The media is one of the main sources in the world which provides us with information and is an important and major influence in the socialization process. This is why the media is a major subject within sociology. There are two different theories which can be applied to the media and these are structural and action theories. Structural theories are ideas in which behavior in society is structured. It relates to behavior in society following certain rules and that behavior is patterned and recurrent. In comparison action theories describes action as a behavior caused by an agent in a particular situation.
It takes into account actions and reactions of other individuals. By applying the functionalist approach to the study of the media we are using a structural theory. The functionalist view-point of structural theory is also known as consensus theory which was developed by an important figure in sociology, Emile Durkheim. Consensus theory attempts to explain why society gets along most of the time and why it does not descend into chaos. Consensus theorists use the human body as a way in which to help us understand consensus theory. They explain how all parts of the human body are linked and therefore contribute into the body working as a whole.
So similarly society works on the same concept that all parts are linked and have their function. As society can be seen as structured there are important parts of it and one which has a major role is social institutions, one being the media. The media has a great impact on how people in society understand how they live. From the functionalist perspective the role of the media is to firstly give information across society and is also used as a form of social control by broadcasting to the population values that reflect a particular society. The media can be seen as being used to maintain the status quo.
By looking at this we can say the media holds a bias. This is by reporting only the information which reflects our values and discrediting any information which may not be largely accepted by society. Social stability is also kept by the media offering a wide choice in which information is provided. For example newspapers , television , magazines and radio etc. Therefore as there is a large choice in which people can find different views , stability is held. There are problems that become apparent with the functionalist perspective of the media.
The role of the media broadcasting a set of values which reflect society’s can be seen as only reflecting the values of one class. Mostly of the ‘ruling class’ or upper class. Also the media does not reflect all points of view of society equally. The Marxist perspective is another structural theory. For Marxists they see social class as the most important aspect in explaining social interaction. Marxists see society in traditional terms of class structure. For example Upper , Middle and Working classes. Those who own the means of production in society (the upper or ruling class) influence one of our most important resources , the media.
They tend to control political institutions and cultural institutions in society , therefore from the Marxist perspective they are also interested in social institutions. The ruling class can be seen to keep control of social institutions by looking at the three main spheres they are interested in. The economic sphere allows them to keep control of the means of production, in the political sphere their economic power influences politicians and political parties towards their interests and the cultural sphere allows them to control the media.
So we can analyze that the ruling class from a Marxist perspective uses the media to convey its interests to the rest of the population. The function of the media in this instance is social control or an attempt in which to control the other classes. This can be done by influencing , changing and denying the types of information we receive through the media. Marxists look at the media in terms of ownership and control. Whoever owns media has effective control. As with the functionalist perspective of the media we can look at problems involved with the Marxist perspective.
The view of the ruling class controlling the media can be seen as a conspirital one. If the ruling class were to directly impose their interests through the media and keep control then how can we account for social change? Also it can be seen that the ruling class have common interests but it is shown in modern society that there are a number of differing interests within their class. For examples owners of manufacturing industries may have different views from those of owners of banking industries.
Also this view suggests that the rest of the population are passive and accept what they are told to which is not necessarily the case. The functionalist approach to the media seems to be the most realistic showing the media’s role and purpose more clearly than that of the Marxist perspective. It suggests that the media is not dominated by class but is important in how our society works. The functionalist perspective seems more appealing in modern society as we do not necessarily consider ourselves under the views and interests of the ruling class from the Marxist perspective.