Michelle Atagana
Michelle Atagana

Don’t shoot the messenger

The media is an integral part of our lives and helps shape who we are and who we may become. In first year sociology you get taught the agents of socialisation for an infant/child, and one of them is the media.

In our society there has been constant debate about the role of the media and its influences and responsibilities. As a media student you sometimes find yourself on the proverbial fence — not quite sure if you hate or love it.

Society has a lot of expectations from the media and what its role ought to be. A lot of theorists talk about the media being a tool; the question, however, is what kind of a tool is it? And what does society expect of this tool? And what is it meant to do?

I was at a media conference a few weeks ago and a lot of the discussion was centered on media influence and responsibility.

As I listened to these discussions my blame radar went into overdrive. As an undergrad student I once did a case study about a little boy who killed his friends (or just other kids) after watching the film Child’s Play. Obviously, the media was blamed. Child’s Play is rated 18, so why is a little boy watching it? Where were his parents? When a movie rated as 16 is on TV I chase my little sister out of the room, even though she is just two days away from turning sixteen. The media is not responsible for your viewing patterns or that of your ten-year-old boy. They do, however, have the responsibility to categorise the rating so you can select what you or your child watch.

The media’s responsibility is an apprehensive terrain of discussion, simply because people expect a lot from it. The media must be truthful, yet patriotic and fair and sometimes it’s not easy. Is the media there to comment on society or promote society? At the conference I went to a lot of people complained that the media in South African was not patriotic. Now, let’s think about that. Is that such a bad thing in terms of news media? News media is meant to report the news, not change it.

You should be your own worst critic in pointing out your faults, and then display a willingness to work on your problems. In this way the world will respect you and hopefully view you in a better light. So if South African media reports and criticises the country in order to bring about change, is that such a bad thing? On the flip side, South Africa does have good news media; a blog such as SA Rocks is dedicated to promoting South Africa and South Africans.

The media does not tell you what to do and it shouldn’t; it simply presents you with the information you need to help your decision-making process. Even then you may need to apply some deductive reasoning because sometimes the media gets stuff wrong. Media influence is inevitable but what you do with that influence is your responsibility. The media is simply a messenger, a tool to deliver information from one part of society to another.