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The term media is generally used to refer to the various means of communication channels available that can be used by people to pass information to others whether narrowcasting or broadcasting. These include mediums such as radio, television, mail, internet by extension, magazines, billboards and news papers. It's through these communication channels that information which could be news, education, data, entertainment, and promotional messages are released to reach the entire public/society. The term can also be used to refer to the press collectively known as news reporting agencies. In the computing world however, the word media refers to a broader category of the various types of data storage options that are usable and available for use such as disk drives, CD's, DVD's, hard drives, flash memory, floppy disks and USB drives which can be used for the storage and subsequent dissemination also qualify to be media. By and large, the media plays a critical role in any society as it acts as the society's mirror through its ability to get information and pass it on to the public domain. This very critical role makes the society informed on all issues taking place hence giving them a chance to criticize or take sides depending on their opinion. The media also acts as the salt to any society as it can act to bond, unite or destroy a society and therefore its significance in any society can not be downplayed.
In light of the above, the basic role of the media is to basically and formally update people on everything that are happening around them by informing them through the various communication channels listed. This is a critical role as it encompasses the dissemination of information from an objective point of view without any bias or misreporting. It also includes its failure to distort the information obtained and being given out and its failure to violate any basic human right or offend viewers in any way. The media therefore has got moral responsibility, social responsibility and ethical responsibility with all working to form a responsible media fraternity. As it regards moral responsibility, the media has a moral duty and obligation to only pass information that meets the threshold of morality and universally acceptable standards of ethics. In this case the media should therefore ensure that all content passing on to the public is well edited before its release and that such information does not create any sort of discomfort amongst the viewers, listeners and readers. A good example would be when a disturbing video is released to the public domain and the harm that such would cause in terms of damaging the very moral standards that the society believes in and lives by. This could cause moral decay and consequently a morally challenged society especially when children can access such information.
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The media also has the moral and social responsibility to censure any information that is deemed unfit for public knowledge especially when such public is composed of all individuals in a society. Censorship in this case would involve the attempts to bar some kinds of materials and information all together from reaching the public domain such as pornographic materials. If such information is freely exposed to the public, this would lead to a decline in the moral values in existence in the society leading to a social and moral crisis. At the same time, the media should work towards the protection of all children from materials that affect their development into morally upright and responsible individuals in the society. Such materials include films, the use of video game rating systems where all video games left to children have a limited range of information accessible and that the games provided therein are of acceptable standards and meet societal moral standards. It's also within the medias responsibility to ensure that all content aired in television sets is morally acceptable and that any content that seems to violate this is censured. Examples of such will include scenes that portray violence, total disregard of social beliefs and standards or compromising sexual scenes that one would not be comfortable watching especially with children around.
In addition, the media also plays an educative role through its capability to reach a large number of people at any given time, passing of information and provision of educative materials through the various channels. The media could be used as a tool to sensitize the society on critical issues such as the creation of awareness on social issues such as HIV/AIDS, family planning, corruption, public accountability and other aspects that need ones knowledge of the facts that surround them. According to Ann, S., Julie D., Glen, C. and Judy, U (2000), individuals with time tend to imitate behavior that could have been seen elsewhere say in a TV set, a magazine or a video and therefore one may end up developing mental scripts and primes that reflect what was seen in a TV influencing their future behaviours. As a result, it becomes important that every information that's released to the public through the media should carry a positive message. This way, the society gets to know the issues surrounding them and how to deal with them making the media important players in the education and teaching of acceptable behaviours and standards.
The media also has a responsibility of informing the society on the happenings in different parts of the globe because that has a direct effect on the welfare. These may include happenings on the political scene, sport the business world, the decisions taken by their leaders and generally what could be happening on the social scene in all spheres of life. These information if not passed across then the society would suffer from an 'ignorance crisis' because all the decisions made in the political, local or international arena have a direct impact on their livelihood. A study carried out by Moore S. M. (2003) indicated that a majority of the people gets information through the media either, print, electronic or other media channels. This shows how big a following the media commands in terms of its ability to reach a good number of people who happen to be the majority. Through this role, the media is tasked with the all important responsibility of informing people not with any information but the right information.
