The power of media and its effects on the society cannot be underestimated. The media has a profound effect on people’s culture, values, and priorities. Perhaps the biggest influence the media has on individuals is its determination of reality. Today many societies fall victims to media influences. The media’s influences especially on kids are so palpable that scholars have debated if the media’s influence on youth and the society is sustainable. Granted, the media also is credited for positive roles that its plays in the society particularly in regard with information. In addition to shaping popular culture, the media play an instrumental role in the development of social democratic ideals. For the purposes of this paper, an examination of the central role of an independent role of the media is instrumental to democratic maturation in the United States.
Let us go back to the original meaning of the term fourth estate. Conventionally, the term fourth estate is used to refer to the media (including the press, print, and the internet) as an official branch of the government that plays the role of checking on the excess of other branches of the government. Usually, the role of the fourth estate is to inform and educate the public on the doings of the government. The term fourth estate came to the surface from the work of English politician Edmund Burke (1729 -1797). In the American context, the First Amendment grants the freedom of expression ( Macedo, 2005).
The key responsibility of the media, under this amendment is to play the role of the people’s watchdog. The increasingly divisive media that play the taste of political and religious inclinations threaten this role. In addition, the shrinking readership of the newspapers thanks to the internet and over focus on entertainment from the television makes the skewed news channel the only viable sources of news for many Americans. Independent news is thus lost in the paradise of divisive media. Americans need to divorce from political step-brotherliness and embrace the new meaning of accountability and pose a united front against the excesses of the government ( Shanana, 1999). In my view, the meaning of being an America is demanding accountability in the face of adversity, standing for justice during moments of confusion, and using our freedom of speech to do good for the society.
The question is: Should the news media strive to be objective and independent of partisan politics? Is this possible? There is considerable level of bias that distorts the meaning of the role of the media as being a watchdog to the public. For many of the channels, news and current affairs are tuned so that events, characters, and controversies are interpreted in a way that supports certain bases such as liberals or conservatives. The motives of the leading channels are primary to make money by solidifying the bases of the support. Fox News will give a hopeful analysis of the presidential elections to make sure that conservatives get a feel good and a realistic chance of winning the election. MSNBC will cover up events that make the liberals look bad. Fox plays the role of a watchdog to the extreme when the liberals are in power and so does the liberal media when the conservatives are in control. The results from this fiasco are the confusion on the part of the viewer and the apparent lack of information for the public. The Question “what does it mean to be an American” is of current interest. In the article “Toward a Political Science of Citizenship” Macedo et all argue that political participation which is a key element of citizen engagement with the political process of a country is a “product of choice” (p. 19). The question “What does it mean to be an American” thus questions the future of American democracy in light of the challenges arising from citizens lack of participation. While Americans still remain as the shining example for the rest of the world measured in the context of the American democratic experiment, the American democracy has witnessed a trend of apathy amongst citizens on issues concerning democratization and political engagements. The problem lies in the divisions of the media and the lack of political cohesion in congress.
Indeed, the American voter turnout remains the lowest amongst all the developed nations. Even though Americans are still active in areas such as engagements with Non Profit organizations, activities that directly measure political participation have been dwindling since 1970s. For example activities such as writing letters to congress people dropped by almost half between 1970 and 1990. Concerning the challenges at hand, it would be perhaps appropriate to argue that the two party systems in congress is responsible for diminishing political responsibility, and that unless congress matures up, American democracy would be jeopardized. The only solution that America has is to resurrect its media to act as the voice of the people.
A recent Pew Research Center (2010) asked Americans to list some of the biggest reasons why they were not happy with the whole political system. Eight-three percent of Americans felt that government accountability with the money is the primary reason for their disgruntlement. In the similar test, 83% felt that special interest was the reason behind the deadlock in government while 82%; percent felt that elected representatives did not care about the electorate. Amongst Republicans, 93 % felt strongly that the government did not did not use fund effectively. In 2010, Americans rated congress worse than 2005 with 60% of Americans citing Congress inability to work along with party lines.
Even though the media is an instrumental tool in the society, there is a need to have regulations that standardize what is subjected to children. One way regulating the media is through issues having a media police that make sure that TV stations are amenable to audience age. While the government can do little to change how the media affects the society, a great of authority is required on the part of the audience. Careful analysis allows the audience to judge what is wrong and right. Parents should also advise their children on the contents they should watch now that not all cartoon programs are not child-friendly (Rosen, p.230, 2007). Similarly, the media fraternity should address the contents and screen those that are relevant to the audience (Fink p.10, 2010).
In the end, the absence of credible and independent journalism creates a situation where the official sources are lost and the extremists and biased opinions skewed to the taste of sympathizers take center stage as official news sources. This is damaging to the concept of free space. It becomes self-preservation of the freedom of speech and not the watchdog of the public. The American media has become bedrock of liars and moneymaking organizations with little or no interest of the public. This is an insult to the very idea of freedom of speech (Senevirtane, 2012). Based on this information, it is of most importance to understand that while media freedom is critical to the success of democracy, it is perhaps not the best place for championing for civic engagement.
Fink George. Stress, War, Conflicts and Disaster. Oxford, Academic Press, 2010. Print.
Shanahan, James, and Michael Morgan. Television and Its Viewers: Cultivation Theory and Research. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. Print.
Macedo S. Image Not Available Democracy at Risk: Toward a Political Science of Citizenship. Brookings Institution Press. 2005. Print
The Pew Research Center. The People and Their Government Distrust, Discontent, Anger And Partisan Rancor (Report No. Center for the People & the Press 202-419-4350). Washington, DC, The Pew Research Center, 2010.
Report of the American Political Science Association’s Standing Committee on Civic Education and Engagement, August 2004. (2004). Democracy At Risk: Renewing A Political Science Of Citizenship. Report of the American Political Science Association’s Standing Committee on Civic Education and Engagemen.