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Power & Media

The Power of the Press

The Power of the Press

linedividerEven though stupidity is a very much fragmented entity, in the end it always remains the absolute and supreme power of the human kind.
Carl William Brown

The less you know, the more you believe.

The less you know, the more you believe, but the more you know, the less you can understand and the more stupid you become.
Carl William Brown

Certainly we live in a media-drunk society where research consistently confirms the impact of mass media on culture, on life issues and on buying power and attitudes in our society. Smoking was once widely accepted in American culture – even praised and glamorized in movies and television.  But over the past 30 years, mass media campaigns have been used to inform the public of the dangers of smoking and motivate existing smokers to quit.  Today, millions of Americans have quit smoking, and attitudes towards tobacco and cigarettes have changed so dramatically it is now illegal to smoke in many public places.

The separation of powers is a model for the governance of a state. The model was first developed in Ancient Greece and Rome. Under this model, the state is divided into branches, each with separate and independent powers and areas of responsibility so that the powers of one branch are not in conflict with the powers associated with the other branches. The normal division of branches is into a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary.

The Press is the so called fourth power.  As a matter of fact political media are communication vehicles owned, ruled, managed, or otherwise influenced by political entities, meant to propagate views of the related entity. A similar term, normative media, emphasizes technical and social characteristics of the media itself in shaping decisions. Harold Innis and later Marshall McLuhan,both Canadian media theorists, were influential in developing this theory.

While it is simple to recognize a political medium in an official newspaper, magazine, TV channel that directly declares to belong to a group, deep concerns might regard submission of communications to political interests and impartiality of media that do not declare their party alliances. This influence is not always conspicuous and causes people to accept ideas put forth by those who wish to control communication for the good of society, or causes those who support freedom of communication and minority empowerment to oppose them.

Some believe that big societies actually need to canalize communication. In this sense political media would often be meant to form or at least influence public opinion, a least-common-denominator for all members of society. They are a one-way street and sometimes misused. The Greeks could learn from the Egypt of the Pharaos that some risks could be suffered when medium and executives occur in personal union, concentrating too much power in one hand. This, however, implies the acceptation of a concept of media as power, which is widely but not generally shared. Opponents do argue that the simple fact of producing a communication is not by itself leading to a direct result on the public opinion, unless this one is considered as a merely passive mass in front of an irresistible communication…

Modern Democratic theories and implementations, especially after Montesquieu’s theories, rely on the separation of powers: Executive (government and police), legislative (parliament) and judicial (court) branches of power are separated. Commonly in recent times, and especially in journalistic jargon, media are however defined as an alleged fourth power, and a difference from the others is often outlined in the fact that the power to (eventually) influence the public opinion using media is not much controlled, because media are so “ethereal”, and it would be hard to weight them. Others instead suggest that this would not be a difference, since the control over official powers is extremely hard to be verified in practice. Often it is not easy, indeed, to find out who really controls a medium and how much potential efficacy it effectively could have for such goals. It is then argued that when one of the three “canonic” Montesquieu’s powers gains an additional power on media, this would be extremely dangerous for the survival of democracy, and an eventual conflict of interests is contested.

Last but not least we have the fifth power which is a term, apparently created by Ignacio Ramonet, that intends a continuation of the series of three classic branches of Baron de Montesquieu’s separation of powers and the fourth power, the mass media. The term fifth power can be used to refer either to economic systems, the Internet or the Church.

Nowadays  Internet  represents a new sort of social mass medium which cannot be included within the narrower, one-way scope of the media of the fourth power. If considered as the fifth branch of power, it is the only one to be controlled by society itself without regulation by the state. According to Ramonet, Internet users collaborate to form a powerful engine of debate and democratic action. With globalization, the 21st century has the potential to finally bring communication and information to all people. The Time’s “person of the year” 2006 (YOU in a mirror-PC screen) carries the same message.

The internet is both a mass and a personal medium, flexible and scalable. The internet enables a way of communication which was impossible to be foreseen in past societies.As McLuhan has written, “In this electric age we see ourselves being translated more and more into the form of information, moving toward the technological extension of consciousness (McLuhan, 86).” The software could potentially allow to cement structures which stand against democracy and competition of ideas, as well as structures which could gain a quite complete control over private communications and isolate eventual dissenting voices. Currently the Net is not completely identifiable as a political medium, given the lack of a central authority and a common political communication. Locally, governments could in the reality use censorship, the first experiments of which have been received with relatively little scandal.

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