The role of media in a society has been defined as the operation that involves collecting, assembling, interpreting, and disseminating information” (Lasswell, 1977). The media kept the public informed on events and issues that occur at local, national and international levels. International media organizations played special role in informing the public at the international level on issues of their concern. Besides that, the mass media were distinguished to have the potential to influence the public perceptions, thoughts, priorities and social actions. Ezhar Tamam (1996) state the mass media were also known for being a gatekeeper of information in determining the agenda setting of the public. The media organizations might change, restricted, and broaden the information; which could be disseminated in line with the media organization policies, attitude, and values of the journalism and media practitioners.
In Malaysia context, a long term strategy to achieve Vision 2020 was formulated and it is clear that the government is serious about transforming the economy into the information age by laying a number of relevant national and industry development plans which includes The Ninth Malaysian Plan, The National IT Agenda and The Multimedia Super Corridor. In pursing Vision 2020, the government is actually forging the forward for Malaysians to be part of Information Society because Vision 2020 is also about an ambition to gain knowledge empowerment for the Malaysian Society. Multimedia Super Corridor demonstrated the total commitment of the nation in trying to keep up with the exploding computer and communications technology and providing its 23 million citizens with access to information in an equitable manner.
Freedom of speech and press is a very important value in communication. However, in Malaysia, there are not had totally freedom of speech and press. Article 10 (1) (a) of the Federal Constitution cites the rights of a Malaysian citizen to freedom of speech and expression. This include communication by word of mouth, sign, and gestures, and also through works of art, music, sculpture, photographs, film, videos, books, magazines, and newspaper. Freedom of press is included in the freedom of speech and expression. The provision, however, does not cover the right to information. The freedom provided in the constitution is not absolute, but has various restrictions instead. Parliament to impose restriction on free speech as it deems necessary or expedient on the grounds of the security of the Federation or any part of thereof. Besides that, Internal Security Act 1960 is the most well-know restrictive Act on freedom of speech. This Act empowers the Minister to prohibit printing, publication, sale, issue, circulation, or possession of any document or publication which appear to him to contain or incite violence, cause disobedience to the law or any lawful order, be calculated or likely to lead to a breach of the peace, or promote feelings of hospitality between races or classes of the population or be prejudicial to the nation or public order or security of the federation. From my side, I half agreed with our country-style on the freedom of speech perspective. This because if we have totally freedom to talk anything on any medium such as newspaper, television, and internet without have law to control our act, we are actually in the dangerous situation. When everyone not control by laws, we have no right to stop the others to harm ourselves, or our society. But, sometime the limitation on freedom of speech also had negative side if we are to control by one side and not have chance to express our mind.
In Malaysia, normally the press is privately owned by the government through the ruling component parties which holds the stakes indirectly. The concentration of ownership could be traced by observing the corporations that own the press. Although there are some who owned private business, but it does not make much difference in terms of control they are usually very much in support of the government. MCA has also been acquiring independent press for its political interests. The most prominent of its daily newspaper are The Star and Nanyang Siang Pau. The Star is owned by MCA through its investment arm; Huaren Holdings Sdn Bhd. Nanyang Siang Pau and the China Press were previously held by Hume Industries’s controlling stakes but sold to the Star Publications in 2001. UMNO owned Utusan and friends of Umno or associated parties own all the rest.
Severin and Tankard describe the agenda setting function of the media as “the media capability, through repeated news coverage, of raising the importance of an issue in public mind”. People what to think and talk from the messages they receive. The media, in effect, largely dictate our daily interest. Naturally we think more about those ideas presented in the media than about ideas not in the media. Certainly we realize that our view of reality can be biased by the media’s agenda setting. Certain political positions, religion views, opinion and ideas can repeat and given prominence in the media; other can be neglected. In Malaysia, the most important implication of a political party-controlled press is that responsible reporting could be insured. With political parties owning the press, they have direct control over the contents. With these political parties keeping a close watch on the press, malicious contents could be avoided. However, it does not go beyond this. In this form of ownership concentration and control, the negative impacts outweigh the positive ones. In addition to that, it defines the utmost press objective. The opposition had virtually no access to the print and electronic mass media and that Malaysians were treated to all sorts of pro-BN and anti-BA messages in the state-controlled media.
