What are the major Functions of Mass Communication?

Communication needs of the society must be met for the existence of the society. Primitive society had sentinels that scanned the environment and repeated dangers. Council of elders interpreted facts and made decisions.

Tribal meetings were used to transmit these decisions to the rest of the group. As society became larger and more complex, these jobs also became big and complex to be handled by single individuals. With the advent of technology, these jobs were taken over by the mass media. The major functions of mass communication are :

1. Surveillance

2. Interpretation

3. Transmission of values

4. Lineage

5. Entertainment.

The functions served by mass communication are very similar to those fulfilled by others types of communications. The way mass communication performs these function is discussed here.

Surveillance:

Surveillance relates to the constant flow of public information or news about events occurring within the country and in the world. It is the most obvious of all functions of mass communication.

It refers to the news and information role of media. They work as the sentinels or guards. Correspondents for wire services, TV networks and newspapers are located across the globe.

These individuals gather information for us that we cannot get for ourselves. The surveillance function can be divided further into two types.

1. Warning or beware surveillance occurs when the media informs us about threats from weather changes, heavy rains, cyclone, war, etc.

2. Instrumental surveillance occurs when the information useful in everyday life is transmitted, such as, stock market prices, new products, recipes and so on. A TV serial may perform a function of instrumental surveillance by portraying new hair or dress styles or women in changing roles.

Apart from these functions it confers high public status upon certain people by reporting news about individuals and strengthens social control over the individual members of the society by bringing deviant behaviour into public view.

Surveillance thorough mass communication can prove dysfunctional also for the society. If news or information goes uncensored, sometimes it may prove harmful for the society.

For example, news of commercial conflicts in some area may result in to communal riots in many areas. Sometimes people are warned frequently about possibility of floods, heavy rains or cyclone. This may lead to panic by the people and increase their anxieties.

Interpretation:

Interpretation function is closely related with the surveillance function. It prevents undesirable consequences of communication. Now-a-days, mass communicators have realized their responsibility to evaluate and interpret events for the reader.

They select the important news and issues for the attention of the people and not only provide information of the events but they also provide information on the ultimate meaning and significance of these events.

This prevents the over stimulation and over modification of the population. For example, the editorial pages of newspapers and magazines interpret the event, comment or opine on it so that the reader gains an added perspective on the event.

Many analytical articles, radio and TV documentaries, panel discussions on an event or issue also perform this function. Sometimes cartoons also provide an added perspective on the fact or event.

This function of the mass communication helps the individual to know the viewpoints of various people, which help him to evaluate an issue. A wide range of expertise is available to the individual to which he or she might not have an access through interpersonal communication.

The dysfunction of the interpretation and prescription by mass media can be that people may not get the depth and true picture of the event or issue and may not contribute to the development of an individual's critical faculties.

Transmission of Values:

The transmission of values is a subtle but an important function of the mass media. It is also called socialization function. Our society is portrayed in the mass media and by seeing, watching or reading this people learn which are the important values.

The media present role models which people try to imitate. Thus, they teach us about people, show us how they act and what is expected of them.

According to Dominick: "At one level, value transmission via the mass media will aid the stability of society. Common values and experiences are passed down to all members, thereby creating common bonds between them.

On the other hand, the kinds of values and cultural information that are included in the mass media content are selected by media organizations that may select values and behaviours that encourage the status quo (44).

Lineage:

The mass media are able to link together different elements of society that are not directly connected by interpersonal channel.

For example, newspapers generate opinion; develop feeling for whatever happenings are reported. Advertising through mass media links together the needs of buyers with the products of sellers.

It is also possible that media can create new social or professional groups by linking together the people of same interest. This function is also called 'public making' ability of the mass media.

For example, people interested in geography, science, environment form a group and this phenomenon may account for the growth of some movement.

Thus, the social groups can be mobilized quickly and this may lead to some main action. For example, messages regarding literacy motivated NGOs to take up literacy programmes, health programmes motivated people to become health conscious or beauty contests telecast generated beauty consciousness.

Entertainment:

Entertainment is the most obvious function of all media functions. In the past entertainment functions were fulfilled by interpersonal communication. The importance of the entertainment function has grown as the people have got more leisure time.

The work week has decreased for many government offices from six to five days leaving more free time for people. The consequences of this function have been that media entertainment is available to a large number of people at relatively little cost.

This helps people to make their recreational and leisure time more enjoyable. Media content is designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of taste.

Pointing out the consequences of entertainment function of mass media Dominick says, "It is now quite easy to sit back and let others entertain you. Flicking on the TV set, picking up a magazine, and going to a movie require little effort on our part, and some fear that media do such good jobs of entertaining society that they encourage passivity.

Instead of playing baseball, people might simply watch it on TV. Instead of learning to play guitar, an adolescent might decide to listen to a record of someone else playing the guitar. On more than one occasion critics have charged that the mass media will turn Americans into a nation of watchers and listeners instead of doers".