THE MEDIA AS AN INSTITUTION
.. it will create forgetfulness in the learners souls because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external written words and not remember of themselves. They will appear to be omniscient, and will generally know nothing; they will be tiresome company, having the show of wisdom without the reality.
Plato s Phaedrus
The media has become the institution that it is today because of the associated commercial concerns. Mass media is financed due to the massive influence both the print and electronic media has on Australia s society. Whilst Socrates quote from Plato s Phaedrus, referred to the invention of writing, many hold the same opinion in relation to the mass media today.
Several major changes have occurred in the media industry in the last two decades that have fundamentally altered the way in which the media institution operates. The most major changes of note have been:
a. the growth of the media industry,
b. the advancement of satellite communications,
c. women s increased role as consumers of mass media, and
d. the growth of the internet.
The media has seen spectacular growth since the first daily newspaper for the common man was produced on 4 May 1896. The Daily Mail was a halfpenny paper of eight pages with advertisements on the front cover and was described as A Penny Newspaper for One Halfpenny and The Busy Man s Daily Journal . The Daily Mail reported on domestic and foreign news items, political gossip, society, sport and the stock exchange. The Daily Mail was also the first newspaper to include a number of features for women.
In Australia the daily newspaper continues to be a major part of the media industry. The higher circulating newspapers such as the Australian, the Sydney Morning Herald, the Telegraph Mirror and the Age are produced and financed by the revenue made by news stand sales and advertising both commercial and personal. As the Australian population continues to grow the sales of mass print media undergoes the same growth.
Satellite communications have also had a profound affect on the mass media. News reporting has now become almost instantaneous. In 1991, during the Gulf War, people watched war live via satellite in their living rooms. Whilst being a strictly controlled coverage, information and live reports were sent globally. Australian reporters sent live broadcasts from Baghdad during American missile attacks whilst Generals gave television conferences to detail the intricacies of the confrontation as it occurred.
The most significant change in the mass media has been the increased role of women as consumers of mass media. Whilst magazines such as Womens Day have been in print since the early 50 s accommodating for women s role as a mother and housekeeper, the last two decades have seen women become both more career minded and willing to express their ideals and wishes in an open forum. The circulation of magazines such as Cleo, Cosmopolitan and Elle has not only brought to fore women s issues but also made them targets for the mass media. Magazines such as Dolly and more recently B accommodate to the reading and lifestyle wishes of younger girls and also create a younger target audience for the media.
The internet is a more recent phenomenon which, whilst it has not had a major effect on the media institution, shows the potential to become a large sector of the media. The mass availability of the internet is leading it to becoming an alternate source of information. Most national newspapers and all of the commercial television stations have internet sites. The users of these information sites pay by the presence of advertising.
Reasons for Change
A study was carried out during an American Presidential campaign in the 1970 s to find out why people voted as they do. By conducting interviews over the six month election campaign the study hoped to determine the impact of the mass media in influencing voting intentions. The fundamental finding was that there was very little influence of the campaign in changing peoples votes, and that the main effect of the mass effort was to reinforce the original voting intentions of some people and to arouse the latent predisposition of others. People were found to be very selective and only paid attention to the material which supported their original views. This study also revealed that people tended to vote in groups depending on the social institutions they belonged to. People of the same religion, race or age group tended to vote for the same party or candidate.
An increase in information such as this has enabled the mass media to become more efficient. Advertising is now arranged to coincide with programs or articles which will be read or watched by certain groups, e.g. toys and sweets are advertised in conjunction with children s television programs whilst advertisements for cars or power tools are often telecast with major sporting events.
The most obvious reason for the change of the mass media is the rapid advancement of the technology available to distributors of mass media. The consumers of mass media demand entertaining, up to date information. The arm of the media best able to provide their product in a timely and entertaining fashion will be best able to attract consumers and thus advertising.
Impact on Other Institutions
Numerous investigations have been made into the effects of television programs and the mass media upon children which, since 98% of Australian homes have a television set , are generally assumed to be profound. What influences it has to the good are not usually discussed, although talking to children gives the impression that they are better-informed about the world in which they live than formerly; nor is it usual to consider what indirect effects it may have in setting social norms as to how to behave in relation to others.
The social institution that seems to have been most profoundly affected by the mass media and more specifically television is the family. The child who is punished may learn that it should not commit the same act again, or it may learn that he / she will be punished if found to be committing the act. The same may be said of the influence of television and the mass media. There is no evidence to state that a child is more likely to become a criminal because he watches Australia s Most Wanted any more than he wants to become a pirate because he read Treasure Island .
The other way the mass media has affected the institution of the family is by the proliferation, good or otherwise, of lifestyle choices. The break down of the nuclear family and the establishment of more contemporary family units has been either supported or fought at various stages by the media. Twenty years ago homosexuality was a lifestyle that was for the most part shunned. One of the most popular events on the Australian cultural calendar is now the Gay Mardi Gras, which enjoys television coverage and sponsorship from multinational corporations. Whilst it is not believed that the mass media has caused more people to become homosexual, it can be said that the media s relative acceptance of a homosexual lifestyle has led more people to come out .
Whilst the survey carried out in the 1970 s that followed voters preferences revealed that it was unlikely that a media campaign would change a persons political persuasion, the media can be used to bring to the fore issues which a political institution finds important. The poor polling of the One Nation Party in some areas can be directly attributed to the mass media s influence on the public, likewise its success in the more rural areas can be attributed to support from the media in those regions.
In conclusion, the media has gone through numerous and important changes in the last two decades. Advances in technology and the various changes to the Australian culture have led to changes in the way in which the media operates and thrives. The mass media can be seen to have had varying impacts upon the other social institutions, but also mirrors the trends occurring in these other institutions. As Australian society and culture continues to change so will the media evolve to accommodate for its needs.
Stafford, C, and Furze, B.(eds) 1997, Society and Change, 2nd edn, Macmillion, Melbourne.
Giddens, A. 1989, Sociology, Polity Press, London.
Brown, J.A.C. Techniques of Persuasion, From Propaganda to Brainwashing, Penguin Books.
Handy, C.B. 1976, Understanding Organisations, Pelican Books