Theories of Mass Media and Society

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It is quite evident to all of us that the mass media has become an essential part of everyone’s life. It is one of the most powerful tools of communication in developing countries, as well as in developed countries. It can aid in promoting the right things at the right point of time or can make use of any situation to create disturbance around the people or in society. Media helps to give a strong message to the world about what is right or wrong. Media plays an encouraging role in today’s society – from increasing public awareness to collecting views, information, and also the attitude of the people towards certain issues.

What is Media?

Mass media is communication which can be written, broadcast, or spoken. It reaches a large audience. This consists of television, radio, advertising, movies, the Internet, newspapers, magazines, and so forth.

Mass media refers to a significant force in modern culture. Sociologists refer to this as an arbitrated culture where media reflects and forms the culture. Communities and individuals are bombarded constantly with messages from a multitude of sources including TV, billboards, and magazines, to name a few. These messages promote not only products, but moods, attitudes, and a sense of what is and is not important. Mass media makes possible the concept of celebrity: without the ability of movies, magazines, and news media to reach across thousands of miles, people could not become famous. In fact, only political and business leaders, as well as the few notorious outlaws, were famous in the past.

Mass Communication: Definition

Mass communication is a process in which a person, group of people or an organization sends a message through a channel of communication to a large group of anonymous and heterogeneous people and organizations. Think of a large group of anonymous and heterogeneous people as either the general public or a segment of the general public. Channels of communication include broadcast television, radio, social media, and print. The sender of the message is usually a professional communicator that often represents an organization. Mass communication is an expensive process.

What is the Mass Media?

Mass media means technology that is aimed to reach a large audience. It is the primary source of communication used to reach the vast majority of the general public. The most common platforms for mass media are newspapers, magazines, radio, television, and the Internet. The general public typically relies on the mass media to provide information regarding political issues, social issues, entertainment, and news in pop culture.

Functions of Mass Media

The mass media serves several general and many specific functions. In general, the mass media serves information, interpretation, instructive, bonding, and diversion functions:

 Information function

Having a need for information to satisfy curiosity, reduce uncertainty, and better understand how to fit into the world. The amount and availability of information is now overwhelming compared to forty years ago when a few television networks, local radio stations, and newspapers competed to keep us informed. The media saturation has led to increased competition to provide information, which creates the potential for news media outlets, for example, to report information prematurely, inaccurately, or partially.

Interpretation function

Media outlets interpret messages in more or less explicit and ethical ways. Newspaper editorials have long been explicit interpretations of current events, and now cable television and radio personalities offer social, cultural, and political commentary that is full of subjective interpretations. Although some of them operate in ethical grey areas because they use formats that make them seem like traditional news programs, most are open about their motives.

Instructive function

Some media outlets exist to cultivate knowledge by teaching instead of just relaying information. Major news networks like CNN and BBC primarily serve the information function, while cable news networks like Fox News and MSNBC serve a mixture of informational and interpretation functions. The in-depth coverage on National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting Service, and the more dramatized but still educational content of the History Channel, the National Geographic Channel, and the Discovery Channel, serve more instructive functions.

Bonding function

Media outlets can bring people closer together, which serves the bonding function. For example, people who share common values and interests can gather on online forums, and masses of people can be brought together while watching coverage of a tragic event like 26/11 or a deadly pandemic outbreak like COVID-19.

Diversion function

Using the media to escape our day-to-day lives, to have a distraction from an upcoming exam, or in order to feel relaxed, this function came into existence. When there is a need for being distracted, amused, or relaxed, the media is performing the diversion function.

Theories of Mass Media

Mass communication theories are explanations and predictions of social phenomena that attempt to relate mass communication to various aspects of our personal and cultural lives or social systems

Let’s look at five fundamental theories of mass communication: 

  1. v  The magic bullet theory
  2. v  Two-step flow theory
  3. v  Multi-step flow theory
  4. v  Uses and gratification theory
  5. v  Cultivation theory
  •   Magic Bullet Theory.

