analysisBy Olu Obafemi
Thus, examining the functions of the media in society requires that we focus on critical issues of agenda setting, determining the sources of information for decision-making and connecting the meeting point between government and the governed through the media.
The Agenda-setting function of the media compels us to examine the contemporary information age as it shows that the society relies on the media for most of its decisions. It is amazing to know the number of people that are exposed to media content every day and to imagine how what they are exposed to influence their key decisions in life. Let us imagine a world without the media for one day! The media thus owe the society a duty to show it the right direction to go.
The truth is, whether the media realises this or not, it is still expected, covertly or overtly, that it will perform this function satisfactorily. It is in the expectation of this that the media is referred to as the "fourth estate of the realm." In other words, the media should be the watchdog of the society; sitting patiently and watching wherever the society seems to be going wrong and recommend the right course or line for her.
This is the essence of the social responsibility theory of the media and how it comes into play and focus. The theory emphasises that the media must assume the obligation of social responsibility on the understanding that democracy must be run in a way that exposes people to all kinds of opinions and they must be allowed to decide for themselves. The media has the social duty to provide ample information and opinion to induce them to make the right decisions. Beyond the purpose of informing, entertaining serving, the media must 'raise conflict to the plane of discussion
Next are the sources of information for taking decisions. As individuals, if we take time to take stock, we will be amazed by the number of decisions we take in any given day. If we go further to analyse the sources of the information used in processing these decisions, we may also discover that the bulk of them are either gotten from the media or from other sources that got it through the media. In contemporary age, we are even becoming more dependent on the media because we are already approaching the "global village" as envisaged by Marshal McLuhan. We are in the age when everyone wants to know what everyone else is doing at every time in every place. Of course, this has been aided by the advent and development of the new media and the use of social media by the youths and sundry. The dependence, of the society on the media is so strong that we cannot afford to treat the agenda that they set with levity.
Aside the quantity of time spent with the media, there is also an increase in the type and use of the media. The time spent on 'every type of media has increased over the past 10 years, with the exception of reading. In just the past five years, the increases range from 24 minutes a day for video games, to 27 minutes a day for computers, 38 minutes for TV content, and 47 minutes a day for music and other audio. During this same period, time spent reading went from 43 to 48 minutes a day, not a statistically significant change, but breaking out different types of print does uncover some statistically significant trends, and so on.
Talking about linkage between the Government and the Governed, the exponents of the Social Contract Theory understand the dichotomous nature of human society and established the link between the two main actors in the relationship. There is the government and the governed; the ruler and the ruled; the leaders and followers. The sole link between them is the media. The media has the role of serving as a bridge between the two; it is only on the basis of performing this role well that the society can be at peace. Thus, we may use the performance of this function as one of the indicators for measuring the effectiveness of the media.
Now, one area which seems to have come to fore in the interaction between the government and the governed is the formation and implementations of policies. In reality, this is where the activities of the government touch the lives of the governed. How well the media perform determines, to a great extent, on the level of understanding that exists between the two actors. It should be noted that this role cannot be played as if the media is doing the society any favour but as a matter of fundamental and basic function of the media to the society.
Closely related to the above is the role of the media in giving a voice to the governed to express their feelings to the government. The people are always eager to express their opinion on certain key decisions concerning them in the society, thus, it is the function of the media to create the avenue for them to do this without any hindrance. It is in recognition of this that the newspapers, right from the early stages, created the page for Letters to the Editor. This has been improved upon now with the coming of telephone into broadcasting, which made the phone-in programmes popular and the convergence in the new media which has increased the speed and volume of feedback. The media should be able to get the feedback (good or bad) from the people to the government.
It should also ensuring good governance. The role of the media along this line is a very active one. The journalist should ' exhume the skeleton buried in the cupboard by the people and place it in the people's parliament' Thus, it is not a matter of poke-nosing when the media tries to monitor the activities of the government and public office holders. Though in reality, how the media perform this function has raised an ethical issue of how to demarcate between the thin line of public interest and the privacy of public office holders, it is still not enough to override the fact that the media is duty - bound to monitor the activities of the society and place its findings in the public domain.