With the evolution of digital technology, the role of mass media has been changing at a quick pace. By definition, mass media is any medium used to transmit mass communication i.e. a message created by a person or a group of people sent through a transmitting device to a large audience or market. Until recently mass media was clearly defined as comprising of eight industries: books, newspapers, magazines, recordings, radio, movies, television and the internet.
The continuing explosion of digital communication technology has raised new questions about the inclusion of cell phones, video and computer games in mass media. Currently, marketers and advertisers are planning to tap into satellites and broadcast commercials and advertisements directly to millions of cell phones, unsolicited by the phone's user. Advertisers are looking into placing advertisements as well as incorporating product placement into the video games as well.
Mass media has the potential to play a key role in developing a culture of peace and non-violence. Unfortunately, it has failed to live up to its potential. To the contrary, it has not only almost completely ignored the culture of peace and non-violence, but also it privileges news of the culture of war and violence. In fact, it appears as if a campaign or propaganda has been promulgated in the mass media in order to justify political policies of militarism. It has been used to increase publicity in recent decades for the myth that war and violence are intrinsic to human nature.
The present situation can be compared to the earlier use of racist myths to justify slavery and colonialism in mid-19th and mid-20th centuries as a last-resort effort by those who had a vested interest in slavery and colonialism. That was their last effort to defend these institutions by appealing to the vulnerable belief systems of individual psychology at a time when they could no longer justify the institutions by economic or political arguments. If this is correct, even for certain sections of the media, the struggle for culture of peace in the mass media needs to receive top priority and careful strategy.
It has been observed in recent past, during a violent incident, the media goes full-fledged reporting and covering it live. However, the same cannot be said about a peaceful but important event. The media has to remember that it influences how their audiences think and behave. In fact, mass media plays a crucial role in forming and reflecting public opinion, connecting the world to individuals and reproducing the self- image of society.
There is a complex interaction between the media and society, with the media on generating information from a network of relations and influences and with the individual interpretations and evaluations of the information provided, as well as generating information outside of media contexts. Thus, the consequences and ramifications of the mass media relate not merely to the way newsworthy events are perceived, but also to a multitude of cultural influences that operate through the media.
The ability of the media to reach a wide audience with a strong and influential message has the potential to have a strong social and cultural impact upon society. Marshall McLuhan uses the phrase "the medium is the message" as a means of explaining how the distribution of a message can often be more important than content of the message itself.
It is through the persuasiveness of influential media such as television, radio and print media that they have been largely responsible for structuring people's daily lives and routines. Television broadcasting has a large amount of control over the content society watches and the times in which it is viewed. The internet creates a space for more diverse political opinions, social and cultural viewpoints and a heightened level of consumer participation.
Studies of various commercials, advertising and voter campaigns prove that media influence behavior. In the 20th century, aggressive media attention and negative coverage of trials involving celebrities like Roscoe Fatty Arbuckle or Michael Jackson influenced the general public‘s opinion, before the trials effectively started.
Though the media could have an effect on people's behavior, it is not necessarily always the case. Many copycat murders, suicides and other violent acts nearly always happen in abnormal upbringings. Violent, emotionally neglectful or aggressive environments influence behavior more than watching certain programs, films or listening to certain music.
Just because an audience sees acts of violence in media, this does not mean they will actually commit them. Of the millions of people who watch violent films, only a small number have carried out acts of violence as a direct result. People regularly exposed to violent media usually grow up to be completely normal people. If there are any effects from media, they only affect a very small number of people. So, there also develops a case where it is wrong to always blindly blame the media because people are not copycats, instead we should be aware of someone mental state and take other factors into account before making such claims.
There are other social and cultural factors in criminal acts in which the media are not the basic influence. Actually, there is no such thing called violence in the media that either could or could not cause violence. It is the social factors and background that make some people consume media in specific way. There is no connection between exposure to media violence and real life violence, because humans are not copycats and can realize what is wrong and what is right. Although some research claims that heavy exposure to media violence can lead to more aggressive behavior, it has been suggested that exposure alone does not cause a person to commit crimes.
Often, there are demands for the banning of certain songs or the labeling of obscene albums. Such demands are put forward by people with political objectives. The public is bribed with good radio, television and newspapers into an acceptance of the biased, the misleading, and the status quo. The media are, thus, not crude agents of propaganda, but are those who organize public understanding.
However, the overall interpretations they provide in the long run are those most preferred by, and least challenging to, those with economic power. It cannot be denied that the mass media play an agenda-setting function as people tend to share the media's composite definition of what is important.
Although a sizable portion of mass media offerings particularly news, commentaries, documentaries, and other informational programmes deal with highly controversial subjects, the major portion of mass media offerings are designed to serve an entertainment function. These programmes tend to avoid controversial issues and reflect beliefs and values sanctified by mass audience.
Such programmes have the potential to make individuals 'irrational victims of false wants' that are thrust upon them by corporations through both the advertising in the media and through the individualist consumption culture it promulgates. Thus, the modern media train the young for consumption. It would not be wrong to state that 'leisure had ceased to be the opposite of work, and had become a preparation for it.'
Again, there is a threat of media bringing hyper-reality i.e. projecting more than what the reality is. The case of O.J. Simpson is an example. Another threat arises from self-censorship by members of the media in the interests of the owner, or in the interests of their careers. The two-way relationship between mass media and public opinion is now beginning to change, especially after the advent of new technologies such as blogging.