 The magic bullet theory also called the hypodermic needle theory suggests that mass communication is like a gun firing bullets of information at a passive audience. Communication was seen as a magic bullet that transferred ideas or feelings or knowledge or motivations almost automatically from one mind to another. This theory has been largely discredited by academics because of its suggestion that all members of an audience interpret messages in the same way, and are largely passive receptors of messages. This theory does not take into account intervening cultural and demographic variables such as age, ethnicity, gender, personality, or education that cause us to react differently to the media messages we encounter. However, many people hold the assumption that media, like television news outlets, simply release information that doesn’t encourage audience engagement and critical thinking. Rather than give a story with an unbiased message that would allow a consumer to create an opinion for themselves, media news outlets present stories to audiences that are attractive to them. Those who believe reality television shows actually portray reality hold some assumptions of the magic bullet theory.

  •    Two-Step Flow Theory

The two-step flow theory suggests that mass communication messages do not move directly from a sender to the receiver. Instead, a small group of people, gatekeepers, screen media messages, reshape these messages and control their transmission to the masses. Opinion leaders initially consume “media content on topics of particular interest to them” and make sense of it based upon their own values and beliefs. In the second step, the opinion leaders filter and interpret the messages before they pass them along to individuals with shared ideologies who have less contact with the media, opinion followers. An example of this theory occurs during political campaigns. Research has shown that during an election, the media influence your voting preference through the information they choose to show about a candidate. This research can still be applied to current political campaigns. Pope Francis has over 4 million followers on twitter and is one of the most retweeted social leaders. He uses social media to engage and influence his followers about what’s going on in the world. Also, President Obama’s use of social media is highly credited as a key factor in the 2008 election. Conservatives often argue that they are marginalized by the “liberal media,” while liberals argue that they are marginalized because wealthy conservatives own and control the media.

  •  Multi-step Flow Theory

 This theory suggests that there is a reciprocal nature of sharing information and influencing beliefs, attitudes, and behaviours. The idea is that opinion leaders might create media messages, but opinion followers might be able to sway opinion leaders. Thus, the relationship to the media becomes much more complex. Some believe that the role of the opinion leader in our changing culture is diminishing particularly with the ability for average people to reach potentially millions of people through social media.

  •   Uses and Gratification Theory

 The uses and gratification theory suggests that audience members actively pursue particular media to satisfy their own needs. “Researchers focus their attention, then, on how audiences use the media rather than how the media affect audiences”. The reciprocal nature of the mass communication process no longer sees the media used as an inactive, unknowing participant but as an active, sense-making participant that chooses content and makes informed media choices. We tend to avoid media that do not agree with our values, attitudes, beliefs, or pocketbooks. Even with all the information on the internet, there are still some people who consider it too time-consuming and complex. Streaming shows online helps us avoid commercials and media content in which people choose not to participate. Netflix, for example, requires a monthly fee in order for you to be commercial-free during the shows. These new ways of watching television have allowed the consumer to make active choices about what media they use and consume.

  • Cultivation Theory

The cultivation analysis theory states that heavy exposure to media causes individuals to develop an illusory perception of reality based on the most repetitive and consistent messages of a particular medium. This theory most commonly applies to analyses of television because of that medium’s uniquely pervasive, repetitive nature. Under this theory, someone who watches a great deal of television may form a picture of reality that does not correspond to actual life. Televised violent acts, whether those reported on news programs or portrayed on television dramas, for example, greatly outnumber violent acts that most people encounter in their daily lives. Thus, an individual who watches a great deal of television may come to view the world as more violent and dangerous than it actually is


Media is the reflection of our society and it depicts what and how society works. Media, either it is printed, electronic or the web is the only medium, which helps in making people informed. It also helps in entertaining the public, educate and make people aware of the current happenings. Media has today become the voice of our society. There is a variety of media platform that has stimulated the thoughts of the young generation and other sections of our society, more eloquently


Vani Parashar

Student, Amity University NOIDA

Vani Parashar is a 3rd-year law student at Amity University, Noida. As a law student, She has taken part in different fields like youth parliaments, debates, MUNs and event organisation. She is a well-rounded individual who lives with passion, dedication and grace and this is what sets her apart from anybody else.

One thought on “Theories of Mass Media and Society

  1. A well-written article, Vani Parashar! You’ve explained the five fundamental theories of mass communication really well. After reading it, I feel that right now, the media is using the magic bullet theory. We are being inundated with so much information, and no one cares how the public interprets all of it.

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