Jumat, 30 Desember 2011

Social control of media

Relations between media and society usually have both a political dimension and a normative or social-culture aspect. Central to the political dimension is the question of freedom and control. As noted above, near-total freedom was claimed and eventually gained for the book, for a mixture of reasons, in which requirements of politics, religion, science and art all played some part. This situation remains unchallenged in free societies, although the book has lost some of its once subversive potential as a result of its relative marginalization. The influence of books has to a large extent to ba mediated through other more popular media or other institutions (education, politics, etc.).
            The newspaper press bases its historical claim to freedom of operation much more directly on its politicalfunctions of expressing opinion and circulating political and economic information. But the newspaper is also a significant business enterprise for which freedom to produce and supply its primary product (information) is a necessary condition of successful operation. The rather limited political freedom enjoyed by broadcast television and radio derives from a claim to perform same of the same functions as the newspaper press and to serves a genereal ‘public interest’. Formal political control has tended to diminish, as the television industry expands and becomes more like a normal business, in which market disciplines replace open political control. This does not yet seem to have led to any greater politicization of the medium.
            The variety of new means of distribution, some using cable or telecommunications networks, still await clear definitions of their appropriate degree of political freedom. Freedom from control may be claimed on the grouds of privacy or the fact that these are not media of indiscriminate mass distribution but directed to specific users. They are so-called ‘common-carriers’ which generally lack control over their content. They also increasingly share the same communicative tasks as media with established editorial autonomy. The question remains in dispute for a number of reasons, among them the need for regulation for techincal reasons or to prevent abuse of monopoly power. The question of political freedom does not generally arise in the case of media channels which primarily carry fiction, entertainment or music, despite the political potential of all three. In free societies these media are left largely to the free market, while in totalitarian societies their political potential is usually hamessed to official aims.
            These differences of perception and institutional definition relating to political control (where there is freedom, there are few regulations and little supervisory apparatus) follow a general pattern. First, where the communication function involved closely affects the exercise of power in society (as with newspaper and television informational services), there is a stronger motive for scrutiny if not direct control (political control can be exercised by ownership). In general, activities in the sphere of fiction, fantasy or entertainment are more likely to escape attention than are activities which touch directly on social reality.
            Virtually all media of public communication have a radical potential, in the sense of being potentially subversive of reigning systems of social control, they can provide access for new voices and perspectives on the existing order; new forms of organization and protest made available for the subordinate or disenchanted. Even so, the institutional development of successful media has usually resulted in the elimination of the early radical potential, partly as a side-effect or commercialization, partly because authorities fear disturbance of society (Winston, 1986). According to one theory of media development, the driving logic of communication has been towards more effective social management and control, rather than towards change and emancipation (Beniger, 1986).
            The normative dimension of control operates according to the same general principles, although sometimes with different consequences for particular media. For instance, film, which escapes direct political control because it has not usually been seen as politically relevant, has often been subject to control of its content, on grounds of its potential moral impact on the young and impressionable (especially in matters of violence, crime or sex). The widespread restrictions applied to television in matters of culture and morals stem from the same (generally unstated) assumptions. These are that media which are very popular and have a potentially strong emotional impact on many people need to be supervised in ‘the public interest’.
            Supervision often includes positive support for ‘desirable’ cultural communication objectives as well as for restrictions on the undesirable. The more communication activities can be defined as either educational or ‘serious’ in purposes – or, alternatively, as artistic and creative – the more freedom from normative restrictions can usually be claimed. There are complex reasons for this, but it is also a fact that ‘an’ and content of higher moral seriousness does not usually reach large numbers and are seen as marginal to power relations.
            The degree of control of media by state or society may depend on the feasibility of applying it. The most regulated media have typically been those whose the distribution is most easily supervised, such as centralized national radio or television broadcasting or local cinema distribution. In the last resort, book and print media generally are much less easy to monitor or to suppress. The same applies to local radio, while new possibilities for desktop publishing and photocopying and all manner of ways of reproducing sound and images have made direct censorship a very blunt and ineffective instrument. The impossibility of policing national frontiers to keep out unwanted foreign communication is another consequence of new technology which promotes more freedom. While technology in general seems to increase the promise of freedom of communication, the continued strength of institutional controls, including those of the market, over actual flow and reception should not be underestimated.


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