Media and Politics of Social Change

We live in a media centric world where every thing we perceive and experience is determined by the media. Even the reality has become so crafted by the ever bombarding media images – reality is not accepted as such unless the media has not said any comments about it. Media indubitably holds power in this information era which is every day being exemplified by the political process around the world; its true that a politics of social change can occur through media usage.

The power shifts that have occurred in most of the authoritarian regimes around the world have been mainly due to the strong stance media has taken for the democratic cause. Starting from the ‘Vietnam Syndrome’, the widespread belief that the mainstream American media were opposed to the Vietnam War and openly hostile to the US military and its South Vietnamese clients; to (and that as a result of their critical coverage they lost the war for the US. This of course bears little or no relation to the media’s actual coverage of the war, yet it has shaped and influenced political and military control of the media in the subsequent conflicts from the Falklands War to the American invasions of Grenada and Panama and in the successive Gulf Wars.) Corazon Aquinas’s victory in the Philippines, the heralding of the democratic wave in erstwhile Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, indubitable it is the media images that have shaped the public opinion.

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Thus the modern connection between seeing and knowledge is stretched to breaking point in postmodernity. This is what Jean Baudrillard (1998) dubbed the simulacrum. As postmodern theorists have pointed out, our living in a highly mediated world makes it difficult to distinguish at times between the real and the simulated, the authentic and the artificial, the meaningful and the superficial. That is why we have more television battles before general elections and live television coverages during war.

The media and democracy have always shared a symbiotic relationship that a true democracy always pampered the growth of a responsible media and a responsible media has always been a watch dog of the democratic ideals. The coming of the new media has only accentuated its role in nation building and educating the society. Its basic functions of information, entertainment, education, consensus and advertisement remain unchanged; in fact media has become more democratic and decentralized.

Democracy and media

Democracy can be defined as a people-centric system that governs the state for people’s benefit. Here the power to rule is vested in the people, which is exercised through elected agents. Abraham Lincoln, calls democracy as a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

Media also shares a similar role in a democratic state. If democracy gives the power, media helps to strengthen it through unrestricted dissemination of information. It gives ‘information, knowledge, forums of communication and debate necessary to govern their own lives effectively.’(McChesney 2000) Thus media emerges a true watch dog, constantly monitoring the democratic system for its flaws and giving the necessary feedbacks to ‘people in power and people who want to be in power.’ (McChesney 2000)

Media can fulfill these tasks only it served the democratic system and the people who hold its key with unbiased and uncensored information accessible for every one. Only then it can build a ‘self governing society of political equals’ (McChesney 2000) strengthening the pillars of democracy and there by building its own credibility.

Mass media has been regarded as the champion of public cause and history is replete with examples how it has fought along with the people in changing the public policy in both democratic and authoritarian regimes. With the emergence of the global media, the surveillance[1] function of the mass media has become more intensive and the watch dog was given a new responsibility to watch the whole world for the possible violations of democratic ideals and human rights. It started with a total support for Corazon Aquino’s campaigns in the late seventies in Philippines and still going strong with reports to garner public support against Iran’s dubious nuclear programme.

Although the global television has changed the perspective of the mass media taking it from the ‘locale’ to ‘global’, media still focuses the domestic front, influencing the public policies through agenda setting. Here the media has further responsibilities like providing the citizen the means to understand the substance of policies at any particular time. Secondly they should perform an amplifying function by giving publicity to the actions and views of important individuals. Thirdly they should provide the common fund of information necessary for the formation of public opinion and the conduct of the political process. Further the mass media should attempt to provide standards by which political actions can be judged, the common frame of reference which must unite rulers and the ruled in a democratic political structure. The media therefore could help considerably in public participation in national and regional policies.