Media has been termed the fourth estate or fourth power in the context of the degree of significance and influence it holds in people’s lives. In fact, today, it might just be the largest source of influencing minds on an international scale, due to the sheer range of access it holds. The media, however, is not an autonomous institution as it ideally should be. In fact, a large share of information at media houses rests in the hands of a few people. When the control of such an influential institution is concentrated in the hands of a few individuals or parties, the possibility of a dominant ideology thus being perpetuated through it, is not far from reality.
The dominant ideology
Antonio Gramsci in 1971 sought to explain the phenomenon of the dominant ideology with what he termed as ‘hegemony’. According to him, “Hegemony refers to the dominance of a certain way of life and thought and to the way in which that dominant concept of reality is diffused throughout public as well as private dimensions of social life” (as cited in Altheide, 1984). In the context of media, the conflict theory offers a perspective where themes like control over the content in media, the fact about how dominant ideologies and norms are reproduced through media as well as who is granted access to media come into question.
Individuals from dominant groups and institutions have immense control over the content circulated through media- when this content is being published, where it is being published and who has access to this content. Here we can observe the concept of ‘gatekeeping’ at play. This concept was first proposed by Kurt Lewin in 1943, a social psychologist in his gatekeeping model, which suggests that, information moves through channels and passes a ‘gate’ while moving through these channels. He elaborates that there are forces that govern these channels which may serve as resistance to the passing of information and different actors possess control over these channels.
This concept of gatekeeping is widely studied and examined in the realms of media and communication. Pamela Shoemaker and Tim Voss in 2009 extended this to media by defining it as the sorting process by which thousands of possible messages are shaped into a mass media-appropriate form and reduced to a manageable amount. (Shoemaker & Voss, 2009) Therefore, what we ultimately view, is in fact in the control of certain dominant groups.
Role of media in constructing social realities
Our understanding of the world is made up of different realities. We as humans, do tend to objectify the physical reality but add meaning to our social reality. Social reality here, is socially constructed, where human interaction and collective meaning attached to these interactions become enshrined within institutions. Media is one such institution that plays a huge role in the social construction of reality. With media being business-backed monetarily by several stakeholders, the dynamics of this can be seen across most forms of media, be it print media, broadcast media or entertainment media. However, the media houses operate under a particular ideology that they subscribe to. Therefore, the news we receive through these outlets comes laden with this bias.
More often than not, these ideologies are dictated by the monetary investments made by the parties supporting the said ideologies. News media houses thus have immense control over shaping public opinion by strategically selecting and highlighting only particular facets of issues which can make a certain party appear in a favourable light and another in a not so favourable one. Since this news is more often than not being consumed subconsciously, media can end up playing the role of thinking for people.
Issues of censorship in entertainment media
Censorship, a few decades ago, referred to the concept of when colonials and the dominant groups censored content which went against their ideologies. The logic behind censorship to a large extent remains the same, however, the emergence of the digital era has made surveillance of the citizens rather easy with the reason, or more accurately, the excuse of censorship. In media, this operates under the domain of gatekeeping as discussed previously.
The entertainment media more heavily adopts principles of gatekeeping wherein the access of publishing or distributing certain films and documentaries may be denied. However, the extent to which this can operate is not as easy due to the power of the law and the fundamental rights as enshrined in the Constitution of India, specifically the ‘Right to Freedom of Expression’. That being said, the perpetuation of dominant ideologies may be more in the hands of the public, where the genre of media they choose to view lies solely with them. Here, however, comes the debate of whether media holds the power in constructing social reality or the constructed social reality holds control of what is portrayed within media.
With entertainment media being the most capitalised, profit-making industry of all forms of media, a maximum of their profit, unlike with news agencies, comes from the public. Thus, most media houses will choose to present information that is acceptable and will demand popularity. This is where the concentration of the population represents dominance and allows for the perpetuation of their preferred reality. On the other side of the argument, however, it can be said that viewers may begin imitating the roles and norms of the society shown on the screen. (Pollock, 1996) Here, the viewers may seek to emulate the characters being played.
Social media – Liberation at a cost
With the advent of social media, a large share of the control over what one views, posts, and shares lies in the hands of the individuals themselves. That being said, this freedom does still come at a cost where today, the dissemination of misleading or false information has become widespread. The concept of ‘fake news’ has become all the more common in the Web 2.0 era. Here, information is often spread or made viral with the deliberate attempt of misleading its recipients. This is particularly common when it comes to politics; however, other news making headlines also face a similar issue. This phenomenon is in fact so problematic that there have been reports of the spread of fake news being the reason for instigating violent riots. Therefore, with social media, this liberation from control comes at a cost where one is still vulnerable to being victims to a reality that certain groups want to perpetuate.
To put things in perspective, media does have the power to successfully perpetuate dominate ideologies largely through the control that certain dominant groups exercise over the content and dissemination of information in the media. Media in this regard has the power of constructing social realities. However, as in the case of the entertainment industry, the profit making motive may supersede that of perpetuating a certain reality and may take the form of the reiteration of social norms functioning in society. The emergence of social media specifically, does give individuals more hope and freedom with regard to what they view and share. However, even this freedom comes at the cost of deliberately misleading content circulated by certain dominant groups with the intention of biasing public opinion. Media, therefore, has an extremely significant role to play in perpetuating a dominant ideology, one that cannot be wiped out any time soon.
Picture Courtesy- UMT, Media