Role of media in institutionalization and formation of public opinion (Azerbaijan Republic)

Vugar RAHIMZADE *

Abstract

Information needs shall be considered as the need for information with certain content and form. This information helps people define environmental realities, specify the world picture, make direction choices in behavior and problem cases, ensure harmony with social environment and build internal balance. If these needs are not met, a human being`s purposeful, elaborated activity is impossible. Information needs are of social nature, and are conditioned by the content of individual daily activity, and objective feature of professional and public activity. Theoretical interests are the subjective reflection and manifestation of information needs. It depends on the content of the presented information and socio-psychological factors (popularity, separate themes, individual, and profile of events) of the real situation.

Keywords: Media, information, auditorium, public opinion, communicator, system.  

 


The mass media have big opportunities in institutionalization and formation of public opinion. A modern human being`s communication activity is connected with the promotion, use and production of information. In general favorable information is becoming one of the crucial conditions of the socio-political activity (public, political, labor, etc.) and means of its realization.

Public opinion is such an expression of public consciousness which reflects the attitude (or assessment) of large social groups, a whole nation to topical events. Usually, these events are developments that are of serious public interest and concern public interests. The assessment of reality reflects the position of various groups and layers. These groups and layers express public opinion.

It is a fact that the normal activity of any social or social-territory unity is not possible without a collective view of public works, without judgement. Society cannot be a single social organism, a whole system, if events are not publicly assessed, if rules of behavior are not determined, if no efforts are made to find practical ways of solving major problems.

In every society, the establishment and development of public opinion is a very difficult process. Therefore, public opinion is not a mechanical sum of various opinions, but is the result of exchange, enrichment and interaction of these opinions.

Given that public opinion consists of the unity of rational emotional and volitional, it can be expressed on three levels: as a moral attitude (through judgement), moral and practical attitude (through emotional and volitional trends, intentions, etc.), and practical attitude (through mass actions).

The power of influence of public opinion is conditioned on being based on the opinion of the majority. The most important point here is whether the majority took a right or wrong attitude. If the attitude of the majority is right, then public opinion acts as unanimous opinion of the majority, which, for its part, increases its social importance and practical influence. Misleading the opinion of masses reduces functional capabilities of public opinion[2].

Intensity and stability of public opinion are among key features of public opinion. Public opinion is considered one of the methods of the existence of mass consciousness. This consciousness reflects true attitude of the majority of people, class, social group towards the facts, events and processes of the reality which concerns their demands and interests.

Public opinion is an effective tool for social control, and regulation of mass behavior and practical activity of people, and an integral part of the system of self-control.

A democratic tool of the control of society, public opinion is a channel for the socio-psychological expression of the interests, moods of various groups of people. Therefore, in countries with developed democracy constant consideration of public opinion in the solution of different public problems is regarded one of the key principles.

There are various interpretations of the essence, formation and evolution of public opinion. There is not a common opinion on this issue. Studies show that researchers from different areas have interesting ideas and theories in this area. Philosophers, sociologists, political scientists, social psychologists and other are more seriously engaged in public opinion problems. Therefore, public opinion theories can be considered a specific complex of conceptions and theories elaborated by researchers from various areas.

There are attempts to study the nature, importance and role of assessment judgements of human groups on events, facts, problems of the reality.

As specific expression of people`s consciousness and behavior, public opinion is closely connected with all public consciousness forms and levels. It can also impact on reality both morally and practically.

A deeper look at public opinion theories reveals that there were sociological socio-psychological and political approaches to public opinion. Active emergence of such approaches started in the second half of the 19th century. "Public opinion and masse” book by Gabriel Tarde, a prominent French sociologist, one of the founders of social psychologists, played a critical role in this process (Lowell, 1926). In his book, Tarde says that "audience” builds public opinion. The main condition for the emergence of the audience is genuine moral processes, communication. At the same time, during the study of public opinion, a political direction emerges. This becomes possible thanks to efforts of lawyers.

A. W. Lowell "Public opinion and popular government” book considerably influenced the emergence of theoretical ideas about the nature of public opinion and methods of studying it. Lowell includes the following issues in his theoretical researches:

− limits of competence of public opinion during decision making;

− ratio of the opinions of the majority and minority

− forms of expression of public opinion.

