The very fact that advertising is such big business suggests that it must influence public opinion in some way – and if advertising can have this effect then it seems unrealistic to assume that all aspects of media content do not have an effect upon their audience. For functionalists, the relationship between ownership and control of the media centres on the importance of there being a range of views on offer through newspapers, magazines, television and so forth. In this respect, social stability is considered to be best preserved by there being a reasonably wide range of different media from which people can choose.
Specifically, ownership and control is seen as being separated. The function of owners (individuals or multiple shareholders) is an economic one, whilst the function of management (the controllers of media output) is one of ensuring the content of the media appeals to as wide a range of people as possible. Thus, highly popular publications (for example, daily newspapers selling millions of copies) sit alongside more-specialist publications (those that cater for minority tastes).
Ultimately, in a democratic society the consumer will determine the success or failure of an enterprise; the content of the media, in this respect, is seen to be largely consumer-driven. If people do not like what is being offered they can refuse to buy a publication or they can seek-out publications that do offer them what they require. Since the media are an economic enterprise dealing with cultural values there is invariably a tension between making profits (where the medium is privately owned) and highlighting moral issues.
The fact that newspapers, for example, may risk alienating some parts of their readership by supporting unpopular cultural issues is evidence of the multi-functional role of the media. Given the emphasis upon the cultural role of the media it is hardly surprising, for functionalists, that the most popular forms of media should be broadly conservative and supportive of the status quo, since this is one of their main functions. There are a number problems that can be identified with functionalist perspectives on the media.
Firstly, in methodological terms, when functionalists talk about social consensus they tend to ignore the idea that such a consensus may be more apparent than real. That is, they tend to discount the idea that consensus, where it exists, may be the result of the imposition of a particular ideological framework. In simple terms, marxists tend to criticise functionalist perspectives on the basis that ruling classes are able to impose a dominant ideology upon the rest of society. The role of the media in promoting common values can be seen as promoting the values of one particular class, rather than the values of society as a whole.
The idea that the consumer of the media is the ultimate judge of success or failure tends to ignore the idea that people are encouraged to want what the media offers (rather than the media being encouraged to offer what the public wants). This is particularly evident in relation to the interpretation of just who the consumer of the media actually is – many sociologists have argued that advertisers are the real consumers of the media. The media provides a diet of programming that will deliver-up to advertisers the size and audience composition they require. The media do not reflect equally all points-of-view in society.
Some views are marginalised and downgraded because of the political perspective of newspaper owners, broadcasters etc. For instrumental marxists, the role of the mass media in capitalist society is that of ensuring that the views and interests of a ruling class are presented to the rest of the population in such a way as to ensure that people accept as normal and right the inequalities inherent in capitalist societies. The main function of the mass media, therefore, is one of social control (the attempt to control the behaviour of other classes in society).
This is achieved through such means as: Denying access to competing views about the nature of the social world. Presenting a picture of social life that is invariably favourable to the interests of a ruling class. Directly influencing the way in which other classes receive information about the social world. In relation to the above, therefore, it can be noted that the content of the mass media is inevitably biased (both directly through privately owned media such as newspapers, television channels and so forth and indirectly through publicly owned media such as television).
From this perspective the relationship between ownership and control of the mass media is relatively clear and straightforward. Owners have ultimate control over the nature of an organisation, although in modern capitalist societies they tend to employ a wide range of managers to deal with the day-to-day control and operation of the organisation. However, managers can be employees like any other employee (they can be hired and fired etc) or part owners of an organisation (through share options and the like).
It is clear that those who manage an enterprise only ‘control’ its operation in the sense that they oversee its operation. Ultimate control resides with the owners of an enterprise. For example, the editor of the Sun newspaper may have control over such things as the stories that go into the newspaper each day, the hiring and firing of employees and so forth. The owner of the Sun ultimately controls such things as the political stance of the paper, the type of audience it is aiming to reach and so forth.