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Media, Culture and Power

Media play increasingly more important role in the modern society. In fact, the emergence of mass media contributed to the consistent change of the significance of media for the modern society. In actuality, the influence of mass media is overwhelming since people are constantly receiving information from various media, including printed and visual media. In such a situation, the question of control over media and their use as means of mass communication naturally arises. In this respect, it is important to underline that there is a variety of views on media and their role in the modern society. At the same time, approaches to media can be absolutely antagonistic. At this point, it is possible to refer to althusserian views on media and governmental approaches to media, which are absolutely different. In fact, these views represent two different philosophical and cultural approaches to media. Althusser, for instance, insisted on the necessity of the independence of media from any external influences from the part of the state in order to make media free of biases and ideological prejudices (Althusser, 1999, p.319). In contrast, the governmental approach to media stands on the ground that the regulation of media is necessary in order to prevent harmful impact of media on masses and on each individual in particular. Hence, the state often attempts to minimize the negative impact through the limitation of violence and regulations which forces mass media to meet moral and ethical norms of the society and dominating culture, while Althusser believed that such regulations are harmful for the society because they impose the ideology of the state and ruling elite on the entire society (Althusser, 1999, p.321).
Traditionally, the governmental control over the media was minimal, but, in the course of time, along with the growing significance of media to the contemporary society, grew the governmental interference into the functioning of media and attempts of the governmental regulation of the functioning of media. In such a situation, the governmental policy in relation to media became obvious – the government attempted to control media, though in a democratic state the total governmental control over media is impossible (Tolson, 1996, p.148).
At the same time, it is necessary to underline that the introduction of the governmental regulations was justified by objective reasons, which were supported by large number of people. In this respect, the risk of a negative impact of media on the psychology of people, especially children, played the determinant role. In fact, specialists (Barker, 2008, p.92) estimate that media can produce a negative impact on the formation of an individual identity because the violence on television, for instance, can increase the aggressiveness of people, especially children and adolescents. In such a situation, the governmental interference is justified by the necessity to minimize such a negative impact of media on human psychology and behavior through the system of regulations.
It proves beyond a doubt that mass media affect life of each individual and the entire society because nowadays media are everywhere. In fact, people are constantly bombarded with information they receive from various media which they may access twenty-four hours a day. In such a situation, it is very important to prevent possible negative impact of media on people. It is not a secret that media cannot only influence but also shape identity of an individual and, in such a situation, it is extremely important to provide a meticulous control over media, especially in relation to violence in media which may affect dramatically people, especially children (Tolson 149). In this respect, the most effective tool of control over media is the government control or, to put it more precisely, censorship, but such a measure provokes serious opposition. The opponents of the introduction of the governmental censorship over media to control violence represented in media is argued to be a threat to the freedom of press because, along with a possible positive impact of the censorship due to the essential limitation of violence in media, it can also lead to the misuse of power by the government that may undermine basic democratic principles of the modern society (Tolson, 1996, p.152).
In order to better understand the arguments of both supporters and opponents of the introduction of the government censorship of violence in media, it is primarily necessary to briefly dwell upon the current situation in media and possible effects of violence in media. In this respect, it should be pointed out that modern media are characterized by the excessive amount of violence that cannot fail to affect the audience, especially children. Specialists underline that nowadays “violence dominates television news and entertainment, particularly what we call “happy violence” – cool, swift, painless, and always leading to a happy ending in order to deliver the audience to the next commercial message in a receptive mood” (Is Media Violence Free Speech, 2007, p.1) At the same time, the negative impact of violence in media increased substantially in the result of the wider spread and practically permanent impact of media on people. It proves beyond a doubt that violence always exposes the audience to the risk of certain psychological problems and can increase aggressiveness of people. At any rate, the impact of violence in media may be destructive on psychological and moral development of children.
In fact, nowadays, in addition to traditional media, such as TV, children, as the part of the audience which is the most susceptible to the negative impact of violence in media, have access to Internet, they play video games which may also contain a lot of violent acts. As a result, they acquire wrong or, to put it more precisely, violent models of behavior. At the early age they cannot distinguish between such concepts as good and bad. This is why they imitate the models of behavior they learn from TV, Internet, video games, movies, etc. As a result, the violence in media contributes to violent and aggressive behavior of children and negatively affects the formation of their personality (Research on the Effects of Media Violence, 2007, p.4). However, the impact of violence in media on adults may be also very significant since it also stimulates anti-social behavior of people since the abundance of violence in media changes the perception of violence as abnormal, anti-social act. Instead, it is perceived as a norm. In such a situation, the number of those who “blame media violence for societal violence and want to censor violent content to protect children” (Media Violence, 2007, p.1) steadily grows.
In such a situation, the introduction of censorship by the government seems to be practically essential. It should be pointed out that the government should have the right and opportunity to censor violence in media in order to minimize its presence in media and, therefore, its negative impact on people. In this regard, the government is the most reliable institution because media cannot effectively control themselves because violence traditionally contributes to higher profits of media because it attracts the large audience (Thwaites et al., 2002, p.163). As a result, it is impossible that some private structure controlled it, while public organizations do not have official power and authority to define the policy of media. Consequently, the government has to censor the violence in media as the most powerful and reliable institution.
At the same time, the arguments given above basically explain why the government and any other institution should censor violence in media. As for the question whether it should censor violence in media or not the answer may be also affirmative because it is absolutely unacceptable that violence in media is absolutely uncontrolled. The destructive impact of violence in media is obvious and potentially it may threaten to the national safety of the entire state (Thwaites et al., 2002, p.170). For instance, after September 11 attacks the disastrous effects of these attacks, which were examples of violence, were shown in abundance in media. Naturally, the profound attention of media and permanent repetition of these violent attacks contributed to the growing panic and depression of millions of people. No wonder even nowadays many people are under the impact of the stress they suffered from the impact of media depicting effects of the attacks in details.
However, in spite of the convincing arguments of supporters of the government censorship of media, there are a lot of opponents, who argue that the government should not control violence in media because, directly or indirectly, such control implies the censorship in media in the broader sense. Specialists argue that the government censorship is unconstitutional because it is actually “the suppression of words, images, or ideas that are “offensive” and it “happens whenever some people succeed in imposing their personal political or moral values on others” (American Civil Liberties Union, 2006, p.1). What is meant here is the fact that the government through censorship of violence in media can influence the policy of media imposing its own moral and even political views. For instance, the government can forbid covering some events by media because of the excessive violence that may negatively influence the audience. However, these events may be vitally important for citizens and the censorship will lead to the lack of information and, therefore, inability of media and people to control the government. In brief, it is argued that censorship can potentially limit the freedom of press, namely specialists estimate that “the proposed cures [government censorship] are worse than the illness” since “they would extract an unacceptably high price in terms of eroding our fundamental guarantees of free expression” (ABFFE, 2007, p.2). Moreover, it is argued that the government censorship is “the wrong way to deal with violence in society” (FEN Newswire, 2000, p.1).
In addition, the government regulation or censorship can be essential in order to protect the national interest of the country since the government censorship can prevent the spread of radical ideas in the society. However, this is exactly where the opposition to the governmental approach grows particularly strong. In this respect, it is necessary to remind that Althusser had an absolutely different approach to media. He was conscious of the great power of mass media over the society (Thwaites et al., 2002, p.164). This is why he argued that the control over media can open the way to the control over the entire society. At this point, it is possible to trace a substantial influence of Marxist views on his beliefs and ideas. Althusser understood the possible negative effects of the state control or regulation of mass media (1999, p.320). Hence, he insisted on the necessity of the independent development of media and the public control over media as the only effective means of control over mass media. He justified his approach to media by the inability of large masses of people to evaluate critically the information they receive from media, while the control of a limited group of people, either private companies or the state, put this group into an advantageous position over the rest of the society, because this group could control the ideological message the media sent to the audience. Therefore, they could shape the consciousness of masses and define the cultural development of the society. In such a way, media become mere tools in hands of a few puppeteers who control them and who, thus, control the consciousness of the entire society.
As an alternative, he suggested the development of independent media. However, he did not totally exclude the possibility of the regulation of the media performance or control over media. At this point, his views are similar in a way to the governmental approach to media, but, unlike the government, Althusser suggested the establishment of the public control over media, which could be more effective than the governmental control or regulations (Althusser, 1999, p.322).
Thus, it is possible to conclude that the government censorship of media may be argued, it may have supporters and opponents, but there is only one undeniable fact that media should be controlled because excessive violence, for instance, in media may be as dangerous to people and to the country as the threat of the government control over media and limitation of the freedom of speech. In such a situation, one of the possible solutions of this dilemma is the introduction of special commission which could include representatives of public, non-profitable and non-governmental organizations, representatives of government and media, which could develop a clear strategy and standards which could limit the violence in media. At the same time, it is necessary to underline the fact that the governmental censorship or control is not only possible solution of the problem of the negative impact of media on people. In this respect, althusserian idea of the public control of media is worth noting and this control can be very effective.


