There is no doubt that the influence of global media is increasing every day. It has become so much pervasive that none can deny or ignore their presence and impact in our daily life. Especially, Television and New Media are boosting this influence. Media are thought to have persuading power and scholars opine that persuasion is one of the major functions of Mass media. However, this function and power of media has sometimes been misused by the owners or the states. The horrifying use of radio by Nazis for propaganda during the World War II is one of the worst and most explicit examples of such misuse.
After the expansion and increasing impact of television since 1960s and Internet or new media in 1990s, the debate is growing stronger. Many social scientists and media scholars have been blaming media for portrayals of crime, sex and violence. They opine that media are responsible for promoting many other evils in the society including violence, crime, pornography, cultural imperialism, and stereotyping and even degradation of democracy in the third world countries.
The other school tries to show clear nexus between these social evils and media use. These scholars think that media is the real problem and root of many evils. There has been almost unanimity that television and feature films have been promoting violence. New Media has largely been criticized for promoting pornography. There have been instances that Internet has been occasionally used by the international terrorist organizations and groups to plot and carry on terror and cross border crime.
a. Media and Violence
By the end of twentieth century, debates about media effects have largely focused on the potential of media to encourage crime, violence, and aggressive, antisocial and even criminal behaviors (McQuail, 2005: 482). There is almost unanimity that media have significant role in increasing violent behaviors on the audiences. McQuail says the primary reason for such perception is ‘the repeated demonstration of the high level of portrayal of crime and violence in popular media of all kinds’. Without asserting true or false, McQuail also gives another reason for such perception that social evils mentioned grew step by step with the rise of the mass media during the twentieth century.
There is unanimity that media encourage such activities. One of the major causes for such behaviors, the social scientists suggest, is exposure to violent activities decreases sensitivity on the audiences. This is also likely to strengthen the violent instinct on them. Wartella et. al. (2002: 399) have become assertive that more than 40 years of research does indicate a relationship between exposure to media violence and aggressive behavior. Their assertion have also been supported by a number of other researchers including Anderson et. al. (2003). They say research on violent television and films, video games, and music reveals unequivocal evidence that media violence increases the likelihood of aggressive and violent behavior in both immediate and long-term contexts.
b. i. Television Violence
Especially, Television and feature films are blamed for the increased cases of violence, especially in American societies. Wartella et. al. (2002: 399) say Alarming statistics reveal changes in the US society as the result of increased violence. It is not that media are responsible for all the violence however, ‘to ignore television violence would be a grave oversight’. They assert how television promotes violence:
Violence tears across the television screen through many types of programs from music videos and entertainment shows to reality programming and the evening news.
According to Hustin et al (as quoted in Wartella et. al., 2002: 399), ‘By the time the average American child graduates from elementary school, he or she will have seen over 8000 murders and more than 100,000 murders’.
Generally, these media have been portraying violence as just and fair. Besides news, television channels have been carrying some of the programs, which contain violent activities portrayed in positive way, which guides the audience to act in the same way in more or less similar situations.
According to Wimmer and Dominick (2003: 394), researches have proved the nexus between anti-social behaviors on the audience and portrayal of violence in television. They add that the 1960s Eisonhower Commission study concluded that television violence taught the viewer how to engage in violence and included series of recommendations about reducing this violence.
According to Lowery and Defleur (as quoted in McQuail, 2005: 482), the program of research carried out for the US Surgeon General at the end of 1960s resulted in three main conclusions:
– Television content is heavily saturated with violence
– Children are spending more and more time exposed to violent content
– Overall, the evidence supports the hypothesis that the viewing of violent entertainment increases the likelihood of aggressive behavior.
McQuail asserts that these conclusions still stand after thirty years. Especially, Television programs outdo news-based programs on portraying violence as just and logical means to achieve the goal. They are also blamed for teaching especially the youngsters the ways to commit crimes. However, news based programs are also blamed for exposing audiences to a lot of violence which reduces sensitivity making the audiences more vulnerable towards committing criminal activities.
ii. Film and violence
Another Mass media that highly uses violent content is film. The content of most of the Feature films and even documentaries and Soap Operas is violence. They portray violence as logical means to achieve goals and in rewarding context. These contents also can have both the effects on the audience: encouraging violent activities by showing logical use of it and reducing sensitivity by continuously exposing to violent activities.
