“Approaches To Media” by Newbold and “McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory” by McQuail

In this essay I would like to discuss media and communications issues, types of media research and base the discussion upon the two following sources: “Approaches To Media” by Newbold and “McQuail’s Mass Communications Theory” by McQuail. Before going into the depth of the discussion I would like to introduce these two authors and their works.

Chris Newbold is the professor of Mass Communication theory course; his major area of research interest is the exploration of film as the type of mass communication. According to him the interest presents not only the content of films but also their context. By the context he means the social, economic, historical and industrial environments of production and the various ways of perception, that could be both historical and contemporary because the film products remain with us for some time stored on video and DVD’s. The key areas of research interest for him are: early cinema to Eisenstein, Propaganda during the World War II, The 1960’s New Wave Movement, International films and others.

A big interest here is the way the research methodologies develop in the study of not only film content but also in the reception and context. He puts a lot of importance on the extent to which traditional social science methodologies are of use in the study of Film as Mass Communication theory, and the development of triangulation methodologies. Other areas of interest include all aspects of the moving image, particularly, media education and the study of television and video. The special interest is also in video production, local community and education, local cable provision and satellite.

Approaches to Media presents in one accessible volume a wealth of influential sources charting the major different approaches to the study of media and mass communication. For each of the major traditions of media research, the volume provides exemplifying extracts from seminal’ or otherwise significant works, which reflect the historical development of each tradition and which are conceptualized by the editors’ opening chapters for each section. The opening section includes a variety of different perspectives on the field as a whole, written by leading exponents at different periods of its development. The major traditions are identified here under the concepts of mass society, functionalism, pluralism, media effects, political economy, the public sphere, media professionals, cultural hegemony, moving image, feminism, and the new audience research.

This volume illustrates and exemplifies the variety of ways in which the mass media have been researched over the past fifty or more years. It provides extracts from seminal works and relates them to developments in the field as a whole and to later works. The volume identifies the major divisions within the field, including mass society theory, the media effects tradition, political economy, the public sphere, media occupations and professionals, cultural hegemony, feminism, and “new” audience research.

  • Brings together in one accessible volume a wealth of influential material which students would otherwise find difficult to consult.
  • Maps the major different traditions in media research, with supporting section introductions.
  • Caters to the new and increasing interest in the history of mass communication research.

Newbold briefly charts the rise and decline of the hegemony approach within media studies/cultural studies. Media studies focused primarily on psychological and sociological frames in the 1960s and 70s, studying the effects of media on audience attitudes and behaviour. Since then it has expanded its scope, in interaction with cultural studies, to also include analyses of the wider cultural environment within which media operates. The cultural effects theory suggests that the media is embedded in the relations that constitute a particular society, working both to produce and reflect powerful interests and social structures.

One of the big debates within this field has been concerned with the extent to which the media is an ideological instrument that serves the interests of the elites, or whether it provides strategic spaces for resistance and change of social systems. One approach to this question uses Gramsci’s concept of hegemony, and views the media as communicating a dominant version of culture as if no other version existed, i.e. portraying a certain vision of society as though it were simply ‘natural’ and not a product of historical and political processes. This applies both to the symbolic codes used in media communication, as well as to the way in which media communication is generated. The ‘naturalization’ of the codes and the production process pre-empts further questioning. However, media studies/cultural studies has brought this debate further by including a human experience approach, which recognizes the struggle over meaning involved, and the polymeric nature of the message. The media may communicate culture, but this is not simply a process of pushing out the dominant culture. Rather, the communication of culture is a process whereby culture is experienced and lived out by the audience; culture, according to Raymond Williams, constitutes structures of feeling.

Another researcher Denis McQuail is the professor of Journalism at the University of Georgia. “The fundamental key issue is the relationship between freedom and accountability, which is often confused with control,” Prof. McQuail said. “I will argue against this view and also that a fuller and better understanding of accountability shows the two ideas to be independent, although they converge at some points. I believe that accountability has at least as much to do with freedom as with its opposite.”

McQuail is considered one of the most prominent scholars in the field on Media and mass communication theory. During his lectures he usually argues that media nowadays is overly criticized because of the factors like loosing informative role by media, lowering journalist standards and failing to meet the information needs of minorities and children.

According to him, there lots of modern tendencies of the media that are not perceptive of the audience feedback and do not believe they are accountable for what they present in any way.  The example of this McQuail said is the creation of international conglomerates and profit race. However eventually increasing the competition in media would increase the accountability as well.

Professor McQuail has written or edited over thirteen books, that included Television and the Political Image in 1961, in 1969 he wrote Toward a Sociology of Mass Communication, then later on in 1982 he created Communication Models and Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest, and Audience Analysis in 1997.

Mass Communication Theory is probably one of the most famous and successful of his works, it was first published in 1984 and now it came out in its fourth edition and has a title McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory.  The book has been published in Swedish, Italian, Spanish, Greed, Turkish, Estonian, Korean, Czech, Romanian and Japanese. McQuail is now writing another book with the stress on media accountability.

After retiring from the University of Amsterdam, Prof. McQuail assumed the position of visiting professor at the University of Southampton in the UK, where he remains. Prior to taking the position at theUniversity of Amsterdam he held faculty positions at the University of Leeds and the University ofSouthampton. He also has been a visiting professor at the Annenberg School of Communications of theUniversity of Pennsylvania.

