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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


FOURIE, Pieter J.. Fundamental mass communication research as a precondition for substantiated media criticism. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2012, vol.52, n.1, pp.85-102. ISSN 2224-7912.

The main argument in this article is that the "new" postmodern society and "new" digitised media landscape have contributed to a loss of intellectual depth in the media. Because mass communication research focuses mainly on the impact, effects, functions and power of the media, and in the process has itself become mainly market orientated, there is a lack of fundamental mass communication research focusing on the nature of mass communication as communication As a result mass communication research does not contribute to improving the quality of the media in postmodern society and the new media landscape. To substantiate this argument the following are dealt with in consecutive parts of the article: It is argued that the new digitised media landscape and the "new" hybrid and fragmented postmodern society have contributed to what can often be described as mainly trivial and insignificant media content. This, and especially journalism, is criticised mainly from the perspectives of critical media theory, sociology, political science and cultural studies. The essence of this criticism ranges from criticism against the political economy of the media and the impact thereof on content and form to critique against the superficial, sensationalist, gossip-mongering nature of journalism. This kind of criticism is also related to the criticism of the political-cultural movement Ars Industrialis, in which the focus is on the industrialisation and commercialisation of human experience. It is argued that the media, in providing mainly commercialised representations of reality and human existence, contribute to this condition. After a discussion of the so-called crisis of journalism with reference to inter alia the dubious relationship between journalism and democracy, journalism 's decline of authenticity, the problem of identity, and the problem of objectivity, these matters are further substantiated with a specific consideration of the sociological critique of Pierre Bourdieu, the political critique of Kenneth Minogue and Frans Aerts' cultural criticism. The emphasis is on Bourdieu 's identification of the structural limitations of journalism and the journalistic profession, Minogue 's focus on the corrupting devices and Aerts' views about the banality of journalism. They are in agreement on the lack of intellectual depth as the main reason for the failure of journalism and the media. Having outlined the main criticism against the media, and particularly journalism as the flagship genre of the media, it is concluded that despite the value of the criticism, the criticism itself is often too media deterministic and for that reason often unsubstantiated. It fails to address the fundamental nature of the media as communication. The article concludes with an argument and an indication of how a focus on the basic constructs of the media as communication can contribute to substantiated criticism. The constructs are signification (how the media, through deliberate choices and processes of selection, signify meaning), representation (mediated interpretations of the world and human behaviour), rhetoric (the repetitive treatment of questions related inter alia to identity) and dialogue (through, inter alia, interactivity and intertextuality). Each of these constructs are briefly introduced and it is argued that focusing on them from a multimodal perspective can provide a more grounded description of the media and the nature of media communication in a media sphere.

Keywords : media criticism; mass communication research; new society"; new" media landscape; technological determinism; fundamental research; communication; signification; representation; rhetoric; dialogue.

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