Media is a vast form of communication that permeates nearly every aspect of modern culture. Whether we like it or not, most of us deal with family, politics, economy, education, legal and other institutions as a part of our daily life. For many of our dealings today we come to rely on the media system for whatever information we need, understand and add whether it is decisions about problems associated with health, voting, career or employment. The media system plays a very different role in each country. This role is related to the economic, political and social system. If we examine media in different societies, we see that their structure, legal rules about media contents and audiences differ according to culture, legal and economic factors. For instance, censor board has different standards for adults in America and India. Affection between men and women is censored in India, but in America violence is not shown in movies that are meant for children. FULLA dolls, for example, are Barbie-like fashion dolls marketed to children of Islamic and middle-eastern countries. Instead of wearing short dresses, these dolls are dressed in Burkas.
Media includes the products that help in communication, expressing ideas such as art, culture, literature, poetry etc. There are various theories that through light on the functions of media in a society. In the mid-twentieth century, functionalists such a Charles Wright, Harold Laswell focused on ways for integrating society. Denis McQuail gave several important social functions of the media:
• Information: The media provides us with a continuous flow of information about the world, from webcams and radio reports that alert us to traffic jams, to rolling weather reports, the stock market and news stories about issues that affect us personally.
• Continuity: Another function of media is that it expresses the dominant culture, recognizes new social developments. For instance if we look at the vernacular song of any state of India, we’ll find that the songs represent the dominant castes of that particular state. In Punjab, for example, more than majority of the songs target Jats. Mostly these songs glorify this community, tells about their behaviour, norms, values and so on.
• Entertainment: One of the important functions of media, as everybody knows, is to provide amusement, diversion and reduce tension. Movies for example are considered to be a vital source of entertainment.
• Mobilization: To encourage economic development, work, religion or support in times of war, the media can campaign to mobilize society to meet these objectives.
Harold Dwight Lasswell explained the relationship of media with propaganda, public affairs and elections. According to him, there are three functions of communication in a society:
• To provide news and information
• Socialisation function- cultural transmission from one generation to the next
• Editorial function- correlation of components of society
Robert Merton explained that media has manifest and latent functions. Manifest functions are the intended consequences, for example selling a product, making profit are the manifest functions of media. The latent functions include supporting the dominant position in society (giving views of powerful politics), media sometimes excludes certain groups from news, cinemas and therefore erase the difference between regions and social classes, example, most bollywood movies show elites and their lives. Another latent function of media is agenda setting, the media functions in a manner where only certain events come to the forefront of public attention. For example before the Iraq war newspapers in US reported that there were many weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but this was later found to be untrue. Charles R. Wright also talks about dysfunctions of media. He proposed that when media alerted the public to a health risk, for instance, it was serving its news and information function, but if a public panic was created, this was a dysfunction.
Thus media plays different role for every stakeholder of the society. While politicians use media for flattering the public with their fake promises so as to get into power, common man on other hand use it for communication, entertainment and knowledge. But there are many critics who say that media is biased, in the sense that the voices of the minorities, margins are not heard by media. For instance, many voices were raised against the brutal gang-rape of the 23 year-old Delhi girl, but most crimes committed against Dalit women remain unrecorded.
(Harpreet Kaur Chhabra is the second prize winner of the 2nd Odisha Book Online Essay Competition. We publish the essay, contributed by Harpreet Kaur Chhabra,. Address: Fathegarh Churian, Distt. Gurdaspur, PIN- 143602, Punjab. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)