The Media: It’s Roles and Functions

The study of the media is due to its significant effects writes Scheufele (1999), therefore it is important to analyze and understand its roles and functions to interpret how these effects are achieved and to comprehend it as a crucial component of society.

Denis Mcquail, a professor of communication, categorized the functions of the media into:

Information: The media should serve to enlighten the public on events that take place nationally and international and serve as a tool for political address and social upliftment.

Correlation: Looks at the presentation of information given by the media. The media analyze and interpret events and as Craig&Jensen (2016) writes, comments on them via their classification and level of priority.

Continuity: The media serve to support the established norms of society.

Mobilization:The media is an agent to stimulate the public to act in times of change and crisis.

Entertainment: The media serves to provide a method of escape for the public for leisure experience and to divert them from reality.

These are said to be the ideal functions of the media, however it is important to note that Mcquail’s theory is based of the concept of Functionalism. Factionalism views society as a system of interconnected parts acting for the harmonious whole. It states that each facet acts to maintain social order and for its advancements. However, looking back at my previous blog pots, The Seven Paradigms, we know that one cannot view the media as a singularity, but as a component of the society in which it dwells and the different cultures that it encompasses.

The main problems with this approach to analyze the media is:                                                       That it believes that individuals interpret the media the same way, disregarding conflicts of interest.                                                                                                                                                  It neglects the different objectives of the media in different political systems.                                     And fails to acknowledge the unequal distribution of the media.

Therefore I will look at the two main categorize of Mcquial’s typology: Information and Entertainment. Information will be evaluated via the metamorphosis of the Republic of South Africa to evaluate how the media’s roles and functions can change a nation based on its beliefs. And entertainment will be discussed via three main perspectives which define what it is.

The Normative Theory refers to the way in which the media conducts itself within different political systems.

The Authoritarian Theory usually address dictatorial governments, however can also be looked at in a system where the press is oppressed and subjugated to censorship and state orientation. In this theory we see how there is great censorship over the media and validation via social order. It states how the media should not undermine, but serve to maintain political authority. And if the media do not comply there are criminal consequences.

We see this in Apartheid South Africa. As Bird&Garda (unknown) write, it was the government’s aim to “starve” the nation of undermining events.  They state how the role of the media was to consistently portray its racist segregation laws as legitimate and equal, validating it as a means for people of different cultures to live and develop together to function as a cohesive whole. However we know it was a means to maintain white supremacy and coordinate and watch other races. The media’s propaganda was prejudices against people of colour, capitalizing and criminalizing their acts of uprising and not their cause for human rights therefore racist white cops were portrayed as heroes of law and not violators of these rights.

Intensive legislation was set on the media making it increasingly difficult to obtain information to expose this façade and those which strived for true equality were harassed and detained. Newspapers such as The Guardian were seen as a perpetrator of the law and thus were considered to be committing acts of high treason for its mandate to uncover the truth of the legislative policies of the government. The government eventually raided it’s headquarters and arrested its editorial staff.

steve biko.jpg
Overcoming Apartheid.Unknown. shows the notorious activist.

Stephen (Steve) Biko was one of the biggest anti-Apartheid activist who was brutally tortured and murder at the hands of South African police. This death was one to remember, not only because of the person, but because of the reason the Minister of Police gave for his death in detention: hunger strike.                                                            This case brought immense questionable doubt and highlighted the government’s power over human rights and media coverage as this was not the first case of its kind.

Below is a famous anti-Apartheid poem which commented on this situation.

Screen Shot 2017-08-13 at 9.53.41 AM.png
Poetry For Life. Unknown. Shows a popular anti-Apartheid poem on the ridiculous accounts for prisoners deaths.

The Development Theory focuses on political systems which are striving for great socio-economic change. The media have greater freedom of speech, however should aim to promote government interests of nation building, the government still plays a role in overseeing its content release and will intervene if it seems too detrimental to the objectives of recreation . The media must favor coverage of positive events as a means to nurture development explains Adekoya (2012).

After forty-six years of racial oppression, South Africa had to undergo immense national

Sunday Times. Unknown. Shows the ingenious comic artist Zapiro’s views on the TRC

recreation to unite it segregated  nation.  I believe this was the time in which the media heavily influenced and mobilized people towards change and The Rainbow Nation. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was a means to uncover past injustices in order to bring about national unity through closure and forgiveness.

The media was a major component that facilitated this through its live broadcasting on radio and television, which enabled millions  of people nationally and internationally to hear these confessions and accounts thus promoted and aimed, stated by Cantero (2011) to engage society  in nation building.

