Malcolm chart the critiques of the concept of

Malcolm X once famously said, “The media is the most powerful entity on earth. They have the power to make the innocent guilty and to make the guilty innocent, and that’s power. Because they control the mind of the masses.”  Similar claims have been made by academics, theorists, activists, etc. In the 21st century, this power of media has extended to different spheres of human society. This essay charts the evolution and the symbolic and structural nature of this power that the media exercises. In particular, it applies the insights of Pierre Bourdieu and John Thompson’s theory of symbolic power to assess the symbolic power of media. I will also use Fairfield’s research on structural power to analyze the structural power of the media. The argument will unfold as follows: I will first situate the power of media. In particular, I will interrogate the symbolic and structural dimension of the media power. Second, I will chart the critiques of the concept of media power, and present arguments for a broader understanding of how media yields this power. I will further evaluate this media power in the context of the way it is exercised in the present age. In the final section, I will critique this notion of media power and how some sections of the society resists the growing media influence. Defining Media PowerPower is an important paradigm of media and communication as it is entwined with other social, political and economic institutions. It influences the attitudes and behavior of its audience towards these institutions. Furthermore, it is used by individuals for various purposes such as to convey and gain knowledge and to help in the construction of individual’s identity at a social and cultural level (Hjarvard, 2011). Power is not absolute, it can be defined in a number of ways and has various contradictory dimensions. For Foucault, “power is everywhere” (Foucault, 1998, p. 63). He sees power as a kind of a metaphor that is exercised through accepted forms of knowledge, scientific understanding and truth. On the other hand, Silverstone defined media’s power as its “ability to set cultural agendas and to destroy them, to influence the political process as well as being influenced by it; to inform as well as to deceive” (Silverstone, 2005, p.190). Furthermore, Turow believes power to be “the use of resources by one organization to gain compliance by other organization” (Turow, 1992, p. 24) while Castells emphasizes power to be empowered actor’s ability to influence a social actor’s decision in such a way that it favor’s the empowered actor’s will, interest, and values (Castells, 2009, p.10). In all these interpretations of power, the similarity is media’s power to influence the views and decisions of its viewers over the political, economic and cultural institutions of the society. The power exercised by the media is also associated with Gramsci’s idea of Hegemony which combines the ideas of power with the normative, material, structural and behavioral dimensions of social relations (Gill and Law, 1989). It alludes to the role of media in maintaining the universally accepted and dominant ideology and helps in retaining the social, cultural, political and economic status-quo while making it seem inevitable and beneficial for all (Gill and Law, 1989). Just like we don’t question the hegemony and think of it as natural, similarly, the media power also remains unquestioned and seems natural. Therefore, Media power is multidimensional (Castells, 2011). It can be understood as both material and symbolic, both economic and cultural.Symbolic Power of the MediaThe power of media is also considered symbolic power which has many connotations. Bourdieu defines it as that “invisible power which can be exercised only with the complicity of those who do not want to know that they are subject to it or even that they themselves exercise it” (Bourdieu, 1991, p.64). While Thompson defined it as “the capacity to intervene in the course of events, to influence the actions of others and indeed to create events, by means of the production and transmission of symbolic forms” (Thompson, 1995, p.17). Bourdieu employs the Neo-Kantian tradition which treats ‘symbolic forms’ such as language, art, science and myth as “instruments for knowing and constructing the world of objects” (1991, p.164). Symbols are considered as tools of “‘social integration’: as instruments of knowledge and communication” (1991, p.166). For him, symbols made it possible to have a ‘consensus’ on the meaning and reproduction of social order (1991, p. 166). For Bourdieu language is not only a method of communication but also a form of power through which individuals, or a group of them, pursue their own interests. In this sense, language becomes a key symbolic form for media to exercise its symbolic power as it is through its use of language and visuals that media is able to transmit its own ideas and views to the citizens who then develop their own perspectives based on what is shown to them by the media. As defined by Thompson describes it stems from the activity of producing, transmitting and receiving meaningful symbolic forms (Thompson, 1995, p.16). For him, the symbolic power of media extends to its ability to make symbolic forms available in space and time and that these “symbolic forms or products of media industries are available in principle to a plurality of recipients” (1995, p.30) Furthermore, Chouliaraki refers symbolic power to “the capacity of the media to selectively combine resources of language and image in order to present distant suffering as a cause of the emotion, reflection and action for Western media audiences” (Chouliaraki, 2008, p.329). She cites the increasing media coverage of war atrocities, human killings and sufferings such as in the Iraq war and the demonstration of Buddhist Monks in Myanmar to illustrate the role of media in overcoming the traditional gate-keeping mechanism and allowing the world to witness issues such as violence which had otherwise been inaccessible to them (2008, p.329). This can also be seen