There is a broad agreement that an information revolution is taking place. Digital technology has brought a convergence of all information related sectors that is telecommunications, media and information technology and has made possible the globalization of communication, social interaction and economy. Digitized networks and equipment such as PCs, TVs and telephones (fixed or mobile) can offer a wide range of services, from voice and data communications to accessing on-line information, e-commerce and the delivery of audio-visual content. The once distinct services of broadcasting, voice telephony and on-line computer services are now converging towards the same transporting networks. Also new devices are being invented to offer new convergent services. For example, we are able now to watch television on the Internet, or have Internet services on our TV set, or use the Internet for voice telephony. We can also have e-mail and access to the Web via digital TV decoders and mobile telephones. Telecommunications, media and information technology companies are using the flexibility of digital technologies to offer services outside their traditional business sectors and moreover on a global scale. The Internet phenomenon is the most obvious product of this convergence. Over the last decade, it has grown at phenomenal rates due to its capability to offer interactive communications in every possible form; text, picture, voice and sound. Traditional communications networks like radio and television have been one-way only while those that were interactive like telephone have had limited functions. The interactivity and global nature of the Internet has made it a powerful medium for the quick, reliable and inexpensive global exchange of information and explains its phenomenal growth.

Traditional communications media were, not only, separate and operated on different networks; they also were regulated by different laws and different regulators, and of course at a national level. Most current regulations originated at a time when distinctions between sectors were clear. Moreover, they have a national focus, which is increasingly inappropriate as the services market becomes international. In other words, existing regulatory frameworks having been defined for a national, analogue and mono-media environment are now inadequate to deal with the present global, digital and multi-media environment. In the name of achievement of public interest objectives, antiquated rules and differing national regulations hamper the creation of new services and markets, and give rise to barriers to the free flow of information and global exchange of ideas. The need for an adequate regulatory framework at an international level is obvious.

Some time ago, the European Commission launched a Europe-wide debate on the convergence phenomenon as an input to communication policy formulation. In December 1997, the Commission published the Green Paper on the Convergence of the Telecommunications, Media and Information Technology Sectors and invited all interested parties to contribute to the debate by responding to a number of questions and by making any submissions they wished on the subject. If we read the Commission’s report on this public consultation which was published five months later, we will have all the answers to the questions of our topic because the identity of the participants and the central issues in this debate give us a clear view of what the different interested parties are and how they understand the current problems of media policy and regulation. All the various interests are reflected in the comments and suggestions sent to the Commission as a response to its initiative.

Reading the report on this public consultation gives us a clear view of how each category understands the current problems of media regulation and what they are most concerned with. What seems to be a common theme in all comments, with the exception of the comments made by national governments and national regulatory authorities, is the need for a global regulatory approach and a self-regulatory framework. Almost all parties identify the problems with the barriers in the free flow of information; services and commerce imposed by the existing national regulatory frameworks and ask for liberalization and self-regulation. It is competition and free market that will determine choice, quality of services and lower prices.

On the part of consumers, the traditional social goals of universal access at affordable cost and free access to high quality information and entertainment are no longer issues. Technology and market forces made it possible for the individual consumer to have the information and entertainment of his choice at affordable cost. Consumer’s current concerns have to do with: the cost of on-line services, which is dependent on the pricing policies of national telephone companies liability in electronic commerce and other on-line services, data protection, security of electronic transactions, privacy, dispute resolution, that is they need a clear framework for jurisdiction in relation to on-line services provided from outside their country, involvement of consumers in drawing up standards

The above issues are also the concern of the commercial and industrial players who need to be able to transact in a safe environment with assurance that the terms of the transactions will be fulfilled and with comfort that no nation will impose unreasonable burden in the form of taxes or duties and tariffs. This pursuit of similar goals is explained by the fact that technology and the Internet in particular have made the individual both a consumer and a producer of information and services. So everybody is interested in having safe on-line transactions, either as a buyer or a seller.

On the part of the content providers, such as publishers and film, music and TV producers, issues associated with acquisition of copyright, access to networks, freedom of advertising and freedom of speech are their main concerns. Current copyright acquisition is complex and good protection of intellectual property is not ensured. Their products are in most cases collective works, which result from the collaboration between a series of creators, such as writers, composers, graphic designers, programmers, artists etc. and acquisition and management of all these rights is time taking and costly. Moreover, the creators are not protected against theft of their intellectual property due to differing copyright legislation in the different countries or even lack of copyright laws in some countries. Both content providers and creators ask for an international copyright law to conform to the current needs and provide sufficient intellectual property rights protection in a flexible manner and at acceptable cost. Another problem for content providers is the current content regulation, which imposes restrictions on the ground of achievement of public interest goals and also restrictions in advertising and informing consumers about their products. They support the view that content should not be regulated because there already exist self-regulatory bodies like the Press Complain Committee, the Advertising Standards Authority and the Teenage Magazine Arbitration Panel which are more effective in ensuring that truthfulness and decency prevail in the media than a direct government intervention. Content providers ask also for free access to networks and they view the current licensing procedures as barriers. According to their comment, ‘such procedures should only exist in exceptional circumstances where absolutely necessary to ensure clearly defined objectives or where linked to the allocation of scarce resources’.

Licensing is also a problem for content carriers, such as broadcasters and telecommunications operators but these are primarily concerned with the award of frequency spectrum. The rapidly increasing demand for radio spectrum from new digital services makes necessary the allocation of additional spectrum. However, the awarding authorities are not independent from actors in the sector and there is no transparency in the allocation procedures. Another problem is the excessive fees charged for spectrum, which in most cases is motivated by national budgetary considerations rather than by the concern of spectrum efficiency. In addition, commercial broadcasters and telecommunications operators have to face unfair competition from public broadcasters who have commercial activities besides being publicly funded.

The nature of the problems of those interested parties, which are, at present, responsible for regulation, that is, the national governments and the national regulatory authorities, is completely different. They are concerned with how to control the whole situation and with continuing to have a role in media policy and regulation. Unfortunately for them, the global nature of today’s communication puts its control out of the hands of any single government. The best thing is for them to realize the futility of national regulation of a global phenomenon and help in the creation of a truly global village.


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