Mass Media – An agent of Social Change?


By Ahsan Adil,
Islamabad, Pakistan.

What is Mass Media?
A simple definition would be that mass media are the means used to communicate to a vast audience i.e. the general public. The technologies used to achieve this task are manifold. It all started with the newspaper. The general public relied on journalists and columnists employed by the newspapers for the latest news. Before the advent of newspaper there were the news-sheets and the pamphlets. But they were more gossip and yellow journalism than credible news.

The radio came a few centuries later, it even surpassed the newspaper, in terms of popularity. Radio was a means to transmit news around the world in real time. The general public didn’t have to wait until the next day for the news; they could listen to it on the radio. Back in the good old days, the whole family would flock around the radio and listen to the latest news and programs about politics, sports, and entertainment.

The radio didn’t reign supreme for long. It was soon replaced by the television, which soon became the most efficient medium to disseminate information to the general public.

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In this day and age, the internet is the most popular, powerful and accessible form of mass media. It has become an important tool for journalists, news channels, outlets and above all the common man.

The spread of information, also known as information dissemination, is one of the biggest perks or benefits of the mass media. People are well informed these days, they are more aware of their rights. The thinking capacity of the general public has increased manifold, people feel free to share their views and opinions on social media, TV or radio.

The mass media has altered the minds of the general public; it has increased their knowledge, changed their political views and made them more aware. Take the example of the recent raids conducted by the Punjab Food Authority; the raids were partly fueled by public outcry over the unhygienic conditions of various fast food chains and restaurants. The people took to social media to vent their anger and discontent, as a result the government had to act fast, and act they did. Social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook have been overflowing with images of the Punjab Food Authority carrying out surprise inspections at various restaurants and eateries in Lahore, Rawalpindi and other parts of Punjab. Imposing heavy fines and suspending business licenses due to unhygienic conditions. It was due to the social media, a part of the mass media, which forced the Punjab government to take prompt action.

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The mass media has played a paramount role in educating the public; around the world there are many educational television channels that viewers can learn from, namely National Geographic Channel, Discovery Channel, The Learning channel and the History Channel. There are many channels run by local and international universities and institutes that teach almost everything, from university courses to trade skills. Educational websites range from Do It Yourself websites to free and paid online courses, open courseware, etc.  A few examples would be, MIT Open Courseware, Yale Open Courseware, instructables.com, etc.

Not only has the internet played a major role in educating the general public, it has created ‘Online communities.’ This is a new concept that enables like-minded individuals to come together in the digital world and talk about the things they love, form relationships, comment on virtually any topic, form hobbies, learn new things, interact in the real world and become activists. 

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However, the mass media is a double edged sword, it can both be used for good and evil.

The media can, on one hand, be used to enact social change, educate people, disseminate news, facilitate change at the collective level and create awareness. On the other hand it can be used to defame people and institutions, spread disinformation, spread negative propaganda, and legitimize the wrong decisions and actions of powerful corporations, individuals and corrupt government officials. It can be used to divert the public’s attention from a more pressing and important issue to a trivial and unimportant one.  The mass media, these days is sensationalizing news in the name of ratings and views. So in this sense the mass media is doing a disservice to the public.

The mass media can play a significant role in social awareness and change, but like all powerful things it must be used with great care and responsibility.

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