Moreover, the media also has the responsibility of protecting the public from untrue information from various groups of individuals such as investors, businesses, publishers and producers among others who may do so with an intention to mislead the public with a view of making huge profits. Such information if not effectively scrutinized could be misleading to the public and the right information needs to be passed across, another responsibility of the media. As a result, the media acts as a sieve to all the information passed across by these individuals to ensure that it is credible and reliable and that the message being passed across is true to the best of their knowledge. A good example would be when a rogue doctor claims to have magic powers to heal using it for his selfish reasons and taking advantage of people's ignorance. It's the responsibility of the media to establish the facts behind the magical healing, if it's true or not and pass that information to the public cautioning them or advising them on the true facts in place.
The media is also tasked with the responsibility of working towards the formation of public opinion on issues regarding governance and leadership among others. In this case the media is expected to take a neutral stand on issues that will need public opinion such as during an election and failure to do so would make them biased in that they will represent one side of the divide giving it an advantage over the other. Consequently, this ends up swaying the public opinion to the same side that the media had taken a fact that can result to disagreements and have dire consequences on the society in general. The role of the media in such a case is to enlighten the public on what exactly the truth is as it regards any on goings hence enable them to make an independent decision free from bias. An example is a case is when likely during election campaign period whereb different individuals are up against each other for a leadership position. If the media is biased, chances are that the outcome would be bent on the media proponent's side. This would be a misrepresentation of facts hence lead to an unfair and untrue outcome as the public should be left to make such decisions independently.
Another important responsibility that the media has to execute is that it should always take a step to find the solutions to various issues in the society basically by presenting to them the opinion of experts in the particular field in question. An expert basically would try to shed some light on the outstanding issues and give out an expertise opinion which could be regarded as a possible solution at hand. An example would be regarding a condition, illness or disease outbreak in a particular region, say cholera outbreak, the community affected would want to hear what causes this disease and how best to go about it and therefore an invitation to the studio or a publication of an interview by a media personality to an expert who gives his views, solutions and guidance would go along way in solving the problem. This helps the public understand issues in a better way than if not given an understanding by an expert hence shape their opinions and understanding.
The media also has a key responsibility of working towards the promotion of sound cultural beliefs, traditions and aspirations in the society, ones that are morally upright and generally acceptable. Any media that disregards the culture of the people it represents risks plugging such a society in to depths of immorality, indiscipline and poorly developed cultural aspects that are crucial in guiding the society at all times. This role and responsibility which effectively cuts across all societal beliefs is effected as a result of the impact that information presented to children during their early stages of development. In most societies the media happens to be the major source of this information and therefore it's conclusive that the media has a great impact on the development and change in a society's believes, values, attitudes and behavior especially on children whose values are anchored on what they are taught, the information they receive and the education they receive. In many societies, cultural believes tend to fade away with time if not reinforced and repeatedly taught to new and incoming generations and therefore the media is best placed due to its ability to frequently access and pass on information tom a larger part of the society. This information if passed in a culturally friendly and promotive way end up promoting the cultural beliefs and values that the society believes in. According to Graves, M. (1980), Greenberg and Brand (1994), television and therefore televised content acts as a major source of information in a society and has an impact on what the society believes in at any particular time as well as its cultural context. In addition, Garbner et al. (1994) in his cultivation theory argues that through television the meanings of cultural, social and personal contexts a fact that has an immense effect on cultural development. As a result, the media plays a central role in the promotion and successive retaining of the values, believes that the society it works in considers acceptable and favourable.