Lowell concluded that public opinion has a limited scope of influence on public administration; but in reality there are problems that cannot be solved through voting or referring to public opinion (Lowell, 1926). Lippmann developed this idea, and criticized the myth of "the citizen which is the lead force in all issues and is capable of everything.” What lies behind the limitedness of public opinion, for Lippmann? This includes incompetence of "middle man” to realize his interests, and his widely using media material. And media information is ether incomplete, or distorted. In this context, Lippmann uses the concept of stereotype. He uses this concept to express simple imaginations, expression forms of public opinion (Lipmann, 2004).

The role of public opinion is rapidly growing in societies with democratic governance form. It is conditioned by several issues:

Firstly, the public`s capabilities to influence the policy of the ruling layer of society is dramatically growing.

Secondly, democratic societies possess a multifaceted system of the mass media. Most of them protect alternative opinions. This paves the way for the society to get information about all events happening in the life of society. This builds a firm attitude of the majority of the society about the known events and decisions of the government.

Thirdly, the emergence of leaders in democratic societies takes place in the wave public opinion. If a leader manages to master common tendencies in the change in public opinion, then various representatives of the political community and then political figures start to defend his policy. The mass media have opportunities to influence public opinion in different forms (Vahidov & Aghayev 2008).

Propaganda carried out by the mass media must refer to reliable, scientifically reasoned information of intensity and integration of public opinion.

Present-day society in Azerbaijan witnesses the change of the content and form of mass information in compliance with the interests and requirements of people. It is important to add communicative goals in meeting audience`s information needs.

Information needs shall be considered as the need to information with certain content and form. This information helps people define environmental realities, specify the world picture, make direction choices in behavior and problem cases, ensure harmony with social environment and build internal balance. If these needs are not met, a human being`s purposeful, elaborated activity is impossible.

It is important to differ between "information needs” and "theoretical interests” terms. Information needs are of social nature, and are conditioned by the content of individual daily activity, and objective feature of professional and public activity. Theoretical interests are the subjective reflection and manifestation of information needs. It depends on the content of the presented information and socio-psychological factors (popularity, separate themes, individual, profile of events) of the real situation.

The nature and content of information needs is organically connected with the human being`s activity. If it is needed by information transmitted through the mass media, then audience is searching for necessary information in other channels, or "kills” its need for information, and activity in this area.

When analyzing the content of information needs, the ways of meeting it through various means, including the media, the population`s lifestyle shall be considered. This can explain the reasons of diversity of effectiveness of the use of separate information channels by media audience, including population groups. For instance, if the effectiveness of television depends on out-of-work areas, the human being`s using newspapers, journals, books is connected with the status of his or her professional activity, that is labor activity. Attention paid to the humanitarian area in Azerbaijan in recent years plays a pivotal role in structuralizing of the mass media. Humanitarian area is one of the key priorities for the Azerbaijani government, and huge investment is made in this sector. At the same time, humanitarian issues are successfully solved in Azerbaijan[3].

In present-day Azerbaijan, activity in the following ties among sides is increasing in information-communication relations. There are two poles: communicator and communicant. Within the framework of these relations, each participant of the process fulfills his specific activity, prompting activity of a partner too. Only in this case audience joins public relations system. For communicator it is important to consider the needs, interests, assignment and relevant character of audience for realizing its activity and building dialogue. Some specific features of audience are formed influenced by the mass media [7, 77]. Information about socio-economic experience of the past and the present occupies an important place in the activity mechanism of social spirits. At the same time, selected information always contains social idea because it reflects the processes of material and moral life. Socio-political information acts as a collection of information, factors and knowledge used by groups, organizations and various social institutions with the aim of regulating social relations.

Modern media is the fourth power which overtly spreads various types of information with the help of technical means. In present-day Azerbaijan, the weight of this power has considerably increased and strengthened. "The fourth power” is a relatively independent system which has its own internal elements. Elements mean its content, uniqueness, form, methods, etc. Unique features of the mass media in Azerbaijan include publicness, the existence of wide user base, possession of special technical equipment and facilities, the changing size of audience depending on various programs, information or articles.

The term "mass media” should not be confused with "mass communication means” because the second term reflects the greater mass means. When saying the mass media one implies facts of regular applying to cinema, theatre, circus, etc. as well as mass communication means such as telephone, fax, etc.

In fact, modern mass media is connected with the use of technical communication means. In Azerbaijan too, the press (newspapers, journals, etc.) play a unique role in the mass media system. If previously the press was outclassed in terms of efficiency of information, now social media and communication opportunities eliminated this problem.