during the 2014 Peshawar School Massacre in Pakistan wherein the dead bodies of over 140 school children stirred the hearts of the people across the globe, calling out for a strong action against terrorism.Symbolic power can also be understood in Marxist terms. According to Marxist tradition, symbolic power relates to reflecting the interests of the dominant class and presenting the interest and ideology of a particular or dominant group to be of universal interest and as being beneficial for all classes of society. Bourdieu draws on to this theory to illustrate how the use of language varies according to the class and gender it is referring to. He argues that symbolic power does not reside in ‘symbolic system’ but is constituted in terms of who exercise the power and who submit to it. He emphasizes that symbolic power helps create and maintain social hierarchies which forms the very bedrock of political life. This is further asserted by Aeron Davis (2007) who describes media as ‘elite’ sites of power due to the intricate ways in which information and communication is integrated into the decision-making process and lived culture of the most powerful groups on the planet. To understand this, we can take in account Guo and Vargo’s (2017) instance of disparity between the international news coverage of America and Africa, wherein America because of its economic, political and diplomatic supremacy gets more coverage than Africa. The symbolic power of media is also considered ideological as media institution are seen as sites for the dissemination of ideology. Ideologies owe their most specific characteristic to the interests of the classes, to the class fractions that they express, to the specific interests of those who produce them and to the specific logic of the field of production. The power of the words and slogans to subvert the social order is due to the belief in the legitimacy of the words and those who utter them (Bourdieu, 1990, p.170). The dynamics of any power relationship is based on a certain degree of compliance and acceptance by those who are subjected to power. Symbolic power is also associated with the impact of media institutions on society and social reality. The media are believed to reflect reality and also to construct it: they can be seen as a window, mirror or even hologram (Baudrillard, 1983). Bourdieu also saw symbolic power as the “power of constructing (social) reality” (Bourdieu, 1991, p.166) and Nick Couldry linked it to the particular power of media to constitute and reflect the audience’s understanding of ‘social’. According to him, the concentration of symbolic power is so great that it dominates the whole social landscape and seems so natural that the underlying arbitrariness becomes difficult to see (Couldry, 2003). He further elaborates on it by arguing that the symbolic power of the media is constituted by the fact that it taken for granted as media has the power to speak ‘for all of us’, it is this ability which even the individuals, corporations, pressure groups, professional bodies and even the state does not have (Couldry, 2001, p.5). Thus, symbolic power can be understood as a juxtaposition between language, power, and politics. For Bourdieu, Symbolic power does not reside in ‘symbolic system’ but is constituted in terms of who exercise the power and who submits to it (Bourdieu, 1990).Structural Power of MediaThe structural power of media is associated with its ability to influence the various structures of human society such as politics, culture, economy, religion, etc. It can be understood as the impact of the symbolic power of media because it is through media’s use of symbols such as language and images that it is able to affect the structures of the society. Media power is exercised at the coexistence of the economic, the political and the symbolic (Thompson, 1995). Media power and politics go hand in hand as many theorists who understand media as being fundamentally inscribed into the political process itself (Virilio, 1986; Wark, 1994). The political role of media is highlighted by Castells as he states, “The connection between political leadership networks, media networks, scientific and technology networks and military and security networks to assert a geopolitical strategy. Or the connection between political networks and media networks to produce and diffuse specific political ideological discourses” (2011, pg 777). He further describes media politics to be the fundamental mechanism by which access to political power and policy-making operates (2011, p.783).  Taking into account the pivotal role that media plays, politicians strategically carve out their campaign and use media extensively in their promotions. For instance, during 2014 general elections in India, Narendra Modi’s campaign was largely carried out through media. Media also plays an intrinsic role in the country’s economy. Stephen and Gill elaborate on it as they say, “The structural aspect of power is associated with both material and normative dimensions of society, such as market structures and the role of ideology, which may or may not be mutually reinforcing” (Gill & Law, 1989, p.480). They further argue that “at the domestic level, the distinction between direct and structural forms of capital or of ‘business’ has already been well developed. Direct aspects of business power and influence relative to labor, include its financial resources, expertise, contacts with government, and control over much of the media. Business has a privileged ability to influence government, for example through lobbying” (Gill & Law, 1989, p.480). This relationship between wealthy and influential businessmen and politicians can be seen in India as well. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is known to have close ties with wealthy businessmen such as Mukesh Ambani, Gautam Adani, Amit Shah, etc. So much so, that it was reported that turnover of one of Shah’s company witnessed an increase of 16000 times over in the year following the election of Modi as Prime Minister.   