The Rise and Ethics of Mass Communication

This week,reading about the rise of technology and largely the popularization of the radio as both an entertainment and a political tool I began thinking about the ethics of mass media. Technology moved incredibly quickly in the early 1900s and it was up to politicians to move just as quickly and to take advantage of the new tools available to them. However, I doubt anyone could have fathomed the dramatic effect of nationally heard messages until they were spoken. I wonder if this affected the way politicians initially chose to deliver their messages.


I imagine that, at least initially it was not entirely apparent that political rhetoric could not be packaged as it always had been to speak to small groups that did not exceed the size of a village. To begin with, it is much easier to construct a message that will be palatable to a single community than it is to appeal to an entire nation.Not only could this drastically affect a person’s political popularity it could change the entire mood of a nation and even provoke violence. 


I found the ethics of widespread consumption of political messages and the usage of media to be an especially interesting point when considering the rivalry of Getúlio Vargas and Carlos Lacerda. While public media has been incredibly important for the unbiased political education of masses, Vargas and his use of public radio demonstrates the serious danger of universal messages. Modern technology has given autocrats who abide simply by no moral code aside from maintaining their own power, more reach than ever. The invention of the radio gave rise to questions of censorship (or targeted propaganda) as well as a new aspect to consider in order to maintain a free press. While radio can be a useful tool to spread ideas quickly, is it the proper domain for a government to have free reign?


Lacerda seemed to understand more clearly the opportunity for emotion that arose with the mobilizing of a huge group of people. He utilized a more personal approach and much more successfully created a sense of national unity and often of national upset. However the real power of mass emotion is shown by the events of August the 24th 1954. Vargas was by no means a popular figure but by making a drastic statement on a huge scale he managed to trigger a wave of emotion, simply because he was capable of reaching enough people to make a difference.


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2 Responses to The Rise and Ethics of Mass Communication

  1. elena faraci

    Hi Isabel,
    I liked your point about how technology can be both a blessing and a curse. Technological progress is always depicted as such a good thing that it can be easy to forget that it almost always comes at a price, especially if it is taken advantage of by opportunistic rulers. In 20th century Latin America, the radio could be taken advantage of by the government as a means to control the people. 21st century communication technology makes it easier for governments to spy on their people if they choose to do so, which could give a dictator a lot of power.
    I hadn’t considered that politician’s speeches would have had to change once they were heard by a national audience. I’m not sure if this is really what happened, but I would guess that having one’s speeches heard by the whole country instead of one small group would make politicians more centrist and general, so their messages would have a better chance of partially applying to everyone rather than applying only to a small faction.

  2. Hi!
    I found your blog to have a really interesting take on the rise of mass media especially in the political situation that we were looking at in the readings! The ethics of mass media in communication are definitely understudied in todays rise in technology. To look back at what happened with the public gaining so much power and giving rise to certain political instabilities simply from the movement of media reaching more and more people is a very interesting topic indeed.

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