In addition, the media also has the responsibility of the provision of a guideline to a society's youth basically through the various channels. These guidelines play a central role in the promotion of diversity, education and welfare in the society through the views that the youth hold of this. In many a cases the youth tend to pay more attention to information from sources other than what could be around them such as parents or relatives due to adolescent crisis. They therefore identify themselves with what is said of them by the outside world and tend to copy more of what comes from sources said to be 'better knowledge and modern fashioned'. In this regard, it's common to find the youth dressing, talking and even behaving as seen and copied from say televised content because they consider this as being fashionable. This affects the way they think and believe a fact that could have a long standing impact on what becomes of the society in later years. Therefore, it's the responsibility of the media to ensure that information presented especially that targeting the youth is well tailored to act as a guideline to the youth's life, aspirations and believes. According to Abeles (1980), the information presented to people especially on their years of cognitive development greatly shapes their perspective and understanding of issues in general. The youth being in this age group bracket, need to be presented with information that positively impacts on their life and shapes their perception on issues that affect their life and society in general. The media should consequently pass on information that acts as a guideline to the youth, is informative and critically analyses issues that affect the youth. This way, the youth grow and mature as will round individuals who are well informed and play a central role in the development of the society they live in. The Bandura's social theory, Bandura (1986, 1994), explains that any information passed on either through television, print media or any other source greatly impacts on the viewers or readers interpretation ,perception and understanding of the issues presented and goes on to mediate learning and subsequent imitation. The youth are the most susceptible group to this effect and therefore all information learnt virtually through any media could impact permanently on their beliefs and aspirations hence livelihood. In light of the above, the media carries with itself the ultimate and crucial responsibility of guiding a society's youth towards the direction that they need to take as it regards their life and that of the society.
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Moreover, the media also has the responsibility of condemning and discouraging criminal, immoral and abusive activities in the society. This basically would happen through the airing, writing and publishing of unacceptable activities in the society and in the cases where crimes have taken place, the media should let the viewers and readers know the tough and negative consequences that the culprits suffer. This in return portrays such activities as bad, unacceptable and criminal with ultimate punishment and therefore ends up discouraging all members of the society from indulging in them. According to Huessman, A. and Miller, N. (1994), in their social development model argue that any social behavior learnt from any source has a close relationship with previously observed, heard or learnt information in a previous setting and this portrays the relationship between the information presented by the media and the society. Consequently, the media should through negative reporting on criminal activities and all form of ill behavior and immorality so as to bring it to the attention of the general public that engaging in criminal activities attracts negative consequences. In watching say for example televised behavior, children come to learn the behaviours which are acceptable, found to be good and generally accepted as well as those behaviours that are unacceptable, punishable and condoned in the society and their consequencies. Consequently, they learn to copy and imitate those behaviours that are rewarded and ignore, disregard and condemn those that are punished shaping their livelihood and the general norm in the society. The media in this capacity should therefore, act to warn all society members to desist and completely avoid engaging in criminal, immoral and all forms of unacceptable behaviours and activities as this will attract negative consequences.
Another significant responsibility of the media is that it plays a major role in driving public interest, opinions and desires. In this capacity the media is seen as a crucial link and bridge in the society as it presents the views of the majority and the minority, the leaders and the people they lead, the rich and the poor in the society and therefore has a role to portray each of these groups views, desires and opinions to the decision makers. In this capacity, the media has the ability to make or break a society depending on how it contacts its affairs and how it prioritizes the welfare of the society it works in. The media should give priority to the main issues that drive the society and lead to development of better environment, leadership, corrupt free society, less or no violence, gender imbalance and equality among others. This becomes the priority in decision making and therefore the society moves towards the right direction through the media's ability to shape the right opinions in the society.
In conclusion, the media is not just the mirror of the society that just reflects the 'word out there', informs the society on what is happening or happened but a crucial component of the society, one that has special responsibilities, plays a significant role in the society and plays an active part in both shaping and framing the perception that the society has regarding the world and indeed affecting the general nature of the world. It is undoubtedly true to say that the media plays an indispensable role in the society, a role that involves educating, informing, entertaining, protecting as well as promoting cultural values and diversity among other critical responsibilities. These responsibilities range from social, ethical and moral responsibilities in effect impacting immensely on the society, its achievements, failures and opinions. This is mainly because of the influence that the media has on the society as a result of its ability to reach a large number of people, affect the decisions that they make and shape their opinions, aspirations and believes. According to Watella, M., Oliverez, K. and Jennings F. D. (1998), the media is currently the most important contributor to human social behavior and hence an unquestionable source of social influence in every society as a result of the close relationship between the information that we receive on a daily basis and the influence it has on our behaviours, thoughts and beliefs. In both the long term and short term, our experience of the information we receive basically via the media has a longstanding effect and significantly affects the way we think, operate, behave, feel, act and even the broader beliefs that we hold concerning the world around us and more importantly the social reality.