Rise of modern media

ByM Ali Siddiqi

writer who contributes to leading periodicals


July 24, 2022

M Ali Siddiqi describes a powerful evolutionary portal of information

Human race witnessed quite a revolution when Radio broke through and that was rated as a decisive advance in the development of dissemination of information. Radio was the final result of sustained efforts achieved in the study of electromagnetic waves for the production, transmission, and recep-tion of acoustic signals. The subsequent evolution of applied studies on radio broadcasting led to its first application in business, public administration and military communications. As a very novel technique the radio gradually gained widespread currency and finally homes got an access to it revolutionising the information levels along with perceptions of people. With the passage of time radio became a potent mean of mass communication and remained supreme in the lives of people for many decades.

Though it took time but political operators realised the potential of radio from the 1930s and the result was that it became a powerful instrument with which to manipulate the people. The beginning in this respect was made by governments in Europe controlled that started using radio broadcasting as a cogent tool of political propaganda. It was the communist regime of the Soviet Union that first began exploiting the radio systematically so that its voice could pene¬trate homes in even the remotest regions. Nazi Germany was not far behind where its media operators achieved a high degree of proficiency to manage and exploit it. Mussolini who became dictator of fascist Italy in 1922 aptly used radio as the voice of the regime by creating a central body for the control of information and propaganda and then with government measures to increase collective radio listening in public places. The strength of radio was manifest in its power to amplify and persuade listeners and this aspect was also picked up by American President Roosevelt who used the radio to directly address American citizens and his fireside chats became extremely popular.

From the end of the 1960s onward, radio lost its position as the princi¬pal mass medium as a result of the diffusion of television but the massive use of radio in homes and public places, the growth of the organisations that pro¬duced its programmes and its use for political propa¬ganda purposes kept the interest of masses in its value and though it was relegated to the second place it retained its place amongst the annals of mass communications and is still quite relevant a tool of mass media. Radio broadcasts are widely tuned in and socio-political leaders continue presenting their discourse to their audiences.

The technological develop¬ment of television medium took some time to make its place in the field of mass communication because its operating principles involved more than one area of specialisation. It was basically due to this reason that its services began to be offered to a limited audience. During its development the television had to rely on radio and the linkage between the two has been one of the distinctive features of the development of television. In fact, organizations such as the BBC in Great Britain, and CBS and NBC in the United States, have been the vehicles through which televi¬sion has been strengthened, spread and entrenched in the everyday habits of millions of consumers.

In this context it is interesting to note that in the first decades of existence of the television, while in the United States the development and production of television programs was immediately appropriated by the market but in Europe it was allocated to a pub¬lic service as it was decided that the organisations that produced and broadcasted programmes were official institutions financed mainly by license fees. Such practices continued in Europe well into the 1970s but private sector then got into this business and obtained large market shares. In this way, the commercialisation of television took place and advertising became the main source of financing. Some public service broadcasters also began to supplement their revenues by broadcast¬ing commercial messages. The result was that television brought about one of the greatest social, cultural and political changes of the 20th century.

The ubiquity of television in the lives of people brought into focus the issues related not only the receivers but also the transmitter and the content that was transmitted. It was widely assumed that as it influenced the public excessively in terms of behaviour, con¬sumption, lifestyle choices and the construction of frames of meaning to interpret reality that such considerations gained momentum. The process of television has evolved gradually and until the 1950s it witnessed the dominance of opinions that fed on the social cleavages and dynamics typical of the reconstruction years. It was however noticed that from the 1960s through the 1980s, television formats and languages had an impact not only on the public but also on the time frames, languages, and forms of public issues and their interpretation.

Since the 1990s television in great measure has started to delineate professional¬ization of the relationship with public opinion that has increased competition between media contents and all other modes of communication. It has also started to reflect populism alongwith cen¬trifugal communication. In the second half of the 1990s, technological development also decisively altered the way in which television was conceived. The media scenario radically changed because traditional analogue ter¬restrial television was now supplemented by satellite and digital broadcasting. The result is that digitization has had three major consequences pertaining to growth in multi¬media and convergent practices in production and consumption and internationalization and globalization of content.

The gestation and early development of the Internet were much slower than those of radio and television but once they came to the fore their technological progress meant that this new medium underwent rapid and tumultuous growth. The most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that it keeps on evolving especially in the applicative domain. With the advent of the World Wide Web, the Internet underwent extremely rapid development which definitively changed its very nature and increasingly enlarged its domains with apparently no restriction in its way. Since the 1990s, access to and use of the Internet has also been favoured by technological upgrading, greater speed of transmission and increased content. Moreover, because of these technological changes, the use of the Internet is now becoming increasingly interactive.

The most mind-boggling development is the convergence culture driven by the spread of Web logs (blogs) and the creation of social networks such as Facebook, YouTube and Twitter that have completely altered the methodology of mass communications. There is a general consensus that this technological revolution has produced an electronic democracy in which grassroots practices create a public sphere in which citizens can advo¬cate their own issues, build alternative frames for institutional political communication, mobilise public opinion on certain themes and act as watchdogs on the public powers. Though this view is harboured by a majority of people availing these facilities yet there are many who worry that such a process has empowered the already deeply entrenched groups who take undue advantages of such a development. Whatever may be the crux of the difference of opinion in this respect it could hardly be argued that the mass content and opinions found on the Internet have enabled many to monitor the collective perception of people about prevalent issues. TW


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