Impact of media on national issues | Sunday Observer

Impact of media on national issues

13 September, 2020

“If I had to choose between “a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I would not hesitate to prefer the latter” Thomas Jefferson - 1787

The media, widely considered fourth estate in the political system, after the executive, legislature, and judiciary, plays a pivotal role in ensuring the flow of information to the public on social, economic, and political activities. As a non-specialist and a countryman, this writer believes the Sri Lankan society, irrespective of race, religion, caste, class, or any other difference, immensely trusts media involvement in every national or social issue concerning the public.

Main media

However, the extensively literate and intelligent masses count on the mainstream media for credible information, as against the news on the prevailing social media platforms. Although the social media information flow is relatively faster than the print and electronic media, society looks forward to the confirmation of the main media to consider the facts on any hot news published in the alternative media. Although the media is placed in fourth position, it is a most powerful tool in the country as it ensures the transparency of the first three key systems.

The media presents to the public the correct side of information and make them aware of important national issues and how the three important entities perform. The influence of the media on public opinion is so enormous that it is capable of making complete changes in the political arena or any other sphere concerning public issues. The public is aware that the media leaves no stone unturned in disclosing corruption, malpractice, waste, pollution, and so forth. In Sri Lanka the mainstream media undoubtedly maintain a high level of credibility in the eyes of the masses.

On the subject of media ethics, most mainstream media institutions follow self-made regulations and maintain a satisfactorily high level of discipline. However, the same cannot be said of the current social media application, referred to now as the ‘fifth estate’, in communicating information to society. It is also known as Citizen Journalism, where anyone can upload their own thoughts or ideas onto the internet. Experts say the bulk of information or news in this medium is unsubstantiated, unverified, and without any authenticity.

The irony is that there is no proper regulatory mechanism to control these websites, Facebook pages, video presentations, and others. Arbitrary personal opinions, mudslinging, maliciously targeted misinformation, slander, and other forms of gross misconduct are common in the social media domain.

These rogue elements damage the goodwill of sensible websites. The main threat is that a certain segment of the population accepts whatever appears in these sites as the truth, thus making a permanent impression depending on the type of news. In recent years, the internet has become a considerably large part of discussions on media ethics. It is virtually impossible to police everything that finds its way to the internet. The impact of the facts reported through social media can be tremendous with the availability of 10.1 million internet users, 6.4 million social media users, and 31.8 million mobile connections in Sri Lanka.

Legal situation

Even the legal situation on judicial proceedings that can be taken against misinformation is somewhat complicated according to experts. Sri Lanka Police Cybercrime Unit is currently delivering a creditable service to the community although it is debatable whether they have adequate resources and facilities to perform efficiently and effectively.

The Sri Lankan citizenry is more knowledgeable, compared to the other countries in the region, Hence, public response to national issues is also more intense.

Media performance, particularly the mainstream, is admired and appreciated by the masses; people trust media information implicitly. The impact of the media on society is enormous and on any national issue or crisis, public involvement is hugely controlled by the media.

Therefore, ethical and responsible reporting is imperative. One of the main subjects currently discussed is the media’s significant contribution to environmental protection. In some cases, in the absence of the media, the damage inflicted could have been immeasurable.

The country as a whole is grateful to the media for their pro-active involvement in environmental issues. Wrong-doers and other anti-social elements, allegedly protected by politicians think twice before engaging in nefarious environment-related dealings due to the constant and relentless presence of the media. In this worthy move, both mainstream and alternative media work hand in hand to combat willful environment destruction. The Sri Lankan media plays an important role in society as a watchdog in the effort to eradicate drug-related trade and crime.

The Government’s battle against the drug menace, spearheaded by Major General (retd.) Kamal Gunaratne is amply supported by all factions of the media. Information provided to the public by the media is highly appreciated by the entire population.

The media in unison influenced their audiences by feeding information to commence a dialogue in society as well as a political debate to get the political leadership to make timely and appropriate decisions.

For example, the strong media coverage on the escalating and dangerously damaging heroin-related crimes played an effective role in creating a general interest in society. As per the Police sources, most of the organised criminal activities are drug-related. However, the conspicuous drawback is the inadequate emphasis on the existing punishments for drug-related offences. Such information could warn and probably scare possible newcomers.

Vigorous and emphatic media coverage in relation to illicit drug use and trade can have multifarious effects on the youth, particularly students in upper Grades in schools who are constantly targeted by the drug mafia.

Media engagement in politics or politicians is another important factor in Sri Lanka. Without the media’s presence, both mainstream and digital, politicians would be playing a different role altogether as per the past experiences of the public. The news media effectively serves as the eyes and ears of the public. Through media reporting, the public gets real-time information on the functioning and viewpoints of politicians, both in the Government and the Opposition. Media holds politicians accountable to the public and educates the public to make assessments on the performance of each one of them.

New trend

The new trend is that comparatively only a few voters are ardently attached to politicians and political parties.

This fact was clearly evident at the last election where people voted based on the best interest of the country rather than petty political views. They have noticeably selected candidates predominantly based on the information provided by the media.

Overall, the media has a huge impact on shaping public opinion, and the ability to frame the issues of the day. They can persuade, manipulate, induce, and adjust public opinion, occasionally overnight, in different ways depending on the objective. In the recent past there were countless examples where positive media influence paid rich dividends to the public. The media is also at times blamed for being biased in political issues. However, this is a common phenomenon throughout the world, irrespective of whether the country is developing or developed.

The common people wake up with news and act based on the information provided by the media to make decisions in their day-to-day lives. Educating the masses about their rights, morals, and social responsibilities is an important function of the media.