Television plays a critical role in providing information to its viewers in a timely manner, though this responsibility could be detrimental if the format of delivery is not in line with the needs of the viewers. There are many questions and theories regarding the usefulness or appropriateness of television in American society today. A research review (Huston, et al., 1992) of television watching habits in regards to violence, sexuality and health shows that television program choices are as formative for adults as they are adolescents, though younger children may be spared from this effect due to their “insufficient emotional and cognitive capacities to comprehend the message.” With this in mind, some people feel that television broadcasts should be well-regulated and censored to a level that society finds appropriate (Hoffner, et al., 1999), and though much of television is, in fact, regulated to some degree, Anderson (1997) found that commercials which air during family-centered broadcasting contained violence which may not be suitable for all ages. In addition to violence, many programs aired today contain sociopolitical biases that threaten the very message meant to be conveyed. In addition to content, expertise is called into question as local and national news outlets are viewed with a sense of authority, when in fact they may not be. A recent survey (Wilson, 2008) of weathercasters showed that in 2002 only 8% of stations employed a science or environment reporter. Many weathercasters do not have the scientific background in order to accurately forecast severe weather, yet they serve as the authoritative source for this information. These are not symptoms common only to network television broadcasting but are prominent in all media, including print and radio.
In order for the media to maintain its credibility, it must take the responsibility of broadcasting seriously. Television broadcasters must maintain an air of unbiased, expert reporting interested in delivering fact and opposing viewpoints if necessary. Broadcast outlets must also take on the responsibility of the content of each program keeping in mind the intended audience. There is a social contract between viewers and broadcasters, and though I am not one to suggest government censorship, responsible self-censorship by each media outlet may be ethical and appropriate to promote good habits and healthy lifestyles.
With society’s reliance on television to provide entertainment and information, the programs and information offered can certainly alter society’s perceptions of acceptability and necessity within our culture. With rights comes responsibility. We enjoy a certain freedom of our press, but when that freedom is without responsibility, misinformation is promulgated to the masses having dire consequences on society. As an example, the media’s reliance on violence for profits has greatly diminished our society’s abhorrence of such. This coupled with poor and inaccurate reporting on gun violence has led to an unhealthy promotion of guns to solve the most minuscule of problems (Omaar, 2007). Essentially, the media created a self-fulfilling prophecy. Looking at society today, this has effectively removed guns from the hands of lawful citizens and placed them with criminals. Many politicians are to blame for their ignorance on this matter, but television is to blame for providing these politicians the education of ignorance. Television can shape society. What shape do we want to be in?
Anderson, C. (1997). Violence in Television Commercials During Nonviolent Programming: The 1996 Major League Baseball Playoffs. JAMA, 278(13), 1045-1046.
Hoffner, C., Buchanan, M., Anderson, J. D., Hubbs, L. A., Kamigaki, S. K., Kowalczyk, L., et al. (1999). Support for censorship of television violence: The role of the third-person effect and news exposure. Communication Research, 26(6), 726-742. DOI: 10.1177/009365099026006004
Huston, A. C., Donnerstein, E., Fairchild, H., Feshbach, N. D., Katz, P.A., Murray, J. P., et al. (1992). The role of television in American society. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press.
Omaar, R. (3 September 2007). Why our children carry guns. New Statesman, 137(4860), 20. AN: 26417804
Wilson, K. (2008). Television weathercasters as station scientists. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, 89(12), 1926-1927