This report was not covered by the mainstream media given the influence of both the parties involved, thus demonstrating the power politicians and businessmen exercise over the media. The role of media institutions in the cultural and religious domains of society is also pivotal. As Hjarvard (2011) asserts the role of media as an important source of information about religious issues and religious information. He argues how media has taken over many of the cultural and social functions of the institutionalized religions by providing spiritual guidance, moral orientation, ritual passages and a sense of community and belonging. But this power can be misused too. This is essentially true in the case of India as India is a religiously diverse and secular country has over 700 TV Channels, 6000 newspapers, and magazines, over thousand FM channels in over ninety languages. In 1992, there were large-scale Hindu-Muslim riots in Mumbai which were allegedly due to a number of bitter and communally inciting columns published in a leading newspaper.  Considering the fact that media power has so many facets and a global reach, activists often make use of media opportunities to gain visibility at both global and local levels. It has become a popular medium for them to raise voice and get people and government’s attention towards important social issues. For instance, Anna Hazare’s movement against corruption in India gained immense support and popularity due to the vast media coverage. Moreover, the worldwide Women’s March in 2017 was covered by the media in large scale and was immensely popular on social media. It is this two-dimensional power which media and other social actors exercise over each other because of the centrality of information and communication processes in influencing the minds and securing legitimation, communication networks are the fundamental network of power making in society (Castells, 2011). What is interesting to note here is his emphasis on power making and not power exercising as he considers media of constituting “space where power relationships are decided between competing political and social actors” (2009, pg. 242).This is asserted by Freedman (2014, p.8) as well as he considers media to be the host of power struggles where real power-holders such as international finance, politics, and business are invited to exercise their own influence. Resistance to Media PowerGiven the complexity of media power, it is also often resisted by the audience as well as other socio-political actors. As Freedman notes media power can sometimes result in, “dividing communities, looking for scapegoats and mystifying, rather than illuminating, social relations. In particular, it lends support to the proponents of a ‘control’ paradigm of power, like the advocates of the propaganda model, for whom the media perform a crucial ideological role in reproducing status quo.” The resistance of the audience towards media can be seen India when citizens of Kashmir boycotted popular news channels such as Times Now and Zee News for their misleading coverage of incidents in Kashmir. This leads us to question the authenticity as well as the ethical values of media because of its tendency of sensationalism and infotainment. As noted by Guo and Vargo “People rely on news media to learn and make judgments about foreign countries and the world at large (Wanta, Golan, and Lee). Yet, the picture the news paints of the world is not the same as ‘real world’.” News has quickly become a construction of reality instead of a reflection of it (Silverstone, 2005, p.196) while Chouliaraki notes that news has become a genre of imagination instead of being a genre of information (Chouliaraki, 2008). The power of media is also resisted by political actors as they often influence and control what is published, telecasted and shared on media platforms. For example, in India, the murder of a judge presiding over a case against the President of the ruling party of India and several cases of corruption against him were not reported by the mainstream and big media.  Thus, it raises the question of the nature of media power as it becoming an asset to a country democracy or to be reduced to being a puppet in the hands of those with power. Conclusion   In this essay, I have attempted to analyse the power of media as being symbolic and structural by evaluating its benefits and drawbacks in a democracy. I have further described how media power is opposed by the audience and other socio-political actors. Though my argument has remained quiet normative, I have tried to ground my reflections historically and contextually.  I would also like to allude that I am in no manner trying to imply that the situation would remain as it is. The power of media has an immense scope as Silverstone puts it:”Media creates anxiety as well as providing constant reassurance. They enable and disable rights of public speech and access to public sphere, both granting and withdrawing legitimacy and legitimation. They provide frameworks both for remembering and forgetting the past and for representing and misrepresenting the other. The media are seen to be increasingly central as defining the terms in which the global citizen goes about his or her everyday life as well as increasingly central to the political culture within which that everyday life is conducted.” (Silverstone, 2005, p.190)We can conclude that the media’s role in the construction of public beliefs and attitudes and its relationship to social change gives it the potential to dominate the cultural, political and economic aspects of the society. This is why Couldry describes media power as being ‘meta-capital’ as it enables the media to exercise power over other forms of power while sustaining its status of being the legitimate controller of access to public existence.After analysing the various complexities and contradictions of media power and its role in the welfare of the society, as being a service provider to the public and fulfilling its own commercial interests, media power can be seen as a vital player in preserving and recreating current patterns of power which exist in society today.