At the modern stage, television is considered the most popular mass media. The image and emotional and artistic features of television give spectators greater confidence. Spectators can better feel what they did not witness. Television is much more popular among youth because present-day programs highlight topical issues and ideas. Free of charge use of television is another factor ensuring wide audience of television.

The fourth information channel – the worldwide computer network (the Internet) – which has been rapidly developing in the last decade, added to this list of these means. Together with special information, the internet occupies a big place in the mass media. In terms of national security interests and, in general, provision of information security, it would be rational to benefit from the best international practice. Analyses show that many countries of the world built defense systems in order to protect themselves from information attacks and foreign cultural expansion (Grinyayev 2001). The 21st century promises to be an age of new technologies in the formation of the mass media. Public consciousness is the reflection of material ties, which emerge in the process of people`s attitude towards each other and towards nature (Shiraliyev & Ahmadov 1999). Apart from exerting influence on society in general, the mass media impacts on each individual separately, and create similar emotions and actions.

So, in present-day Azerbaijan, the mass media are free and are capable of exerting more adequate influence on socio-political processes[4]. If the 20th century marked the establishment of independence in the history of the Azerbaijani state and people, the 21st century will see this independence strengthen, structuralize and grow steadfast (Rzayeva 2012).

The results of recent sociological analyses give grounds to draw a conclusion that in Azerbaijan, the mass media are remarkable for playing a pivotal role in people`s minds. On the one hand, it gives us pleasure as people have a chance to get information they need from unbiased sources, while on the other, the mass media act as a unique regulator of public opinion and public consciousness (Rzayeva 2012). It should also be noted that at the modern stage, media-state, media-society problems occupy a special place among fundamental problems. In August, 2014 chief of the Administration of the President of the Republic of Azerbaijan, academician R.Mehdiyev chaired a meeting that involved heads of the government information bodies and the country`s media leaders. In his speech, R.Mehdiyev said that Azerbaijan`s rapid development, the country`s becoming a powerful and important international actor, its playing the leading role in the region, active involvement in global politics and place in international organizations have become a source of serious concern for certain foreign forces, particularly Armenia, the Armenian lobby and separate circles representing their interests. Misusing the existing tolerant and democratic atmosphere in Azerbaijan, the government`s humane policy for their own ends, these circles and some internal groups are trying to mislead the society, spoil the socio-political stability and blacken outstanding achievements that our country has made[5].

This means that at the modern stage the need for the mass media`s becoming "the fourth power” in the political system is growing. Academician Ramiz Mehdiyev then said that the provocative activities of anti-Azerbaijani circles and internal groups controlled by them will never prejudice the will of the government and prevent its independent policy. It will never prevent the society from moving forward on the path towards development and its strategic choice. Appropriate measures will be taken further on to tackle the activities contradicting Azerbaijan`s national interests and legislation[6].

In general, the mass media`s anti-national ideological course is today undesirable for any society. In many countries, media-state problem emerges as a result of the establishment of the state and the division of people`s activities in government and non-government fields. From that moment relations between the state and the mass media becomes one of the crucial issues, and causes numerous social conflicts and other negative cases. Currently, this problem lies at the heart of global public changes in many countries across the world, and defines development prospects of the world community.

The systematic development path that Azerbaijan is moving forward on today requires ensuring the development of the mass media, and, at the same time, forestalling emerging information threats. From this point of view, the problem of ensuring protection from television programs that exert negative impact, and contradict citizens` mentality and pose threats to national interests still needs to be addressed in Azerbaijan. The issue of developing professional human resources not only in the technical sphere of information security, but also in the field of Internet journalism is topical in the country [13].

The expanding activity of the mass media as free thought bearers in Azerbaijan is an example to many countries. At the same time, the political will of national leader Heydar Aliyev played an important role in the full establishment of the media as "the fourth power” in Azerbaijan, and creation of the independent, pluralist press in Azerbaijan. This policy is today successfully continued by President Ilham Aliyev. Signed by Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, decrees and orders related to this sector laid the foundations for greater development of the independence press in the country. The improvement of informative and technical resources of the mass media in Azerbaijan demonstrates commitment to principles of independence of the "fourth power”.