Framing theory considers message characteristics and how information is crafted. It’s then further by considering the psychological characteristics of audience members that cause messages to be interpreted in various ways (Maher, 2001). Frames enable people to evaluate information based on shared conceptual constructs. Media framing begins when decisions are made on which stories are covered and how will be treated. It involves selection and salience by placing issues or events within a field of meaning. Reese (2001) asserted that the concept of framing implies that the way a given piece of information is presented can create different outcomes among different audience. For example, in the incident trainee pilot dies in plane crash. The stories covered by media only how the incident was happen. Media was treated this incident as an unfortunate incident. However, media did not coverage and quoted official sources in reporting the incident.
Scheufele & Tewksbury (2007) reveal that the emergence of agenda setting, framing. And priming has signaled a paradigm shift in political-communication research. While agenda setting is based on the notion that media have limited effects, both priming and framing talk about the potentially strong attitudinal effects of media and these effects depend heavily on audience’s schemata or human frames. Furthermore, agenda setting emphases on the transfer of news salience by media, whereas framing extends further by stressing on the transfer of salience of news attributes. If the Agenda Setting theory highlights on what the audience tends to think about, then the Framing theory explains how to think about by the audience (Baran & Davis. 2003; Miller, 2002).
The most striking weakness in a political party-controlled press is that the opposing views are always suppressed. Most of the time the views are dismissed without any thought, when they could be good for the nation. Opposing views and opinions are ruled out as extreme, irresponsible, and detrimental to society regardless of any trace of utility in them. As for the public, the absence of opposing view will offer no challenge for their intellectual judgment, thus, breeding a population with no logical or critical reasoning. An extremely receptive society is definitely preparing a nation for a fall.
Another weakness evident in this system is that it does nothing to gain or at least maintain the press’s credibility. With that much control, the press will lose its credibility among the public. This increases public reliance on rumors and foreign media, which is detrimental to the nation. This will also cause the foreign publications to flourish and prosper in this country. With more educated people in the population, it is common that they go out and find alternative views rather than accept everything shoved at them. The next obvious weakness is the system promotes unfairness in providing the nation with press choices. The opposition parties are all entitled to only internal publications like Harakah and The Rocket. The circulation of these alternative publications is limited and they are banned from newsstands.
The other Malaysia press that are not owned by the ruling component parties are private business-owned. Although the main goal of these media is profit, their main concern on achieving the goal is not providing what the audience wants, which is differing views, but to obtain support from the ruling party. The support from the government plays an extremely important role for private-owned media in Malaysia. Government support means their survival and sustenance. This means a secure place in the business, and ensuring an ongoing licensing. In order for these companies to gain government support, they have to support the government. This tie kept by reporting in favor the government and ample coverage on the ruling political parties. In short, the Malaysian political scene does not permit any co-existence between mainstream and alternative press.
Rodman (2009), early powerful-effects studies developed an approach later termed the bullet theory, which implied that media effects flow directly from media to individual-like bullet. According to the bullet theory, people who watch violent movies would become violent, and those who read “immoral” comic book become in-moral. Later research, such ad the People’s Choice studies, suggest a two step flow in which media effects occur mostly in interaction with interpersonal communication. You might or might not buy an advertised product, for example, depending on what your friends say about it. For the great majority of mediated messages, however, effects depend on interpersonal communication. After the movies’ first weekend, its box office will likely e determined by word-od-mouth communication. Toady’s media researchers recognize a multistep flow in which effects are part of complex interaction. On one level, opinions are shaped by opinion leaders, who in turn have their own opinion leaders. You might be your friend’s opinion leader about what sort of computer to buy, for example, which would influence how much effects ads and articles about computer would have on that friend. But you probably have your own opinion leaders, people who know more about cell phones than you do and therefore affect how you will react to the information about cell phones that you encounter in the media. At a same time, a wide range of other influence-family, friends, school, church-act as filters of media information and therefore affect how individuals will react to mediated messages.
