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Roles of Media in People’s Life

There are four roles of media – Education, Watchdog, Socialization, and Promoting democracy. The educational role is performed by gathering and reporting information about the operating principles and day-to-day government decisions. Based on this knowledge, citizens can later make more informed choices during voting (Cobb, 2019). An example is disseminating information by national news agencies on state affairs in the economy, health, and social security. The watchdog role is investigating violent, unethical, or illegal government actions and informing the public. Investigative journalism can lead to unpleasant consequences for those in charge. An example of effective implementation of the watchdog role is the work of the international non-profit organization WikiLeaks and its publication of the Panama Papers – millions of leaked documents containing financial and customer information of 214,488 offshore entities.

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Socialization is also a critical function of the media, as it allows the audience to acquire particular beliefs, ideals, and values. Media channels include newspapers, news channels, news websites, television shows, movies, magazines, and books (Cobb, 2019). Good examples are non-fiction books Becoming by Michael Obama and Fear: Trump in the White House by Bob Woodward. The latter is also famous for the investigation into President Nixon’s activities that led to the Watergate scandal. The last and most important function of the media is the task of promoting democracy. According to scholars, “freedom of the press is not only a requisite characteristic of democracy but can promote democratic attitudes and ideas” (Cobb, 2019, p. 135). Therefore, there is a twofold relationship between democracy and freedom of the press. Many scientists study this phenomenon by learning how media, government, and society interact in different states.

Many scholars are investigating the phenomenon of media functioning in democratic societies and developing democracies. For example, Andersen et al. (2017) suggest that journalists who work in the countries of the Western Balkans region have a much higher level of perceived responsibility for the democratization of society than in developed democracies. At the same time, among journalists, there is also a low level of trust in public institutions responsible for the implementation of transitional justice (Andersen et al., 2017). Besides, journalists in the studied countries – Albania, Croatia, Kosovo, and Serbia – adhere to journalism’s traditional values. Further, Chukwuere & Onyebukwa (2017) highlight the new media’s role during the local elections in South Africa in 2016. According to scholars, during the elections, new media “acted as one of the main vehicles of political interaction between various political parties throughout the country “(Chukwuere & Onyebukwa, 2017, p. 12). Simultaneously, politicians used new media to promote their ideas and get feedback from citizens, using new media as an interactive forum.

The formation of the media agenda is closely related to the media function of socialization. Depending on several factors, the daily agenda usually differs significantly since the media often use their influence to spread ideas that correspond to editorial policy or satisfy the owners’ interests. Since most media generate income from advertising, one of the main tasks is to maintain audience interest. Therefore, all media publish news about significant events like natural disasters, wars, or presidential speeches (Cobb, 2019). The second important factor is a professional editorial preference or editorial policy. Further, the media can publish news distributed by their competitors to retain the audience. Besides, local media can take into account community interests. Political pressures can have a decisive influence, especially if the politician is the owner. Finally, economic pressures may influence agenda decisions, as the media cares about meeting the audience’s tastes, leading to a decrease in content quality.

Media consolidation implies a threat to the press’s freedom, as it reflects a trend when independent media are united by chains that own multiple media. The massive shift to online media has contributed to worsening this trend. Many independent newspapers have been unable to cope with the competition from online publications that provide their audiences free access to news. From an economic point of view, media consolidation can lead to improved content quality. However, consolidation can also threaten the pluralism of opinions when media belonging to the same owner publish similar or identical political views. The primary source of income for modern media is advertising, and its cost is higher, the larger the audience. The media can act to expand audiences by focusing on entertainment or commercially appealing news. Therefore, economic factors are one of the most significant threats to the media’s fulfillment of socialization and promoting democratic roles.

Due to the rapid and universal spread of social media, many scientists study this phenomenon. Interestingly, social media for most citizens in both developing and developed democracies is something more than an opportunity to chat with friends. In particular, social media took on traditional media’s role, serving as platforms for political parties and as a forum where citizens can communicate directly with political nominees. Scientists also note that people are increasingly using social media as a platform to coordinate among themselves and mobilize each other (Gil de Zúñiga & Chen, 2019). Social media have a high level of trust from citizens, which, together with a low level of public and state control of social media, creates a threat of the spread of disinformation and political polarization.

Fake news is news articles that are intentionally and verifiably false and could mislead readers (Cobb, 2019). The emergence of the term coincided with the spread of social media to millions of users worldwide in the 2010s. Fake news is easily spread because social media are very poorly controlled. Russia’s interference in the 2016 US elections through online sources and social media, including creating thousands of fake Facebook pages, led to court hearings. CEOs of Facebook and Twitter were accused of facilitating the spread of fake news. In response, Mark Zuckerberg promised to take the necessary measures, and Facebook began to monitor users’ authenticity and the ethics of the disseminated information more closely. Fake news is usually used by various political forces to pursue specific goals. People can protect themselves from fake news by questioning implausible messages, primarily if published on social networks.

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The First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees freedom of the press in the United States. Freedom of the media was defended by both the founding fathers and later politicians, as without it, the media cannot fulfill their roles listed above. However, there are cases when the press’s freedom is used to cover up the illegal actions of unscrupulous media that disseminate propaganda or false information. A striking example of such media is the Russia Today resource, created by Vladimir Putin in response to the international community’s condemnation of Russia’s annexation of Crimea and military intervention in Syria. Due to the existing international legislation that protects the media’s right to express any points of view, it is quite difficult to prosecute or terminate such resources’ activities. At the same time, many countries, including Russia, China, Eritrea, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Azerbaijan, Vietnam, and Iran, suffer from severe censorship and harassment of journalists.

References

Andresen, K., Hoxha, A., & Godole, J. (2017). New roles for media in the Western Balkans: A study of transitional journalism. Journalism Studies, 18(5), 614-628.

Chukwuere, J. E., & Onyebukwa, C. F. (2017). New media and politics: An assessment of 2016 South African local government elections. In Proceedings of International Academic Conferences (pp. 12-22). International Institute of Social and Economic Sciences.

Cobb, W. N. W. (2019). Political Science Today. CQ Press.

Gil de Zúñiga, H., & Chen, H. T. (2019). Digital media and politics: Effects of the great information and communication divides. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, 63(3), 365-373.

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