Meaning of Mass Media
How the Mass Media Promotes and Protects Human Rights
Challenges of the Mass Media
There is no generally acceptable definition of Human Rights. This is perhaps because Human Rights scholars have different opinions about the concept.Human Rights are “ generally moral rights claimed by everyone and held against everyone, especially against those who run social institutions’’, (Orend 2002 ). At the global stage, the United Nations (UN) has for years played a leading role in promoting and protecting human rights with support from International Non-governmental Organisations. In addition to the effort of the United Nations (UN), the state has basically been seen as the main actor in the promotion and protection of Human Rights. Unfortunately, states according to Hakemulder et al (1998), are often the very abuser of the rights of the citizens they are required to protect. It is noteworthy however that though the state bears the primary responsibility in issues of human rights, other organs of the society are included in the protection and promotion of Human Rights, (Addo, 1999). These organs, institutions and mechanisms include constitutions, law and legality, the courts among others. This write-up is about to discuss one of such mechanisms, the mass media in relation to how it carries out it promotion and protection role of Human Rights. Although there are International Human Rights Instruments which the United Nations (UN) has produced to serve as common standard of achievement of all people, countless Human Rights Violations occur locally and across the globe. These violations could be committed by the state as well as non-state actors. Non-state actors violate people’s Human Rights through direct involvement or indirectly when they consent to such violations. Non-state actors such as individuals, groups, informal or organized, ad hoc or continuous, may pose as violators, protectors or intermediaries.
Meaning of Mass Media
McQuail (2005) describes mass media as the organized means for communicating openly and at a distance, to many receivers within a short space of time.The media are a collective means of communication by which general public or populace is kept informed about the day to happenings in the society. The media are also said to be an aggregation of all communication channels that use techniques of making a lot of direct personal communication between the communicator and the public. The word “mass’’ means a large number of people or a collection of organs of communication and information dissemination that reaches out to a large number of people. This information circulation is not only confined within members of the public but the media also serves to coordinate the information flow between government and the public and vice versa. The media is an all-encompassing term referring to the presentation and transmission of information of information by a multiplicity of outlets including radio, television, film and video as well as Internet broadcasts. Aside the traditional print, radio, television, film and video outlets is the more recent social media. Social media is basically a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0 and that allow the creation and exchange of User generated content. Web 2.0 refers to Internet platforms that allow for interactive participation by users. There are different types of social media: collaborative projects, virtual worlds, blogs, content communities and social networking. Facebook and Twitter are very popular social media outlets, specifically social networking sites.
There are basically media organizations that are regional such as Al jazeera in the Middle-east, Star Network in Southern Asia, and National such as the Ghana Broadcasting Corporation in Ghana and International such as the CNN, BBC and VOA.
How the Mass Media Promotes and Protects Human Rights
The place of the mass media in the promotion and protection of Human Rights in any given society cannot be overemphasized. The mass media generally can be used to bring about positive attitudinal change in the individuals through editorials, features, news commentaries, discussion programmes and more. Before a thorough discussion of how the media carries out its promotional and protective roles of Human Rights, it is interesting to note that there are two main points of intersection between the worlds of the media and Human Rights. One is the considerable degree of overlap of subject matter between the two areas. Much of media reporting concerns matters that directly or indirectly hasHuman Rights content. The other is the fact that the freedom of the media is itself a Human Right.Promotion and protection of Human Rights by the media therefore is the process of attracting people’s attention to Human Rights in order to keep them safe regarding reverence of their Human Rights.
First of all, the media plays an agenda-setting role in the society. In this regard, the media influences public opinion by setting the agenda in public discourse, and when the media deliberately sets a Human Rights-driven agenda in public discourse, it is likely to draw people’s attention and Human Rights is promoted, as the agenda-setting theory states that, “when issues are covered by the media as often as possible, the public would take them to be important”, (Wallinger, 2010). The media can as a result take up the Human Rights agenda by publishing or broadcasting Human Rights programmes, disseminate Human Rights information, mobilize Human Rights NGOs, strengthen popular participation in civil society, promote tolerance and shine a light on government activity.
Again, the media are expected to spearhead the fostering of peace, international understanding and fighting racism. The media in Ghana for example have consistently provided coverage for the on-going election petition case at the Supreme Court and introduced resource persons to explain procedures and terminologies to the general public regarding the court case which has countless Human Rights dimensions. The reach of the media transcends the home, up to the human mind where they shape human opinion and influence behavior, this quality of the media therefore could induce tremendous Human Rights enlightenments locally and globally. The powerful impact of the media could be explained with the Rwandan Genocide which occurred in 1994 where the media were involved in perpetrating hatred and violence, especially against an ethnic minority where about 800000 ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus were murdered, (Caplan 2007). Prior to that genocide, the local media especially the Radio-Television des Milles Collines (RTLM) transmitted hate messages about how to exterminate people not fit to live in Rwanda, (Dallaire, 2007).
Again, the media can make people aware of the need to promote certain values in the cause of Human Rights which are of eternal value to the mankind. Making people aware of their rights is done by the media sometimes consciously and unconsciously. For example, a media outlet’s dissemination of information regarding deaths at a mine site is in its understanding just informing about the news of a disaster but in so doing is unconsciously a Human Rights related news item. The media sometimes also deliberately works hand in hand with Human Rights organizations to carry out promotional programmes to either create Human Rights awareness or bring violators to book.
The media also has the capabilities of giving publicity to individuals and organizations which are engaged in securing Human Rights. This encourages as well as motivates others to do similar Human Rights related works and in effect, the media once again plays a very crucial promotion and protection role.
The media further can inform and educate the people of their fundamental Human Rights and suggest ways and means by which they can solve their problems and thus empowering people to protect their rights. The media in its other role of communication between the state and the public, it also plays an effective role of making the authorities aware of their duties.
In a nutshell, the media are agents of social change that can bring about positive attitudinal change in the audience; they set the agenda for the people to follow, crucial to opinion formulation and eventual outcomes of events. They media can encourage governments and civil society organizations to effect changes that will improve the quality of people’s lives. Journalists, photographers and programme-makers frequently expose the plight of people who have their fundamental Human Rights often violated by their superiors. In sum, the media creates a general Human Rights awareness, exposes cases of Human Rights abuses and violations, exposes perpetrators of Human Rights abuses for moral condemnation and legal actions, publicizes the plights of victims for people to know or see, discourages Human Rights abuses, helps secure redress or compensation for Human Rights violation victims, enlightens and sensitize the general public on possible Human Rights violations, assists law enforcement officials and Human Rights groups to track down cases of abuses and finally educates the people on how to use appropriate communication channels to articulate their views and give expressions to their aspirations.