In nowadays, people actively classify and interpret their life experiences to make sense of the worlds around them. So, there should have right to freedom of information and the right to access various information sources. Media should reform that supports the press to provide credible and differing information and opinions. Current press system, which are has tight and selective control over media license that paralyses the whole system. The Malaysian press is seen as being fully controlled by the political motivated media only promote and reflect the agenda of the political elites without any concern for the poor, marginal and downtrodden.
Another argument for the free expression of press and public opinion centred, on the theory of utilitarianism. Philosophers such as Jeremy Bentham and James Mill believed the smooth operation of the political system depended on the free expression of public opinion. It was necessary for “good governance”. Press freedom-as universal suffrage, secret ballots and regular elections-serves as one of the main mechanism through which public opinion is expressed. A free press according to Mill and Bentham could also scrutinise the workings of power and bureaucracy, and prevent the corruption of legislators and administrators. Mill was critical of utilitarianism for placing necessity before truth in the discussion of opinion. He argued that freely circulating opinions are essential for the seeking of truth. He singled out a number of reasons why silencing opinion could have consequences for the search for the true. First, it is not possible to be absolutely certain that any opinion is false. To suppress an opinion is to assume the infallibility of one’s own position and deny potential truth. Second, even if an opinion is false it can contain an element of truth. The prevailing opinion on any matter cannot be the whole truth and it is only by confronting contrary opinion, by reconciling opposites, that we can attain the full truth. Truth would degenerate into dogma and prejudice if not continually challenged into question by counter-claims.
According to Theory Uses and Gratifications (U and G), media effects assumed the audience brought their own needs and desires to the process of making sense of media messages. Needs and desires structured how messages are received and understood by the audience. The focus shifted from what the media do to people to what people do with the media. First assumption of U and G is people actively use the media for their own purposes; second, people know what these purpose are and can articulate them, and third, despite the variations between individuals in their use of the media, it is possible to identify some basic patterns in U and G. Researchers noted that different programs or media forms are used in different ways depending on the individual. Ostensibly trivial programs can be used for serious purpose, for example quiz shows could be used to improve general knowledge and serious programs can be used for “unserious” reason-for example, being interest in what a newscaster is wearing. One of the major findings of this research is the unpredictability of U and G as people may use programs in a number of quite unexpected ways.
In the 1999 election, the opposition had fully utilized the potential of Internet to their advantage and this has contributed to the changing political landscape. A Malaysian media critic had observed that “the popularity of the Internet has certainly soared over the last few years particularly with the active use by people who support, sympathize with, or simply curious of the so-called “Reformation” movement that had sparked by the outstanding of Anwar Ibrahim”. Prior to the 1999 election, newer websites were established with the primary aim of raising the consciousness among voters, particularly the younger ones, about the many issue of the day. If in the past deliberate cover-up of certain issues initiated by the mainstream media often went unnoticed, now such attempts not only could arouse suspicion, but also enchant public interest in the issue concerned. Voters in all categories received a great deal of their information and influence directly from people. Certain well-informed members of families, neighborhoods, and peer tended to be opinion leaders, who kept up on media reports and tended to be sought out by others as sources of information. Opinion leaders thus created what the researchers called a two-step flow of communication: Ideals, they said, “often from radio and print to the opinion leaders and from them to the less active sections of the population. Rodman (2009) today, researchers accept a mixed-effect model, which predicts that sometimes media will have powerful effects, sometimes minimal effects, and sometimes depending on a complex variety of contingencies-a mixture of powerful and minimal effect.
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