How do we understand the relationship between media and power?

This article was first published on page 16 of The Cyprus Weekly (13 April).

During the past week we have witnessed how power structures – both legislative and commercial – are intimately linked with the world of media. The furore created by Parliament’s scrutiny over the budget of the state broadcaster has opened up a big discussion about the media’s relationship to dominant elements within our society. While considering the fallout from last week’s events, I was reminded of a startling example of the way in which we Cypriots have become conditioned to a certain viewpoint on the role of the media in the functioning of our society.

Some weeks ago, I had the pleasure to participate in a lecture at the Department of Communication and Internet Studies at the Cyprus University of Technology (CUT) based in Limassol. The lecture, on the history and practice of community media worldwide, was also an opportunity to introduce final-year media students with the approach to producing media sensitive to the needs of a specific community. The CUT, having been granted a local radio station license by the Cyprus Radio and Television Authority, is planning ahead for content, and we asked the students to consider what the student community would want to tune into on their frequency. Those with an inclination to entertainment immediately called for more publicity for parties and events; others felt it would be good to hear about the everyday issues and problems that affect student life.

Having identified a number of problems that affect students at the CUT, we then proceeded to decipher who would be the most appropriate person to offer an opinion on air. To my surprise, we were met with an immediate response: the political groupings within the university. When asked to elaborate, the students were clear that representatives of political factions within the university are best positioned to express the grievances of the students, and, apparently, are the most appropriate people to propose solutions.

Fast forward to the discussions about media and power, and this example from the youth of tomorrow is a clear-cut illustration as to culture of media that prevails in Cyprus. The politicians have the power, and therefore they should dominate the airwaves. But media is not, and should not, be the playground of politics. We seem to have lost track of what its role in society really should be about: performing the role of a public watchdog; giving voice to those outside the mainstream of political life; covering all sides of a story through fair and accurate reporting.

With all this in mind, it is high time we evaluated our level of media literacy in Cyprus. This week’s events should be a call to action for the relevant stakeholders involved in promoting media literacy. People need to be in a position to critically evaluate what they see, hear, and read in the media, but also to understand where that final product comes from and whose input was decisive. Only then will we really begin to address our relationship to the media, and, ultimately our relationship with those who determine our future as a society.

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