References:
Althusser, L. (1999). “Ideology & ideological state apparatuses.” In J. Evans & S. Hall (eds) Visual Culture: The Reader. London, Sage Publications, pp.317-323.
“American Civil Liberties Union: What Is Censorship?” Aclu.org. 2006. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from <www.aclu.org/freespeech/censorship/26611res20060830.html>
Barker, C. (2008). Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. 3rd edn., London, Sage, pp.57-73.
“FEN Newswire: Media Censorship Won’t Stop Violence.” Freeexpression.org. 2000. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from <www.freeexpression.org/newswire/1129_2000.htm>
“Is Media Violence Free Speech?” Media-awareness.ca. 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from <www.media-awareness.ca/english/resources/articles/violence/violence_speech.cfm>
“Media Violence – Introduction.” Media-awareness.ca. 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from <www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/violence/index.cfm>
“Research on the Effects of Media Violence.” Media-awareness.ca. 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from <http://www.media-awareness.ca/english/issues/violence/effects_media_violence.cfm>
Thwaites, T., Davis, L. & Mules, W. (2002), Ideology, in Introducing Cultural and Media Studies: A Semiotic Approach. Hampshire & New York, Palgrave, pp. 158-170.
Tolson, A. (1996). “Popular culture: practice and institution.” In C. MacCabe (ed), High theory/Low culture: Analysing popular television & film. Manchester, Manchester University Press, pp.146-155.
“Violence in the Media Joint Statement”. Abffe.com. 2007. Retrieved December 1, 2007 from <www.abffe.com/mediaviolence.htm>


 

 
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