The media is the collective entity of newspapers, radio, television and the international network. The media plays a very important role in national development. ‘Nation-building’ is multidimensional. It involves the change or even the advancement of any nation aimed at improving the political, economic and the social lives of the people. The real touch of the media impact is dependent on the media themselves, the society in which they operate and the audience they are able to reach. All in all the factors outlined are not the same everywhere. For example, the media operating in a dictatorship type of a government is not as liberal as that media operating in a democratic society. Even in nations whose media exercise similar rights other factors such as technology, target audience and the topics being addressed may affect the extent of media impact in the society (blurtit, 2009).
The unchanging condition under all circumstances is the fact that every medium has a message, has a target audience to whom it aims to influence a change. The media influences the attitudes, perceptions and decision making. Generally it influences behavior.
One of the objects of the newspaper is to understand the popular feeling and give expression to it; another is to arouse among the people certain desirable sentiments; the third is to fearlessly expose popular defects.
Communication is the process of creating shared meaning through the sending and receiving of information. This is vital for understanding and also for provision of knowledge to the people. The media helps people to understand and thereby appreciate their environment. It also helps in the facilitation of good relations among individuals and nations. Communication between a mass medium and its audience is known as mass communication. The various ways through which communication is made is collectively known as the “media”.
The word media comes from a Latin word “medium”. The media can be examined in terms of broadcast media or print media. A medium can also be described as hot or cool. Hot medium is a high definition channel of communication such as print or radio. It focuses on the single sensory receptor. The cool medium means a low definition channel of communication such as television, which stimulates several different senses and also requires the high sensor involvement (Dewar, 2009).
Where the media pursues its role professionally, with truth, fairness and justice, then the society will immensely benefit. However the media may be selfish pursuant of personal gains making the society to be at a disadvantage.
According to Davis, the operation of a modern industry democracy requires those who convey information to provide information that is factual, not a judgmental distortion of the reality and the facts. The information should be as accurate and as human as possible. Otherwise, the society can quickly be thrown off balance with the permissiveness of modern media.
For the media to successfully contribute to the national development a lot is expected from them. These roles include providing checks and balances in democracy, setting of public agenda, gate-keeping, watchdog, and force multiplying.
The media acts as a guardian of the public interest and a watchdog on the activities of the government. The media are therefore an important component in the society since they focus on the checks and balances which form part of modern democracy. Someone said; there are different kinds of power centers in any democracy: the judiciary, the government, elected representatives, the establishment, the business community, all the unions etc. what binds these disciplines together is the media. It is only through the media that the government can communicate with its people in any mass sense (Postill, 2006).
The media also guarantees the accountability of the government officials and also defend the public interests. In the modern interpretation of the fourth estate, the media can be seen as the fourth power that checks and counterbalances the “power” of the executive, judiciary and the legislature.
The role of agenda setting in media
The media can also be viewed as the agenda setters. It is the process through which the media controls what we think or worry about. There are two levels of agenda setting. The first level will enact the common subjects which are most important. The media agenda will in a way affect the public agenda. On the other hand, the public agenda affects the policy agenda. The concept of agenda setting is for the press to selectively choose what they release to the society to hear and/or see in the media. Agenda setting is the concept of the relationship that specifies the transfer of the salient from the agenda setters to the agenda adopters.
The ability of the media to set a nation’s agenda, to draw the attention of the public on the key public issues, is a key and well documented influence that cannot be ignored. The correlation between the influences of the agenda setters (media) regarding the importance they accord to any topic in comparison to the public ranking of the same information is always expected to be high (Brooks, 2010).
What are the likely effects of agenda setting? There was a survey which was conducted on the New York Times website for a period of 30 days on the frequency of articles. There were 583 articles on anthrax within that period. That is an average of 20 articles daily. Such a situation is likely to invoke fear on the target society. Some of other common effects are the misleading headlines.
The media has been pointed out as the gatekeepers. Gate keeping involves the control of a strategic portion of a channel. This is done so as to have the power to decide the nature of the information that flows to the masses. This is actually the series of checkpoint that information has to pass through before it gets to the general public. Through this processes, a number of people have to decide whether or not the news will be aired or not. Gatekeepers are the people in the media centers who filter messages. They include reporters, writers, editors, producers and government officials. This concept involves every aspect of message selection, its handling and control.
The watchdog role is closely related to that of gate-keeping. Traditionally the media are the society’s watchdog of democracy. The key assumption of the media as the society’s watchdog is the fact that they speak for the people, they represent the interests of the people, and also serve as the checks on the government.
Some of the responsibilities of the media as a watchdog are as follows: Protecting the public, giving them security and reacting to possible external interference. The media should know its loyalties. Hence it has to be loyal to the society because they are the watchdog of the people and not the government. The media should attack any person or union of persons who try to threaten the principles of democracy, freedom of speech and the basic rights of the people.
The media actually alerts the community to the changing circumstances affecting their lives. The watchdog role goes far and beyond the simple role of journalism of witnessing. The element of disclosure and judgment which actually points out and discloses victims and wrongdoers is embedded in their role. The media should not just compile and deliver facts to the society, they should also dig dipper by probing beyond the surface information, through challenging assumptions and assertions. Their reporting will attract a civic judgment.
A national survey was conducted on American adults. They were asked the roles which they believe the media should perform. The emphasis index highlighted that 43% of the public want the media to act as watchdogs against powerful interests. However most of the interviewed saw the media as a congregation of powerful elites with constitutional freedom but they abuse these rights rather than using them responsibly. Others believed that the journalist’s belief and values are different from their own.
Importantly also, the media has the multiplying effects especially during crises of war and natural disasters such as earthquakes. This is the force that adds to the combat effectiveness of the taskforces. Information is power. This factor puts the media in an excellent position to mould both the national and the international opinion.
The media converge will not only develop public awareness but will also have the benefit of enhancing the morale of the troops by informing the people about their activities. If used prudently, the media will build a public as the force multiplier.
The media is able to affect politics and culture therefore affecting institutional change leading to development. Some of the extensive areas in which political solutions are achieved by the media are briefly discussed below:
Democracy and good governance
The government is a crucial bridge between the government and the people. The right to democracy is an important human right to be exercised through free and fair government and national elections. The media is responsible for safeguarding these human rights from infringement by any sources.
Transparency in the political arena
Transparency in the political world involves three virtues i.e. information, participation and accountability. The media is responsible for enforcing these key virtues.
The media has the ability to affect foreign policy process through policy acceleration, impediments and agenda-setting. This helps in the achievement of policy objectives.
There are a whole lot of responsibilities for the media that we may not exhaust all. Other key roles of the media includes: The media ensures that the human rights are not abused by those in authority. The business and investment environment will always be influenced by the media. The media provides the atmosphere for healthy trade; they also foster the climate of transparency and accountability. The media facilitates economic growth and empowerment. In the social arena, the media helps to deal with corruption, communal conflicts, disasters and public health campaigns. The media also helps in reconciliation and reconstruction. The demobilization and resettlement of ex-combatants. The media is also very important in peace building (Seymour, 2004).
There cannot be effective and smooth national growth and development without information. This information is provided by the media. The media is an important pillar to the realization of the goals of any people.