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There are many diverse and conflicting views of the role of the mass media in society. This paper will discuss the two dominant schools of thought – the pluralist and Marxist theories of mass media. In each case three sociological studies will be used to examine the validity of the definition. The most prescient case studies will be evaluated and conclusions drawn with relation to mass media and communication in general.

2.0 Mass Media and Communication

The term ‘mass’ is a reference to the large numbers of people to which traditional broadcasts are aimed. The spread of interpersonal media systems means that, “modern communication has become less mass in character”(Haralambos et al., 2000). However, the term is still relevant for many influential media systems . Therefore, mass media can be defined as:

“The methods and organisations used by specialist social groups to convey messages to large, socially mixed and widely dispersed audiences”

Haralambos et al., 2000, p935

This definition assumes that communication passes from a single point to many other points. However, from the 1980s onwards, this was increasingly irrelevant in relation to the media. Technology has enabled interpersonal media communication to become steadily more prevalent.

The definition also makes no reference to the audience’s role in the communication. Many sociologists now believe that audience responses are both highly individual, and heavily influenced by social context.

3.0 Pluralism

The pluralist view of the mass media is that society is made up of a complex of competing groups and interests , all of which interact with one another. The groups are important to an idealistic democratic society, where a benign and neutral state allows them equal access to resources and influence.

3.1 The audience and its influence on the media

The mass media are free of government control, and the audience is in turn free to choose the version of reality that they absorb. Audiences provide feedback (and hence affect media content) by conforming, accommodating or rejecting a particular medium’s view of reality.

In this way, different parts of the media cater for different parts of society. Because the media is seen as reflecting society, it does not have a significant role in changing it.

3.2 On the existence of media bias

Jones (1986) argues that radio news is “neutral, balanced and fair”. Therefore, radio news is unbiased and reports facts rather than conjecture. Jones analyses media coverage of industrial disputes. Where an “apparent bias” is reported, he claims that this is due to one side representing their argument to the media less successfully. However, it must be noted that Jones is a correspondent on BBC radio, and is thus a biased source himself.

3.3 The media as the fourth estate

The media are seen as the ‘fourth estate’, fulfilling