UNDERSTANDING MEDIA THEORY 7
Fewpeople would refute the claim that information is not important in ademocratic and free society but this has not been the case with thecontemporary media. Free media is important for a free society,however, the way media and communication (newspapers, magazines,televisions etc) are owned and controlled has had averse consequenceson the amount and type of information disseminated to the public.This in turn has adversely affected the character, debate, attitudeand behaviors of the public. Despite the claim for free press by themedia, rarely do public get ‘justified information from the media.The heart of the media problem lies on how the production anddissemination of news is done which prevents the public from gettingadequate information.
AsRobert McChesney, a media critic of corporate dominance onceobserved, ‘themedia market is controlled and predicted upon one dollar, one vote,affluent people therefore have more ‘votes’ in determining thecourse of media system while the poor are effectivelydisenfranchised’informationthat is of ‘public interest’ or ‘common good’ is marginalizedunless it is of interest to the affluent viewers and readers(McChesney, 1997 page.200). By this assertion Robert McChesneyperspective adopts a capitalistic critique as espoused by Karl Marxcapitalism ideas on media as capitalistic enterprises only interestedin profits (Williams,2010).
Almosteveryone agrees that ‘free press’ is essential for the welfare ofthe society in giving information however there is ambiguity in themeaning of the world ‘free press’. A free press is an ideal of afree society where the media serves all in the free marketcompetition which guarantees openness in the exchange anddissemination of information. This helps to serve the public interestby ensuring that misinformation and lies are exposed and citizensgiven equal platform in all sides of arguments for them to makeinformed opinions on matters of public interest.
However,this has never been possible, owners of the mass media companiescontrols the content of what the media produces, as Robert McChesneyobserved, ‘ownershire, fire, set budgets and determine the overarching aims of theenterprise. Journalist, editors, and the media professionals who riseto the top hierarchy of the enterprise internalize those values boththe political and commercial, of media owners’(McChesney, 1997 page. 100). In most cases the views of televisionsand newspaper owners have great effect on the information producedand disseminated. As such the owners of media abdicate the control toemployees on the character of news produced and disseminated to thepublic the executive and the owners decides which information is tobe dealt with and which is to be ignored. This perspective collatesKarl Marx views on media capitalism as illustrated by Williams(2010, page 76-78).
Ideally,media corporations are owned by wealthy individuals and corporateinvestors who significantly affect the approach embodied in newsreporting. In this light, the media acts as conservatives incontrolling particular information such as scandals from affluentmembers of society, political elites or media owners this act exposethe capitalistic side of the media which Karl Marx dictated in hisant-capitalism ideals. The perspectives of McChesney on mediadominance and influence clearly adapts to Karl Marx perspectivedisregard for media capitalization(Williams, 2010 page 76-78).According to Marx, capitalistic systems always protected theinterests of the owners of means of production while exploiting themasses.
Theambiguity of free press and free market is a paradoxical intrigue.The media can not claim to be objective, free and fair in their newsproduction and dissemination based on the notion that they arebusiness Corporations which exists to make profits. Notably, mostmedia corporations are owned by capitalist entrepreneurs’ whosegoal is to make money. As such the central goal of profit makingmostly through advertising makes they control what they wantdisseminated to the public. Importantly, media corporations advertisetheir products through their media channels which make them give morepreference news and programs that would attract the wealthy and notthe average people. This is what Robert McCheney termed as ‘mediamarket and dollar prediction… news that is relevant to the publicinterest is marginalized’ (McChesney,1997 page. 200).Farfrom the political biases, owners of media corporations have economicinterests in the larger society and as such regulation of whichinformation is disseminated to the public becomes critical to avoidoffending or alienating the affluent people who are consumers ofadverts.
Similarly,media corporations and free press operate on capitalism realm inwhich cost cutting and profit maximization are important strategiesfor the corporations. In this respect, just like other organizationswith budget constraints they have costs to worry about. The problemof cost cutting therefore is a determinant in profit maximizationwhich in turn leads to owners of the media houses balancing betweenpublic role and their commitments. Rightly argued, when the mediabecomes massive corporations owned by investors the underlying aimbecomes profit maximization as the most integral guiding aspect inthe news production and dissemination. ‘Asideideological biases, based on these economic interests, the quality ofinformation therefore becomes questionable’(McChesney, 1997 page. 100).
Itis noted that, to cut costs, media corporations rely on syndicatedsources of information which might not be authentic, Robert McChesney(1997 page. 250), summed this by stating that, ‘todo effective journalism is expensive, corporate mangers thereforerealize that the surest way to fatten their profits is by firingeditors and reporters to fill the new roles with syndicatedmaterials. This has created polarization among journalist over higherbenefits ascribed to the celebrity and the news elite withdeteriorating conditions for the working press’.This perspective parallels Karl Marx ideas on effects of mediacapitalism (Williams,2010 page. 76-78)the media workers are subject to exploitation by the owners of mediasystems which deny them their rightful wages. In addition to this byrelying or ‘pressreleases’from corporations for news denies the public investigative news as‘press releases’ are not substantive news sources. ‘Theoverall effect is that media news has become irrelevant to the poorpublic at the expense of affluent populace and the media owners’(McChesney, 1997 page. 203).
Inthis analysis Mcchesney discussion on the influence of ownership ofmedia in regard to the information produced and disseminated to thepublic adopts a theory in which the structure of the industry isillustrated as exerting direct control over content of news.Comparatively his perspectives parallels Karl Marx’s analysis ofthe media and capitalism as discussed in Kevin Williams` work on‘Understandingmedia theory’(Williams, 2010, p.76-78). It is evident that, the public rarelygets objective, summative and wholesome information on variousissues.
Theautonomy and effectiveness of achieving free press is adverselyinfluenced by the political system, media owners and the economicinterests the media corporations have. Interestingly, even when thereporters and editors conscience are supposed to guide them onprofessional ethics of neutrality and objectivity, such ideals areconstrained by the interests and orientations of owners, corporateexecutives as well as the commercial advertisers. A true free pressis elusive in this hyper capitalistic society vested economic,political and social interests will never make media a free press inthe free market.
RobertMcChesney, 1997. ‘Corporatemedia and the threat to democracy’ UnitedStates: 7Stories Press.
Williams,Kevin. 2010. ‘UnderstandingMedia Theory’.London and New York: Oxford University Press Inc., Pp. vi, 266. ISBN0-3407-1903-6