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Critically Assess the Ways in Which the Media Can Be Said to Influence or Have Effects on Society

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The Mass Media is a unique feature of modern society; its development has accompanied an increase in the magnitude and complexity of societal actions and engagements, rapid social change, technological innovation, rising personal income and standard of life and the decline of some traditional forms of control and authority.

There is an association between the development of mass media and social change, although the degree and direction of this association is still debated upon even after years of study into media influence. Many of the consequences, either detrimental or beneficial, which have been attributed to the mass media, are almost undoubtedly due to other tendencies within society. Few sociologists would refute the importance of the mass media, and mass communications as a whole, as being a major factor in the construction and circulation of social understanding and social imagery in modern societies. Therefore it is argued that the mass media is used as "an instrument", both more powerful and more flexible than anything in previous existence, for influencing people into certain modes of belief and understanding within society.

The question of medias influence on society and its cultural framework has often been debated upon from leading theorists to anyone with any form of media connections, but to contemplate that a character in Coronation Street or Eastenders can have an influence on an audience members attitude, beliefs or interpretations of society is a very simplistic and debatable version of the truth. The media does influence, but using more diverse and subtle roles of impact. Some theorists suggest that it is even a case of society influencing the media and not the more widespread and presumed version.


In the early 1930's, the Payne Studies study took place into the effects and influences of the mass media on the society as a whole using, at times, theories or beliefs that dated back to the late nineteenth century. This is regarded as one of the first in the area of or notion that the mass media has an affect on the societal attitudes and beliefs of that time.

This was soon follow around about a decade later in 1941 by Katz, Berelson, and Lazarsfeld who also decided to research into the topic of media effects, a research which produced the now commonly known 'Minimum Effects Model'. The main aspect of this research being to investigate any possible link or factor that may influence voting behaviour. As has been described in numerous literature it's 'discovery' was that the mass media played little or no part in the process of the formation of any political opinion, attitude or preference.

They came to the conclusion that the biggest factor influencing people was not the media, but other people. By the 1960's, there was a revival of Marxist attitudes, and so the work of Katz, Lazarsfeld, and Berelson was largely dismissed in favour of re-examining the model of research into media effects, due to the modifications the mass media had undergone in the post 1941 period, to consider another way in which to investigate the influence and the effects of the media.

Influence, society and individuals

As Jane Root wrote in the book "Open The Box", which delves into the possibilities of media influence, "It has a role in defining what we think of as a helps to map out who we think we are". To look at the medias effect and influence, there is an underlying need to define influence as we understand it in relation to society and it's overall effect.

Media is a major piece within society that is often linked to the notion of social influence. Society understands the notion or concept of being influenced as an "external force" (the media) linking itself or connecting with a personal action or viewpoint of the recipient. (John Corner: 2000: 378)

The forces of influence that have been described as a major power in media effects are those that are circumstantial and directed, those which can be placed within a framework or model, for example "uses and gratifications", those of a generic function but ultimately those which state perspectives, interpretations, and measurements which can lead to evidence and proof.

Uses & Gratifications Model

A systematic and widely used model in social sciences study of media influence over the effects on an audience concerning behaviour, attitudes and beliefs, is the theory of uses and gratifications.

This theory can be linked to the notion of social belonging and how an audience can be deceived into believing that this concept can be achieved. The tenet underlying this approach to studying audiences was that individuals actively consume and use the media in order to meet certain needs. In reality, with the power belonging in the focus of the media, it can be defined as a tool of subliminal persuasion. (O'Sullivan, Dutton, Raymer: 1998)

Blumler and Katz (1974) concluded that audience's fulfilment of needs came within the broad generalisation of four desires:

* Diversion - a form of escape or emotional release from

everyday pressures.

* Personal Relationships - companionships via television personalities and

characters and sociability through discussion about television with other people.

* Personal Identity - the ability to compare one's life with characters and

situations within programmes, and hence explore personal problems and perspectives.

* Surveillance - a supply of information about what is going on in the


It is believed that this need to gratify its audience with the pursuit of an idealistic social fulfilment provides the media the opportunity to convey subliminal messages that may influence our opinions, interpretations and understanding of societal



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