Violent and horror contents arouse fear and emotional disturbance. Fear induced by media can often be intense and endure for longer period. TV series and feature films have the frightening elements which are supposed to have induced fright in the audience:
Adults as well as children often seek out fright-inducing content for thrills and entertainment. But there are also unintended negative consequences for some individuals.
iii. New Media and violence
By New Media, we mean Internet that is continually gaining popularity since the 1990s. It has also widely been used as the means for almost all types of communication. Kshetri (2007) suggests that Internet has been used for different levels of communication as following (P. 135):
– Interpersonal – emails and mailboxes,
– Group – Mailing lists, groups, social networks and blogs,
– Organization – Websites
– Mass Communication – World Wide Webs and Online news portals.
There has been increasing criticism about the New Media that they have been aiding international criminal organizations and promoting cross-border crimes. More recently, both the Internet and popular music have been linked to random acts of violence perpetrated by young people in particular .
Internet is a new Medium and the governments and law enforcing agencies across the world are toiling hard to regulate this new means of communication. ‘Each new popular Medium has given rise to a new wave of alarms about its possible effects’ . More than new media as a means of communication, other forms like emails and blogs are found used for such activities. And the Internet as a whole has been blamed.
b. Media and crime
Another social evil that the media has generally been linked with is crime. They are supposed as potential cause of real crimes. It is also closely related with portrayal of violence and aggression. However, McQuail (2005: ) says research has uncovered no such casual connection. According to him, ‘the reasons for treating media as a suspect are largely circumstantial. The theoretical arguments include the possibility that media glamorize the criminal lifestyle, show the rewards of crime and teach techniques.’ And such portrayal can encourage the audiences in depressed or similar situations to use it. McQuail adds ‘the possible link between media portrayal and actual violence has been highlighted by some cases of apparently motiveless killing, where an association of the perpetrators with certain media can be established as with the 1999 Columbine School massacre and the similar event in Erfurt, Germany in 2002.’
There is also underlying another school of thought, which downplays the allegations saying media don’t portray crime as rewarding job and which indeed discourages people to use it. McQuail’s assertion has been criticized by himself saying that none of a number of court cases in the USA alleging media stimuli as a cause of violence have succeeded. Many believe that media has been used as scapegoat for increasing criminal activities and incidents of international crime. The apparent failure of the security agencies to curb crimes is blamed on the media. They say, not because of mass media but because of the advancement on other communication technologies have contributed to the increasing criminal activities.
c. Media, sex and pornography:
Mass Media, especially television, films and New Media have largely been blamed for availing pornographic contents. Especially, New Media has been widely attacked for availing such content which is almost unregulated and almost everybody can access it. Many people believe that exposure to pornographic contents is giving rise to the incidents of rape, domestic violence and sexual abuses.
The apparent victims of media’s portrayal of pornographic materials have become children. More people including children are accessing such materials. According to McQuail (2005: 486), among many undesirable effects of media on children, premature sexual knowledge and experience is one. Also Perse (as quoted in McQuail, 2005: 485-486) found that sexually explicit materials encourages the acceptance of violence against women and desensitizes those exposed to it. The scholar has found association of exposure to pornography with harmful consequences. Such contents are likely to invite social disorder and contribute for the incidents of rape and domestic violence.
This has become really big evil mostly associated with Internet but not to spare television and films. The increasing trend is because of the way Internet avails the pornographic contents, its access to almost everybody and the characteristic it can bypass regulation. Regulating Internet is being really a big challenge to all the governments and law-enforcing agencies across the world. Though there are reports of frequent raids and intervention in some countries including China, the trend seems to be taking new heights.
Films and television channels are also carrying contents, which are pornographic to many of the cultures across the world. The impact of such materials in children is devastating. They are prematurely exposed to sex and sexual experience which are also likely to increase in the trends of premature sexual intercourse and pregnancy. It is also the part of cultural imperialism discussed below.
d. Media and Civil Disorder: Violent Political Protest, demonstrations and riots
Another negative effect for which media is blamed for is provoking riots. Scholars have tried to find the nexus between the media and civil disorders or riots (McQuail, 2005: 489). McQuail suggests that media ‘can variously provoke a riot, create a culture of rioting, provide lessons on how to riot and spread a disturbance from place to place’. Stronger opinion is that media can support riots by giving information about the place and way of riot while information about new ways of riots can eventually spark similar protests.
In this regard, the debate still persists whether media is scapegoat or the real problem. But those assuming media as scapegoat also believe that it can have some impact on rioting behaviors or prompt such behaviors. McQuail adds there is some evidence that the media can contribute by simply signaling the occurrence and location of rioting. Equipped with information from media, the rioters can assemble in the assigned location and even learn to employ new methods of riots. These riots may be politically motivated or not. If they are political protests, they are likely to persist longer and be less violent in magnitude while non-political or mob violences are less likely to persist longer but can be more violent. In both the situations, media play significant role.