State Information Policy is a special sphere of human activity associated with the reproduction and dissemination of information to meet the interests of the state and civil society, aimed at providing a creative, constructive dialogue between them and their representatives As an integral part of the society`s political system, the mass media play an important coordination role between the state and society, can freely operate and exert growing influence on social changes. Today, the mass media are capable of being the information guarantor of the state stability, a stabilizing factor for society, and by changing any social organism it also determines the importance of the state information policy.

Information is data conveyed to people. People have comprehended information through data transmission since ancient times. According to R. F. Abdeyev, distinctness of information in any form reflects competition of these attributive and functional concepts, explains its bounds [Abdeev R., 1999]. This means that information used in the society in the form of exchange of information between people has social features.

Being a major component of information society, information policy features two main aspects: the first is that information is considered a significant factor influencing social development, while the second is that information represents necessity in managing events and processes.

Politics, first and foremost, comprises several components like the establishment and maintenance of state power [Makeev A., 2002], and demonstrates itself largely in the activities of social subjects aimed at realizing public interests through power institutions. It covers relations within the government as well as various social groups, classes, nations and states. Its essence is defined by "power” category, while its quality is defined by the essence of the social area that the policy is aimed at. From this aspect, state policy is divided into economic, social, cultural, national and information policy. So policy includes the state, legislative, party and election areas, decision-making mechanisms, political process, political relations, political culture, the media, and etc. It comprises special social institutions executing government authority, political relations, government authority, mass competition for power and control of it [Shiraliyev I., 1993].

According to E. Tovokin, areas of application of policy are different. But the nature and directions of the activity of social practice are defined by conceptual mechanisms of social groups, which have government authority [Tavokin E., 2002].

Different opinions have been voiced about the government. Of them Montesquieu differs with his socio-political modernization concept and liberal-reformist position. According to the French thinker, government is order, division and equality of power and law. "It has a status of the example of universal civilization” [Taghiyev E., 1999].

The state describes the governance of people, who built a political system and live within certain borders, through a special system. The state is largely characterized for its society. The state is a special institute which has a certain structure, which is characterized by certain organization of political power and which ensures the regulation of social processes in a certain area. Being a special political institute, the state makes the fundamentals of the society`s political system.

In modern science, there are three approaches to the notion "state”:

- Political-philosophical and political-scientific approach. This approach has survived from ancient times. In this context, the state is characterized as a tool dealing with "general issues” of the society, regulating relations between the government and people (society), and ensuring political life of the society and individuals.

- Classified approach. Here the state is classified as a tool ensuring one class` power to subdue and exploit another class, as well as its power as an economically ruling party.

- Legal and organizational-structural approach. Here the state is studied as the creator of norms regulating the life of the society, as well as the activities of the state itself and its structure in the system of socio-political relations. Supporters of the theory explaining the essence of the state believe that the state was created as a result of the growth of a family. They claim that there was a family, which then grew into a tribe, which then became a state.

Conclusion

Today the content and form of the mass media is changing in compliance with information interests and requirements of people. And the nature and content of information demands is linked to people`s everyday activity.

Like any other demand, information demand is playing the role of an active creative factor. If it is not met by the news delivered by the mass media, then audience is looking for the necessary information in other channels, or reduces its demand, and at the same time, its activity in this area. It should be noted that people`s demand for information has recently been met by electronic means, Internet resources, which causes a problem as information security. The wide spread of new media means creates broad opportunities for meeting people`s everyday demand for information.

So influenced by various internet resources, social networks, audience is entering information arena without "a security belt”. This opens human mind to pressure. From this point of view the mass media acquire a topical role in terms of setting human minds, building and institutionalizing public opinion. Here the problem of protecting public consciousness from external implications and building it in a relevant direction gains topicality. The article focuses on formation and institutionalization of public consciousness, and prioritizes the study of people`s information security, the media`s functions as "the fourth power” and other problems.


 

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[1] * Associate Professor, Nakhchivan section, Azerbaijan National Academy of Sciences, The Republic of Azerbaijan, Baku, Azerbaijan

[2] Social orienteers of renewal: society and human being. 1990. M. p. 441 – 442.

[3] "Azərbaycan” newspaper, 3 October, 2014, №142 (2587)

[4] Civil society” magazine. (2008-2013 April). Baku, 107 p.

[5]azertag.az/xeber/Azerbaycan/ http://azertag.az/

[6] It is necessary to prepare specialists in the sphere of new media in Azerbaijan – expert. [Electronic resource]// Interfax-Azerbaijan News Agency. July 4, 2011 г. URL: http://interfax.az/print/468276/ru