Media and Mass Communication
The mass media not only provide entertainment and information, they affect our social
institutions as well as our behaviour. Debates have long raged about whether the media shapes
behaviour or merely reflects it—either way, the effects are profound.
Functionalists are interested in the way the mass media are organized and how this
organization contributes to social equilibrium. Critical theorists, on the other hand, are interested
in the ways powerful groups use the media they own or control to further organizational or class
interests. This chapter also discusses the political economy perspective and the cultural studies
perspective. While the political economy perspective concentrates on media ownership and
control, the cultural studies perspective focuses on the ideological aspects of the media,
specifically its role in supporting and manipulating power. Feminist theorists point out that
media images of women communicate unrealistic, stereotypical, and limiting perceptions of
Although it is popularly perceived that news reporting is unbiased and objective, this
chapter presents research demonstrating that this is not the case; rather, news organizations
protect their own interests and those of powerful people. Another important issue for Canadians
is the fact that ownership of media tends to be highly concentrated, resulting in less diverse
representation, among other important implications. Canada is also faced with the problem that
the demand for American programming is overwhelming, to the point of undermining Canadian
In this chapter, you will
• discuss various theoretical approaches to the media;
• recognize the role of the mass media in shaping popular opinion;
• analyze the positive and negative effects of the mass media on society;
• learn about the influence of media ownership on content; and,
• consider the inequalities in media access and their effects.
alternative media: Channels of communication used by subordinate groups to promote their
own messages and points of view. 2
conglomerate: A business structure that engages in several, usually unrelated business
endeavours: for example, moviemaking, gambling casinos, and alcoholic beverages.
cross-ownership: A business structure in which one corporation owns media businesses of
different types. For example, a large corporation may own newspapers, magazines, television
networks, and radio channels.
cultural studies perspective: A viewpoint that focuses on the types of communication to which
people are regularly exposed and especially on messages conveying the dominant ideology.
mass communication: The transmission of a message from a single source to multiple
recipients at the same time.
mass media: The technology that makes mass communication possible; it includes the printing
press, radio, television, photocopier, and camera, among others.
political economy perspective: A viewpoint that focuses on the ways private ownership affects
what is communicated, and the ways it affects the exercise of power.
Fleras, A., & Lock Kunz, J. (2001). Media and Minorities: Representing Diversity in a
Multicultural Canada. Toronto: Thompson Educational.
This book discusses the role of mainstream media in hampering Canada’s perception of
multiculturalism. By promoting the dominant ideology of society and defining what is
socially acceptable and desirable, it excludes many subordinate groups.
Freedman, J. (2002). Media Violence and Its Effect on Aggression: Assessing the Scientific
Evidence. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Writing on a highly debated topic, Freedman disagrees with the assumption that violence has
an adverse impact on children. However, he does believe that advertising has a negative
impact on viewers. He considers media effects in relation to other factors with an impact on
violent behaviour, such as poverty and first-hand exposure.
Katz, E., & Lazarsfeld, P. F., foreword by Elmo Roper (1964 ). Personal Influence: The
Part Played by People in the Flow of Mass Communications. Glencoe, IL: Free Press.
In this classic and influential work the authors put forth the idea that media messages are
mediated by informal ‘opinion leaders’ who interpret messages and spread them as they have
understood them in their informal networks. 3
Levinson, P. (1999) Digital McLuhan: A Guide to the Information Millennium. London, New
Marshall McLuhan was a Canadian forerunner on the subject of media in the twentieth
century. He did not live to see the rise and spread of the Internet and its deep impact on
societies around the world. Yet in this work, the author shows that many of McLuhan’s ideas
about earlier forms of media are still highly applicable in the digital age.
Taras, D. (2001). Power and Betrayal in the Canadian Media (updated ed.). Peterborough, ON:
Taras points out challenges to the Canadian media industry, including budget cuts,
technological change, and ownership concentration. This book argues that these occurrences
will narrow the Canadians’ access to diverse and good quality information and limit our
capacity to communicate with others through a vast network.
Media Awareness Network (MNet)
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation/Société Radio-Canada (CBC/SRC)
National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
Internet World Stats
Canadian Newspaper Association (CNA)
Independent Media Center (IMC)
Multiple Choice Questions
1. The technology that makes mass communication possible is known as
a) mass media.
b) mass communication.
c) mass transmission.
d) all of the above
2. The transmission of a message from a single source to multiple recipients at the same time is
a) mass media.
b) mass audience.
c) mass communication.
d) mass transmission.
3. Three of the statements below refer to the role of media according to the functionalist
perspective. Which of the following is not one of these?
4. The __________ perspective refers to a viewpoint that focuses on the ways private
ownership affects what is communicated, and the ways it affects the exercise of power.
a) cultural studies
b) political economy
c) Frankfurt School
5. The political economy perspective is a variant of __________ theory.
a) cultural studies
d) postmodernist 5
6. __________ theory asserts that mass media have become the main source of information in
a) Cultural studies
b) Mass communication
d) Mass media
7. The first sociologist to examine how media organizations and journalists decide what issues
to cover and what to ignore was
a) Herbert Gans.
b) Erving Goffman.
c) Marshall McLuhan.
d) Noam Chomsky.
8. Which of the followings statements regarding Herbert Gans’s research findings about
journalism in America is not true?
a) News reporting is concerned with gaining and keeping a mass audience.
b) National news is shaped by, and in the interests of, people in high positions.
c) The news is chosen with the interests of the news organization in mind.
d) Due to intense competition, the degree of consensus among news organizations is
9. A business structure that engages in several, usually unrelated, business endeavours is known
b) multinational corporation.
10. The term __________ refers to a business structure in which one corporation owns media
businesses of different types
d) media conglomerate 6
11. Which of the following statements regarding the 1981 Kent Commission on the state of
journalism in Canada is not true?
a) Media ownership is highly concentrated.
b) Cross-ownership has resulted in an increase in journalism’s social responsibility to
c) The Commission predicted the growth of electron