Mainstream media in the United States of America made no bones about their preference in the just concluded presidential election. Hilary Clinton of Democratic Party was their choice and they brazenly promoted her candidature. They spared no effort to sell Mrs Clinton to the American electorate and went the extra mile to de-market the Republican candidate, Donald Trump. Everything about Clinton was great news, while everything about Trump was a disaster. While Trump was presented to the public as a villain, Clinton was primed as a hero. The media projected Trump as the devil who was determined to destroy the American value and system, while Clinton was portrayed as the angel with the capacity to ensure the entrenchment of the American dream.
While it is within the rights of individual reporters and correspondents to be sympathetic to the cause of any person or party, the media organizations those reporters represent and the media institution, as a whole, enjoy no such privilege. The media, as an institution, is expected to be unbiased. The media, as a matter of fact, is not supposed to have its own opinion or view; it is supposed to reflect the aggregate views of the people. Hence, it is said that the media mirrors the society; it beams to the society what the society projects to it. But the narrative of the just concluded elections shows that the media tried to force its position and its candidate on the American society, that is why there was such a shocking consequence.
Media managers must stop arrogating to themselves the powers they lack by thinking that the society will lap up whatever is presented to it. Media owners and managers need to come to terms with the fact that the media reflects and mirrors the society, it does not recreate it. Any attempt by the media to recreate or mould the society in its own image will always meet with devastating failure.
Granted that the agenda-setting function of the media confers on it the responsibility to set agenda for the society, but what most media managers fail to understand is that it is the people, not the media, that must determine the agenda to be set. Such agenda must be people-inspired and people-determined; otherwise it will fall flat on its face. Before the media can successfully perform its agenda-setting function, it must first perform the surveillance function, which is finding out what the preference of the people is. Without first carrying out its surveillance function, the media will fail trying to foist its own agenda on the society.
The Nigerian media successfully set an agenda to oust President Goodluck Jonathan from office in the 2015 election because it first gauged the feelings of the majority of the people. Many Nigerians were dissatisfied with the administration because of the alleged widespread corrupt practices and its failure to tame the rampaging terrorists in the North East. Finding out the people’s preference before taking a position made the prosecution of the ‘Jonathan Must Go’ agenda a success.
But the Nigerian media bungled it in the 2014 Ekiti State governorship election, when many mainstream media outfits sided with the then Ekiti State governor without first carrying out a surveillance to find out what the most important factor in the process, the Ekiti people, wanted. Eventually, in spite of the priming and copious space given to Dr. KayodeFayemi by the media, MrAyodeleFayose defeated him in the contest.
The point is, while there is no denying the media’s enormous power, it should not be forgotten that the power emanates from the people. The media is only as powerful as the people allow it. One critical law of power deployment is the recognition of its source. Unfortunately, mainstream media is beginning to forget that its power derives from the people; hence it has been moving away from the people and gravitating towards the corporations and the Establishment. The media has been reporting the big advertisers; companies and governments, at the expense of issues that are important to the generality of the people. It is the distance between the people’s aspiration and the media’s interest that has given strength to citizen journalism. The people are gradually taking back, with the help of technology, the power they had earlier ceded to the media.
When the mainstream media failed to help Donald Trump in transmitting his position on same-sex marriage, abortion, gun control and school vouchers, among others to the people, he resorted to the new media, especially Twitter, to communicate his message. The outcome of the election is a proof that those issues are more important to many American people than the highfaluting issues which the media attempted to project Trump as incompetent of handling.
In the final analysis, it is a society, not the media, that determines its fate.