Over the last six months, the coronavirus has not only caused a serious public health problem but also posed a severe immediate threat to the centuries-old human traditions. Let's take an example of mass communication as one of the prominent areas of human communication in current global scenario. Under the technological development along with the ever-changing human awareness, the media of communication have gained mass characteristics. But the pandemic is adversely affecting the institutions of media across the world. Now, our publishers, and media tycoons and moguls are expressing their worry with the conclusion that coronavirus is killing the media industry, too.
Unexpected blow By March and April this year, the economic crisis linked to the COVID-19 pandemic started to surface throughout the world. Subsequently, the crisis began to hit the media industry globally, forcing media houses to go for cuts. Trade unions and journalists’ associations have opposed the layoffs, salary reduction and called for waiting for good days as they saw storm-weathering measures to be effective temporarily. But the situation has gone from bad to worse. When one of the big media houses of Nepal closed down its three publications simultaneously last week, the crisis within the Nepali mass media appeared more visibly. Every day, the crisis of media outlets, which had already made the coronavirus-era cuts, is deepening. The big news of the world these days is the coronavirus infections and killings. But the newspapers’ crisis is the news that causes impact worldwide. On one hand, the coronavirus crisis has led to heightened interest in the news while it has also devastated the advertising revenue on which many outlets rely, on the other. From the news organisations that continuously running for the last 200 years to those existing over the last decades are facing the same sort of challenges to survive. Thus, the pandemic has dealt a massive and unexpected blow to publishers. With the advertising revenue going down, people have started to perceive that this is an adverse time for journalism. But there is a strong quest for an honest appraisal of all the ways the journalism business needs to modify—whether they are linked to the pandemic or not. So far, it has been our understanding that the importance of communication for the functioning of democracy could be addressed by the big media outlets, which make profit out of the news business. As we believe, democracy needs a fair and frank political communication to encourage pure discussions about the allocation of public resources or revenues. An exercise of official authority by the legitimate power-holder makes a legal, legislative and executive decision, and official sanctions. Through communication, non-politicians such as voters and newspaper columnists address those actors. However, such underpinning of liberal democracy would be altered in the absence of current modus operandi of the flow of communication. Against this backdrop, we need to assess the present realities and try to foresee the elements and the landscape of the future public communication. Traditionally, the elements of political or public communication comprise of political actors, media and the audience. The purpose of all human communication, more distinctly in the case of public communication, is to persuade the general public. The target of this persuasion will be the audiences or people. They will be one of the key elements in the process of public or political communication, without which no message can hold any relevance. But the forms of mass media or media would be transformed in the future. Till date, the big media organisations, which comprise of print, broadcasting, and online channels since about two decades, are another key player in the process of public communication. The situation might change in the aftermath of a crisis created by the coronavirus. Amid the on-going communication revolution, people have started to envisage the upcoming communication scenario. Some of the scholars present a few elements, which in their opinion, are extremely probable. The idea is to foresee the future of human communication that will be influenced by the extensive utilisation of integrated electronic equipment. Communication will be based on the process of convergence and subsequently exchange of information and generation of content. Communication will become an unprecedented large field, as people will move on from exchange of information to exchange of services and products. But the traditional forms of advertising would die. Right from interpersonal to global communication, including mass media and social media, would be changed and our traditional mode of dependency on big media outlets would be shifted. The days of media logic and discourse would be altered by relatively small media outlets or new kinds of media. Some argue sooner or later that all media organisations will move towards a stage where there will be an integration of different parts of the news-making process including audio, video, text, images, and graphics. Marketing, cross-promotion, sales, redistribution and inter-activities with publics will also be achieved. The discourse is initiated with the argument that first mobile phones, then laptops, wireless technology and tablets modified yet again the way we communicate. A similar observation is that the TV set in the living room or bedroom, the computer in the study or at work has lost ground to the newcomers. It is, certainly, a new face of convergence and it has kept bringing about changes in public and private lives, especially by the integration offered by social media.
Mediatisation One vital concept in understanding the role of the traditional media in the functioning of democracies is mediatisation. During the last decade, mediatisation, as the strength of big mass media, has also become an increasingly popular concept. It is applied not only in the context of politics and democracy but also in other areas ranging from the toy industry to consumption and culture and society in a wider sense. But things are changing rapidly. The COVID-19 has intensified the process of change. Thus it is the right time for the media persons to think about the chances of modification of the existing mass media outlets in the upcoming communication framework.
(Dr. Aryal is associated with the Central Department of Journalism and Mass Communication of Tribhuvan University.)