The TRC was criticized by many, however Cantero (2011) states how the media had to limit their coverage to emphasizing it’s processes and objectives rather than focusing on its shortcomings. In this way we see how the media’s freedom was still in accordance of the state in order to further political objectives.

And lastly, The Libertarian Theory allows for media to be centered on objectivity and complete freedom of speech. The media is based on the people and their job to educate and inform them on all aspects and perspectives of events. The theory rejects censorship and criminalization as the media aim to empower members of society via fearless reporting of truth, Adekoya (2012) as information is a basic human right.

The South African media can be seen exposing and criticizing the president himself, Jacob Zuma, on various crimes. This can be seen by News24 journalist, Dennis Evans reporting on the United Democratic Front demanding that Zuma’s 783 criminal charges by reinstated.

As well as the media’s role in assisting mobilizing the people by giving greater coverage of anti-Zuma marches.

In this way the media acts a voice of the people of various cultures and political views to inform the people of South Africa on current affairs. However this Utopia can yield greater consequences than perceived.  Uncontrolled media can lead to various forms of civil unrest as individuals fail to act according to the constitution based on their own personal objectives which the media hyped. Gould (2014) writes how this could be due to a timid relationship between justice and the rule of law.

The Media and Entertainment.

What is entertainment?

Entertainment is constantly present in our daily lives via its various mediums and thus has become a crucial component of society.                                               Entertainment is seen to be an act which provides enjoyment. But there are various views as to what can constitute as entertainment through how people recognize and are influenced by certain elements.

The Rhetorical Perspective, as stated by Fourie (2001) looks at recurring messages and themes which viewers acknowledge. These themes deal with identity and the human spirit to overcome  obstacles.  The values that are present in these themes allow people to integrate it into their daily lives and thus function for the greater good of society by understand their purpose and power.

Screen Shot 2017-08-14 at 4.27.15 PM.png
History. Unknown. Shows the Fürher.

This can be seen in the pro-Nazi film, Triumph of Will.

It shows how the entertainment industry’s propaganda called for national socialists for the “ eternal and indestructible pillar of the German people and our Reich”-Adolf Hilter, in this way people found their identity and purpose in their nation which is how the Nazi regime rose to power.

The Behavioral Perspective focuses on ones identification with another and our ability to project our own feelings onto its contents as well as introjection, Fourie (2001). This can be looked at via John Turby’s interview on How To Make The Audience Care About Your Characters, .He states two elements to create this character: a vital weakness and goals.In this way we can see how this relates to the Behavioral Perspective as it shows how humans are able to relate and project their emotions as humans have these two aspects and therefore we can identify with characters.

The Sociological Perspective views entertainment as a means to integrate and educate people. It is through recurring messages the media sends that enables humans to understand the environment in which they operate, Bandura ( 2001), allowing for individuals to change and participate in social cohesion. Such as the television series released soon after Apartheid to promote racial integration and equality.

The idealistic roles and functions of the media can be neglected and exploited in its various mediums, but no matter its usage its presence is so heavily evident it effects and dictates the way in which our societies operate.


History. Unknown. Nazi Party. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

Adekoya, D. 2012. Normative Theories of The Press-6 Theories. [online] Firstclass Information. Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

Craig, R.T. & Jensen, K.B. 2016. The International Encyclopedia Of Communication Theory and Philosophy. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell. p.736

Fourie, P.J. 2001. Media Studies. Media History, media and society. 2nd ed. Cape Town: Juta&Co. pp. 216-219.

Scheufele,  D.A. 1999. Framing as a Theory of Media Effects. Journal of Communication. 104.  

Bandura, A. 2001. Social Cognitive Theory of Mass Communication. MEDIAPSYCHOLOGY. 3, 267.

Bird, E. & Garda, Z. Unknown. The Role Of Print Media During The Apartheid Era. [online] Unknown.  Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

Gould, C. 2014. Why Is Crime And Violence SO High In South Africa. [online] Africa Check. Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017.]

Cantero, J.A. 2011. After Truth: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Media and Race Relations in Post- Apartheid South Africa. [online] Digital Commons.  Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

Evans, J. 2017. UDF Veterans Demand That NPA Reinstate 783 Charges Against Zuma. News24. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Postman, Z.  Civil Society Mobilize To End Zuma’s Presidency. News24. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]


Sunday Times. Unknown. Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017.]

The South African Truth And Reconciliation Commission. Unknown. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

History. Unknown. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

Overcoming Apartheid. Unknown. [online] Available at: [Accessed 11 Aug. 2017].

Poetry For Life. Unknown. [online] Available at:[Accessed 11 Aug. 2017]

Author: xjaypattersonx

BA Film student seeking to analyze and interpret the messages of imagery which the media displays.

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