Media is a powerful tool that can be used to transmit information, news and render influence over large sections of society. If used to broadcast inflammatory or negative sentiments, it could act as a medium to instigate violence or worse. Some scholars have gone ahead and described it as one of the four pillars of a democracy after the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary. These features of the media can be looked at as advantages or disadvantages of media depending on the perspective taken. Since we have already covered the advantages of media, here we explore some of the disadvantages of media, be it broadcast media, print media or social media.
The importance of knowing the media and its influence is gathering momentum as displayed by the large number of people going into the field of mass media. Today, the media is omnipresent. Be it routine happenings in the neighbourhood, global news, once in a lifetime events, or leisurely paced travelogues, its all either on tape, print or an internet website. The most recent development in this field has undoubtedly been the rabid spread of the social networking culture. This has brought the lifestyle and media culture into our homes and created a number of media evangelists through other trends such as blogging.
Some of the major disadvantages of media have been described below.
As mentioned before, the media seems to be an omnipresent force in our lives today. This makes it hard to escape from the excessive information that they are bent on unloading on the public. The main problem can be narrowed down to a simple statement: there is reduced scope for obtaining selective information from media sources. In the good old days, books and theatre were primary means of passing along information from one generation to the next making it a highly streamlined method of transmitting knowledge. If an individual were to receive recommendations for books and movies as was the norm in the previous century, it would lead to an effective transmission of selective information. On the contrary, today when we switch on the television or start browsing through a randomly searched website, we are not sure of what to expect from it. It could be information which is unnecessary or uninteresting, making the whole exercise a waste of time and energy. Thus filtering information in today’s time has become a major headache. Such a disadvantage of media has only come up only recently with the advent of television and internet to such a great extent in public life. A common criticism of mass media is the lack of specific topical focus. Important local stories and articles may simply be skipped in order to cater to the larger audience.
Furthermore, the very definition of “masses” is ambiguous and when mass media sources concentrate on reaching out to the larger audiences, they may lose the essence of the story being communicated. Mass media communication creates a “bland and homogeneous culture” due to its non specific nature. Thus in addition to dilution of the quality of information being broadcasted, a question of ethics concerning mass media arises.
However, information selection if desired, can be carried out even more effectively today than was possible before, through reviews, recommendations and common groups (on the internet), which are now available faster and more easily. Such efficiency has emerged only with modern day media such as the internet and the abundantly available print magazines. Hence it could work out as an advantage on the whole even though it poses a challenge currently.
One of the glaring disadvantages of media today is the primary means of revenue generation for most modern media, advertising, which presents a formidable source of headaches for the public. Television, radio and most internet websites are financed by advertisers who pay huge chunks of money for these media sources to display flashy, catchy advertisements to the viewers. Long and loud television commercials, repeated radio ads and flashy pop-up advertisements on internet websites create a major source of irritation for the public using these media sources. E-mail advertising is a recent development in this filed. Due to unsolicited bulk advertising, spam mail is created which is a huge problem for internet users. Such spam advertising is a nuisance to users and is now invading personal and private spaces with its unsolicited spread.
Advertisements on television and radio which may be inappropriate for children find their way in through these mass media sources, resulting in negative effects on young age groups. Unrestricted internet access and unfiltered content on websites, provide yet another means for advertisers to influence users. Mental distress and desires caused by advertisements are thus channelled through media sources and since advertisers provide the source of financing for these sources, it is difficult to keep the two separate.
With the advent of numerous mass media channels in public life, there is increased scope for broadcasting information that may be inappropriate for certain age groups. The realm of influence exercised by sources such as television and popular internet websites (such as YouTube and social networking sites) is quite substantial. Stereotyping different races can be cited as one of the examples of inappropriate content displayed by media sources. African-Americans are most often depicted in the context of crime, drug use and violence as perceived by white Americans. There are further stereotypes for Asians, Middle-East ethnics etc which serve to creating wrong and often harmful images of certain ethnicities in the minds of the viewers.
This goes to show the enormous amount of influence that media controllers have on the vast populace using these means. Research shows that majority of the media ownership is concentrated in the hands of a few. This then gives this small group the freedom to vary content as and when they please (subject to a few restrictions). Umberto Eco , noted Italian philosopher, had in fact stated in 1967 that “Not long ago, if you wanted to seize political power in a country, you had merely to control the army and the police. Today it is only in the most backward countries that fascist generals, in carrying out a coup d'etat, still use tanks. If a country has reached a high level of industrialization the whole scene changes. The day after the fall of Khrushchev, the editors of Pravda, Izvestiia, the heads of the radio and television were replaced; the army wasn't called out. Today a country belongs to the person who controls communications.”
These are a few of the disadvantages of media. In addition to these are the obvious ones such as wastage of time and money on media sources such as television and internet which go to serve no ultimate purpose. Hence as reiterated throughout the course of this article, the importance of media in our lives can no longer be neglected. We need to understand the advantages and disadvantages of media in detail if we are to use such an influential and useful tool efficiently to our benefit.