4 Major Functions of Mass Media


4 Major Functions of Mass Media

The mass media perform numerous functions in the society. The media scholar, Harold Lasswell, observed that the mass media are an extension of those functions that the society has always needed. 

Most importantly, whether the media are functional or dysfunctional, they operate within the social system, and that is actually why it concerns us.

In this article, you should be able to:

• Discuss the functions of the mass media

• Discuss mass media systems

• Explain media coverage

• State the dysfunction of the mass media

• Define some terms such as status conferral, socialization, correlation, and so on.


Functions of the Mass Media

Lasswell stated that the media perform four major social functions:

1.  Surveillance of the environment

2. Correlation of different elements of society

3.  Entertainment

4. Transmission of culture


4 Major Functions of Mass Media

1. Surveillance of the Environment

The media teach us most of what we know about the world through the process of surveillance. The media expose us also to other societies. The media reveal to us about the stock market, impending danger, business opportunities and risks, travelers guide, weather conditions great discoveries. Surveillance is not just for the masses, but also for the entire nation.

For instance, the Government and industry leaders watch CNN and BBC – world or read the Guardian or Time magazine to know what other world leaders are saying and thinking. Above all, the media also give status to individuals. This is achieved by exposing the individuals to large audiences for one good reason or the other, to make them appear important and esteemed. This process is known as status conferral.


2. Correlations of Different Elements of the Society

This is an important function of the mass media. It involves selection, evaluation and interpretation of events. It helps impose structure on the news and it is accomplished by persuasive communication through editorializing, commentary, advertising and propaganda. It categorizes news and directs on the importance of each news item, by deciding whether the news item should appears on the front page, first headline on the broadcast or whether it should be accompanied by a teaser on the magazine cover promoting the story.


3.  Socialization and Transmission of Culture

Socialization is the process of integrating people into the society through the transmission of values, social norms and knowledge to new members of the group takes place. We actually learn the values of our society through the media, friends, clubs, school, church, etc.

Accordingly, the mass media provides socialization through the following ways.

(a) Through role models in entertainment in programming

(b) Through goals and desires as presented in media citizenship values, portrayed in the news.

(c) Through advertisements for products that may be useful to us in different stages of our lives.


4. Entertainment

This is communication package, which is intended to amuse, even if it serves other functions. For instance, television drama on HIV/AIDS can be considered entertaining even though it educates people living with HIV/AIDS on how to cope with the challenges of the ailment. According to Neil Postman (1985), “the primary effect of television is that it changes how people see the world; that is, with television, people start seeing everything as entertainment.”


Mass Media Systems

The media system that exists in a country is directly related to the political system in that country. The political system determines the exact relationship between the media and the government. However, the development of a national mass media system is predicated on the protection of national interest, based on national philosophy (social, geographical, cultural, religious, economic and international interests).

These are seen in terms of the attitudes of national leadership towards the people (their rights, duties, capabilities and potentialities.

There are four orientations, which determine how the mass media operate with a system:

1. The Authoritarian Attitude: This is obtainable where the controllers of mass communication lack fate in the ability of the people to govern themselves. The authoritarian dictates the content of mass media for the public. The media are usually state – owned and the state selects, arranges and plays up or down the media content. This system can be found in former USSR, Cuba, Mexico and some one – party states in Africa.

2. Paternalism or Paternalistic Attitude: This system has faith in the basic intelligence of the masses and the capability deal with ideals. They maintain a healthy media content. The elites or highly educated, privileged individuals prescribe the standard for taste.

3. Permissionism or Permissive Attitude: This system stipulates that media organizations must operate according to government registration and regulatory requirements, all in the public interest, convenience and necessity (PICON) media contents are bared on audience research. The result is usually competition and parasitism. However, the negative fallout is excessive materialism and sometimes, outright irresponsibility.

4. Pluralism or Pluralistic Attitude: This is combination of what is good of the other three systems discussed above. The developing nations are noted for pluralism. The attitude recognizes more than one ultimate substance or principle – dualism.

In other worlds, the attributes of authoritarian, paternalistic and permissive attitudes are combined in pluralism.


Mass Media Coverage

The coverage of mass media depends on the geographical area it covers. Therefore, a medium could be local, national or international coverage.

1. Local Media:  These are those that cover a small portion of the society during operation and circulation. This can also mean that the media only have the interest of the people in a defined local setting. For instance, in Nigeria, local media can be said to include the state media houses for example BCA, Umuahia, IBC, Owerri, Ambassador Newspapers, Statesman, LTV, Lagos, and so on.

2. National Media: These are those that have the interest of the entire country at heart. It could be private or public but the coverage entails what the outlook is like. Examples are the national dailies – Vanguard, The Guardian etc, and media houses such as NTA, FRCN, and so on.


International Media

Their interests cut across national boundaries. That is, the media content are meant for audience within and outside a particular country. Examples of international media include CNN, CFI, BBC, Time Magazine, AIT, NTA International, VON, and so on. NOTE: Some media signals overflow to close by countries. This is not international communication but referred to as spill over. For instance, when Benin Republic residents receive signals from NTA Lagos.


Dysfunctions of the Mass Communication

Mass communication has dysfunction, which are the negative implications or attributes of mass communication effects.

These are discussed below.

1. Anxiety

Mass communication has been accused of causing anxiety that emanates from insufficient reporting, misinformation and outright falsehood. Nigerian newspapers and magazines are known for misspelling, wrong judgment and insufficient coverage. In doing so, they mislead, create unnecessary but avoidable anxiety thereby leaving many questions unanswered.

2. Revolution of Rising Expectation

The media sometimes creates awareness of availabilities that are not within the reach of media consumers. Through advertising, the media through glamorization tend to make the audience believe that possession of certain products can lead to certain results that at times are not true - deceptive advertising.

3. Narcotization

The media have the ability to narcotize people. They draw people to media offerings and then constitute them into a captive audience. People then organize their lives around such programmes. Take for instance “Super Story,” people cancel their engagements or refuse to be engaged for the time of their favourite programmes. Like regular drunks, they rush to sustain their habit.

4. Privatization

Excessive media consumers may tend to be alienated from the run of societal life. Media content like in times of war may lead people to withdraw into their shells. They may prefer not to be informed about happening. 

5. Human Conflicts 

Media content may lead to human and international conflicts. The Sharia conflict could attribute to the media because all parties involved would like to be covered, using propaganda, “favorably” in order to achieve their objectives.


Conclusion on 4 Major Functions of Mass Media

This article has revealed that the mass media have become a visible, prominent and pervasive aspect of the society. They inform, educate, entertain, mobilize and motivate the society. The mass media perform their functions according to systems and contexts.

In this article, we have discussed the role of the mass media coverage and dysfunctions.

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