28.04.2004 Feature Article

The Role of the Mass Media in Community Development

The Role of the Mass Media in Community Development
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It is said that big minds discuss issues but small or swallow minds discuss/attack persons.

The significance of communication for human life cannot be overestimated. This is true because beyond the physical requirements of food and shelter man needs to communicate with his/her fellow human beings. This urge for communication is a primal one and in our contemporary civilization a necessity for survival. That is to say without communication no society can exist, much less develop and survive. For the existence as well as the organization of every society communication is a fundamental and vital process. Mass Communication and the Mass Media: Among the four identified forms of communication is mass communication, which deals with messages addressed from one to many persons mediated by elements in mass media such as radio, television, film, newspaper, magazine, book etc. Fortunately and not boastfully I can say that since the early 1970s when I became a trained teacher, I have been involved with all the elements of mass media except film. In the 1970s I was writing for radio and television (news commentaries, reflections, and news reports as well as poems and youth programs) in Ghana and the most popular newspaper in Ghana-the Daily Graphic. By 1980 I had become a regular contributor to the Network Africa program on the B.B.C. World Service. My love for the mass media sent me to the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi, Ghana to do a degree program in Publishing Management (Book Industry) from 1989 to 1992. I specialized in editing and marketing and worked as an editor for the newsletter of the Department of Book Industry as well as an assistant editor for the students' magazine published by KNUST. Above all, I single-handedly initiated and published a church quarterly paper -the Southern Trumpet-for the S.D.A. Church in South Ghana for almost ten years before leaving Ghana in 1995 for further studies at the University of Toronto in Canada. Since 1998 that I joined the editorial board of the dynamic community newspaper -the Ghanaian News- published monthly in Toronto I have served in the capacities of assistant editor and contributing editor till now. I have therefore come a long way living through the bad and good days of the mass communicator associated with the print media, especially newspapers. The joy of disseminating good news, the anxiety of hitting scoops in news reporting, the embarrassment of the printer's devil, which causes elementary errors in published articles and the wild attacks on opinions expressed in the mass media! My contribution to the discourse on the role of the mass media in community development is authentic since I understand the nitty-gritty of being a mass communicator.

Mass communication is the technological means of sending information, ideas and opinions from a mass communicator to a complex audience. It is also defined as comprising the institutions and techniques by which specialized groups such as broadcasters, film producers and publishers employ technological devices to disseminate symbolic content to large heterogeneous and widely disperse audience.

Mass communicators are impersonal. They are part of the institutions they work for and should not be blamed personally for what comes from the institutions. The credibility of the message is not for the individual communicator, but for the institution or the organization that sends it. Thus, mass communication deals with collective sender. For example, a newspaper is not produced by only one person. The newspaper is the end results of collective efforts of reporters, editors, type-setters, proofreaders, designers and printers. These must be well-trained persons.

It is, however, sad to admit that the mass media have been infiltrated by some unqualified persons as well as some unscrupulous individuals with their own political agendas other than to serve the communities they are supposed to educate, inform, entertain and mobilize for development. Hence, the establishment of media commissions in most democratic and civilized communities! Institutions and organizations engaged in mass communication anywhere must be weary of such persons.

The other important area of notice is that mass communication deals with the concept of mass audience. Here, there is no common motivation. Audience do not act together. They belong to different classes-different education and socio-economic status. The message communicated in the mass media is open to the public and everyone has access to it provided she/he has the mass communication technological device as well as understands the language in which the message is sent.

Mass communication has a specific method of feed-back which could be in the form of letters to the editor, rejoinders, reviews and articles. This method takes time to go through and it is often volunteered. Not everybody would have the capability to do it. Many people also feel lazy to write.

If this is how mass communication works then what are the specific functions of the mass media in society? Functions of the Mass Media: Though there are two main functions of mass communication, which are overt and latent functions of communication, six specific functions of the mass media could be identified here. These are:

1.Surveiance of the environment. This is the collection and distribution of information within and outside a particular environment. The information flow is necessary for unity and coherence if we live in the society of collectivity;

2. Correlation of parts of the society. This includes the interpretation of the information, the prescription of conduct and, the comment on social value;

3. Transmission of social heritage. By communicating information through the mass media we are transmitting social and cultural values, which aim at sustaining the society;

4. Educating the masses. Education on the policies of governments and on the rights and responsibilities could be carried out through the mass media.

5. Entertainment function. The mass media also entertain the public by providing emotional relaxation, intrinsic and cultural enjoyment (i.e. provision of momentary escape from problems) and killing boredom; and

6. Mobilization function. This function of the mass media is very important to developing communities everywhere. It seeks to bring the people together and helps to advance national development.

It could be seen from the foregoing functions that the mass media provide information and education, personal identity, entertainment and most importantly integration and social interaction by giving insight into the circumstances of others as well as by helping with the development of social empathy. Danger: The advent of press freedom has given rise to unprecedented abuse of the mass media by unscrupulous mass communicators and authoritarian leaders in society. There is proliferation of community newspapers and FM radio stations in Ghana and the Ghanaian communities around the world. There is also access to internet and the SIL forum on the popular ghanaweb site which bring Ghanaians together everyday by the magic of the electronic media. While this development should be welcomed and appreciated in the light of healthy competition among ethnic media practitioners there is also the inherent danger of dividing and destroying the very communities these mass communicators seek to help develop!

The path of sycophancy, bootlicking, blackmailing of individuals and arrogance of political affiliation lies close to the good functions of the mass media discussed above and must be avoided if the role of the media in our community development is to be made meaningful. Suggestions: The mass media must serve essential functions in the society by accepting and fulfilling certain obligations to the society. These obligations are mainly to be met by setting high professional standards of informativeness, truth, accuracy, objectivity and balance. In accepting and applying these obligations the elements of the mass media should be self-regulating within the framework of law and established institutions. They should therefore avoid whatever might lead to crime, violence or civil disorder or give offence to any group of people in the society because of their faith or ethnicity. The media as a whole should be pluralistic and reflect the diversity of their society by giving access to various points of views and to rights of reply. Conclusion: I reiterate the fact that the mass media play an important role in community development. It is therefore incumbent upon our ethnic press (community newspapers and local FM radio stations) to keep our communities connected to the past by communicating the stories and traditions we hold dear. And at the same time connect our communities to the present and to the future by delivering images and news of our people around the world and forming the foundation and values for our children to continue. Instead of undermining each other, the many Ghanaian newspapers and FM radio stations home and abroad should give our communities a strong voice that is not always represented in the mainstream media in the developed countries. Let's help keep our communities around the world united and strong. Together we stand, divided we fall. Joe Kingsley Eyiah, Brookview Academy, Toronto-Canada Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.

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