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The “Public Role of the Media” in a New Age: The Path to Media “For the World, For the People”

Jiro Mori
Lecturer, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

The idea of the “Public role of the Media” is currently facing a significant crisis. This is evident in how, on the one hand, trust in existing media such as newspapers and broadcasting as being “for the public” is wavering, while on the other hand the influence of internet media has now become so tremendous that we can hardly hear a “public” voice at all.

What is causing this situation? What can we do to break through this situation? I sought answers to these questions in the chapter I wrote, “Public Roll in the Media in a New Age,” in Exploring Media's Future, edited by the Media Culture Research Institute of Waseda University and published last month.

I argue that the loss of trust in existing media such as newspapers and broadcasting is the result of media's accumulation of “things they must not do,” without sufficiently realizing the “things they should do” while all the while claiming loudly to exist “for the Public.”

I also point out in the above-mentioned chapter that a major cause of the current situation arising for existing media is the ambiguity of the vision of what “for the public” should be in the media. It is often mentioned, but in fact there are many numerous and diverse faces of being “for the public,” which cannot easily be converged into a single vision. Academically this is obvious but this has resulted in no clear vision emerging of what media “for the public” should be. It is difficult to implement anything vague and ambiguous.

But even so, the current inadequate realization of media “for the public” in existing media cannot be pardoned. People involved in the media must clarify their vision of media “for the public,” and obtain social agreement as an urgent task. To implement and realize a thing, rather than creating an elaborate vision, it is at times more effective and clearer to create something approximate. In this sense, the vision at a dictionary-definition level offered by Naoyuki Okada applies, which sees “publicness” as “devoting to the benefit of society as a whole, as removed from the individual interests of any specific social class, level or organization,” (Shimbun Kenkyu [Newspaper Studies], June 2006 issue). Or, taking it further, if one simplifies it into the idea of being “for the world, for the people,” then an approximate vision for “publicness” comes crisply into focus for everyone.

It is necessary first confirm the principles and aspirations to form the core of media “for the public,” before pursuing the concrete content and process of how this is to be achieved by the media, and establishing the stance for realizing this.

There are some things that we should keep in mind as we do this. First, media “for the public” is not something that is limited to the journalistic aspect of the media, that is, the function to report and broadcast speech. Many media companies until now have branded and declared themselves as “for the public” and often used this to silence those around them and obscure “non-public” or “anti-public” acts in areas such as marketing, advertizing, and business, etc. This has led to social mistrust or denial of media being “for the public” at all and denial of existence of a “public” that the media claims it is responsible for. The media must first accept that it should realize the stance of media “for the public” in all areas of its activities, to include areas such as marketing, advertizing, and business, etc.

In doing so, not only is a consciousness of “not doing what we should not do” important but “doing what we should do” is also just as important. There are many things that can be done to contribute significantly to society, through business activities in cultural and sporting areas and other activities by an entire company or the entire industry. Sincerely persevering in conducting such activities will lead the media to the recovery of people's trust.

On the other hand, the situation of media “for the public” in the internet world is still more serious. There, every possible sort of information is being mass transmitted and received, and in this sense, every possible organization, group and individual can act as media. It is an age of “total medialization.” This, in turn, has generated a situation of “total demedialization,” diluting down awareness of the responsibilities of media “for the public.”

I have interviewed many top executives and persons in charge of internet companies, but most of them claim that their companies act as a platform for and aggregator of information, and they deny that they are “media,” which actively transmit and receive information and judgments. Their reason for this denial is either that “[their] company “provides many services and news information is just one of these,” or that “they do not want [their company] to be placed alongside existing media, which arbitrarily edits the information that it transmits,” or both.

While such views of the media are convincing to a certain degree, they also contain several dangers. They mean to entrust to others many of the information and views that are transmitted and received, which will make the company' responsibility inevitably vague. And the companies conducting such transmissions may, according to the interests of their own company, cease to conduct media-like acts at any time. These are significant negative factors for the trustworthiness and continuous transmission and receipt of information, which are necessary in any age. In addition, criticism of existing media is causing a situation of disregarding or denying the aspect of the media's role of being “for the public.”

One thing that might be able to put the brakes on this undesirable development is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). This idea of every company or organization taking responsibility for the effects caused as result of their business activities and encouraging their active contribution to society, may be able to demonstrate significant effects for the construction of an internet world “for the public.” However, CSR also has its limitations. It cannot be denied that while CSR enables companies to fulfill their own responsibilities, it lacks the idea of actively searching out the problems faced by society, and questioning the responsibility of policymakers and responsible institutions, to push for resolutions. How would it be possible to implant this idea? We need to search out a way.

I would finally like to point out the importance of the self-awareness of individuals as being “media.” As I mentioned above, we now live in an age where many individuals possess information transmission and receipt capabilities and influence that occasionally is on a par with that of mass media. In this sense, the birth of a major media genre of “individual media” has arrived. However, self-awareness about the responsibility of individuals for the results of their own media activities remains quite undeveloped. How to quickly and reliably foster such self-awareness is a major challenge for the formation of a society in which everyone can live more comfortably.

Unfortunately, at present the only method I have for this is to expand and enhance education activities in media literacy by society as a whole and in particular as a CSR activity by internet companies. However, the results that can be anticipated from this will doubtless be greatly influenced by whether or not it is conducted with a strong awareness of the purpose of building the next generation of media “for the public.”

Jiro Mori
Lecturer, Faculty of Political Science and Economics, Waseda University

Born in 1943. Graduated from the Faculty of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. Joined the Asahi Shimbun Company. Worked as a journalist, editor and in the media research division, before serving as lecturer responsible for “Frontline Media Studies,” “Modern History of the Media,” “Media and Technology,” “Media Literacy,” and “Free Paper Studies,” etc. in the Faculty of Political Science, The Okuma School of Public Management, and the Graduate School of Political Science at Waseda University from 1999. He is currently serving as Chairman of study group by the Media Culture Research Institute of Waseda University to consider a future vision for the media. Main published works include New Strategy for Region-Building [Chiiki-zukuri Shin-senryaku], Regional Contribution of the Media [Medeia no Chiiki Koken], and Searching for a Future Vision for the Media [Medeia no Shoraizo o Saguru], (all published by Ichigeisha).