Changes in political, economic and social circumstances in the past have brought about changes in the media systems and the way they operate. These domestic factors that exist today have major instances upon newspapers, radio, and television, which in turn remain the most important means of mass communication. Several constraints and imperatives that come from governments, laws, cultural values, economic realities and pressures like media markets and financial support or even ownership. This essay will look at these political, economic and social factors that affect media operations.
Firstly, it should be understood that the political structures within which the media operates influences its form and its operations. Rugh (2007) proposes that the most potent factor that influences the structure and functioning of the media is the actual political reality that prevails in each country at a given time. This means that the government in power can choose to sponsor or barn some programmes – directly or indirectly – which differ or oppose their ideologies. This is called censorship, and of evidently suppresses media objectively and its independence as the fourth state.
In the same footing, another political factor that affects media operations is the actual media ownership. Owners or funders of media houses, which are or may be, government, tend to influence these media houses like ZBC and the Herald, Chronicle, Sunday Mail and Sunday News. This is what validates the motion that he who pays the piper detects the tune. So as is apparent that the owners of media operators influence the way they operate like airing the ideologies of ZANU-PF as is the case with ZBC which priorities ZANUPFs ideologies and publish much fewer doctrines for advertisements of the opposition parties like MDC parties. Thus, depending on the media ownership patterns, the bosses can choose to sponsor or fund some programmes while neglecting others.
In addition to the aforementioned, media polarisation also affects media operations. Although the media is supposed to act as a watchdog keeping a close eye on the government and those on political power, it tends to be biased in some instances. For example, print media is supposed to report impartially and unbiased as is assumed and expected of every other medium. Taking the example of Daily News, however, it appears to be supporting the MDC-T party, and this means that it will not report anything terrible about the party leaders. The same applies to state-owned media like ZBC and The Herald, for instance, which will avoid anything that sheds light or cripples the ruling party ZANU PF.So this has got an impact on media operations.
Furthermore, the government introducing media regulations also has an immense impact on the operations of the media. This is also referred to as franchising. For instance, in Zimbabwe laws such as Access To Information and Protection of Pricing Act, Public Order and Security Act and the Criminal law Codification and Reform Act among other laws, which prevented a foreign journalist from being employed in media organisation in Zimbabwe and sort of IP censure and accredit domestic journalists with the minister of information and publicity deciding who should and who should not be licenced or accredited to operate in the country. Thus this affected media operations because this means that the minister could authorise persons and organisations that obliged to his political affiliation. So, there was fear of being banned or penalised for publishing auto ZANU PF staff.
Economic factors deal with issues of investment and capital. Firstly, it is essential to understand that media organisations are run for profit, especially private owned organisation. Even public-owned need to gain funds or revenue to sustain its operations. So, it is apparent that such organisations like newspapers concentrate on making this paper self-censored because that is where they get the money to maintain their equipment and pay employees. Thus they have to operate in a way that will increase profit and income like producing in bulk, selling them where there are a lot of potential buyers like urban areas, and writing stories that sell the paper or issues that affect a greater number of the public like an election campaign. Thus, this also affects media operations.
In addition to the above economic factor is the issue of expenditure on media products. Firstly, it should be noted that the equipment used to produce and to transmit or transport media products are costly. Secondly, it should then be registered to retain capital used; results should be sold and delivered in appropriate qualities. For instances, it would be waste of paper and ink to profit 10 million papers that are meant to be sold in an area that has less than 10 thousand literate people and less than 25 thousand people who are in a financial state that afford the newspaper. Such economic statistics are considered, and they affect media operations.
Another economic factor that bears media operations is ownership and financial support. Objectively, the owners need for profit severely influence the media operations and the overall content of the media. This is seen in facts like what sells is what they publish (Fred,1963). Here, they can sacrifice anything for their sales, even social values. For instance, sex sales, that is what they publish because they are after sales and making a profit. So, because the media are in a business of maximising profits just like any other business organisation in capitalism (Masoo,1946), this influences media content and in turn, influences media operations.
Advertisement as an economic factor also plays its part in influencing media operations. This is mainly because it is responsible for the medias income. This implies that since media depends on advertisements for income, especially newspapers who get 80% of their revenue from advertising, are bound to avoid publishing issues that are not favourable to advertisers. For instance, because OK stores advertise in the Daily News, Daily News cannot afford to upset OK by publishing harmful articles that are likely to paralyse the reputation of the organisation concerned. Thus, advertising poses as an important factor.
Social values, like societal beliefs and values, also shape media operations. There is a need to respect the culture of the public of that area where a media organisation is operating from or where it sells its media products. For instance, in a Muslim community, a media organisation is not expected to entertain Christian news, because its either they will not buy the product or might protest for the closure of such an organisation because it does not uphold their beliefs which vary from society to society affect media operations, in particular, it’s content.
Demography is also an important social factor that determines or affect media operations. In this regard, a media organisation needs to take into account the age range of the audience. For instances, whether the audiences are teenagers or adults or even small children. This is important because it is apparent that each group does not enjoy reading another age group staff. Like little children do not concentrate on adult news but focus their attention on cartoons, toys and dolls. So, this should be taken into consideration by media organisation like television and media.
Media organisations should also make it a point to improve the quality of media products. This is important because it determines the quality of readership and view ship and in turn determines the size of a medias market. This is so because audiences usually prefer high-quality newspapers or television programmes. So, this is also important since it affects media operations.
From the above, my view is that national politics, economics and social circumstances play a crucial role in shaping the media environment even in democratic countries. Even Peterson and Schrum (1993) supported this when they said “the press always takes on the form and colouration of the social and political structures within which it operates. These include regulations and laws, cultural and social values and economic realities and pressures discussed above.
Note: I wrote this essay in grad school as part on my course work towards a BA Honors Degree in English and Media Studies (2013).