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Mass Communication involves:

  1. Large-scale production of messages by groups of professions for very large audiences;
  2. unidirectional flow of messages;
  3. unbalanced, unequal, asymmetric flow of news;
  4. impersonal and anonymous;
  5. sometimes calculated, manipulative messages;
  6. standardized content, organized to reach the largest number of people;
  7. sometimes with the sole objective of providing mass audiences that are potential
    customers for the products advertised.

The ‘Mass’ in ‘Mass Communication’

‘Mass’ originally had a negative connotation (inner meaning), opposite to denotative meaning (superficial, surface meaning)—examples, mass casual leave, mass uprising, etc. ‘Mass’ essentially means ‘group’ but it has a pejorative meaning. It is related to ‘masses,’ a shapeless, unruly group of people, a mob. It also means “common people” as opposed to “royalty, aristocrats and the elite (the “priestly hierarchy, and the military” in feudal society.

“Mass” indicates the lower class, usually the uneducated, ignorant, illiterate, unruly , irrational and even violent people. With social revolutions succeeding in many countries, the term acquired the positive sense of ordinary people engaged in activities relating to the attainment of political, economic and social equality, individual liberty, and human dignity.

“Mass movement” indicates a movement by common people for the fulfilment of some political demand.

“Mass” indicates the lower class, usually the uneducated, ignorant, illiterate, unruly , irrational and even violent people. With social revolutions succeeding in many countries, the term acquired the positive sense of ordinary people engaged in activities relating to the attainment of political, economic and social equality, individual liberty, and human dignity.
However, the dominant sense has been unflattering as it indicates amorphous, shapeless, even anonymous groups of people. One dictionary defines ‘mass’ as “an aggregate in which one’s individuality is lost.”

Harold Lasswell and Charles Wright viewed ‘mass’ as large and heterogeneous, Denis McQuail saw it as large aggregate and anonymous, undifferentiated (bulk) and mainly negative, lacking order.

The kind of society that evolved from the Industrial Revolution (IR), migration to urban areas, privatization, competition, etc., is continuing in our times. The mass society theory suggests that the media are part of such a society and they are of primary importance in the shaping and sustenance of that society.

Among the functions of MC are the transmission of cultural heritage, socialization and the interpretation of the major events and issues in society, as already explained..

C. Wright Mills (The Power Elite, New York: OUP, 1956) suggested that “the mass media led to a form of non-democratic control from above with a few chances to answer back. The use of new media from below has been suggested as one solution to increased ‘massification’ and privatization.

McQuail has summarized the Mass Society Theory as follows: Mass communication is related to a large-scale society; atomized public; centralized media; one-way transmission; people’s dependence on the media for identity; and media used for manipulation and control.

Characteristics of Mass Communication

  1. Large-scale production of messages by groups of trained professionals under the management of fairly large organizations.
  2. Messages are reached to huge audiences running into millions.
  3. The message producers and receivers are heterogeneous and anonymous.
  4. Messages are usually meant for anonymous audiences, although they are tailored sometimes to specific groups.
  5. All messages are not received by all media users. Some media users skip certain messages while concentrating on specific messages of special interest to them.
  6. Messages flow uni-directionally, except in the case of social media which are mostly inter-personal, although capable of growing into mass communication through multiplication of interpersonal communication on a massive scale.
  7. Most messages are imbalanced and unequal unless the message producer takes extra care in dealing with all aspects of an issue comprehensively.
  8. Most messages are presented in an impersonal and objective manner, but sometimes issues are presented in a biased and subjective style deliberately favouring one group or individual.
  9. Contents are organized in a standardized and simple style to reach the maximum number of receivers.
  10. Sometimes advertisements are presented in the guise of news for a consideration. Such news is called “paid news.”
  11. Media owners sell newspaper space and air-time for ads and commercials, even omitting the news of real value to many sections of the readers.
  12. Entertainment is given so much importance, especially in the electronic media, that the media are heavily criticized by substantial sections of media users.

Very important question raised by discerning media users : WHO COMMUNICATES What by Which Channel to WHOM, for What Purpose and with What Effect? Some of these questions were raised in the 1940s by Harvard Professor, Harold Lasswell. We still raise them occasionally. We have to ask ourselves these questions frequently in order to gain a clearer picture of what is going on in the World of Mass Communication.

Dr John Vergis Vilanilam
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