes that

violence is a reoccurring theme in television programs, and that this violence

may provoke violent tendencies in those who watch it. Because of this notion, a

device called the v-chip was invented which allowed parents to prevent their

children from watching "harmful" shows. Political figures such as

Senator Ernest F. Hollings supports a v-chip on the grounds that this damaging

view of society will only become what is considered a "public health

hazard." Those who oppose the v-chip do so on the grounds of the First

Amendment. Is it fathomable that media can affect a society so much that we must

shield ourselves from exposure to it? We don’t know. But it is a fact that we

live in a media-rich environment where almost everybody has access to some form

of media. Over time, individuals have improved their ability to unravel the

complex set of interactions that ties the media and society together, but they

need to continue the delivery of information from the media in a fashion that

will best serve their selves and their community.

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