‘Media’ is the plural form of‘medium’. Broadly understood, a medium is ‘an intermediate agency that enables communication to take place’ (O'Sullivan et al. 1994, p. 176). The communicative power of the media is a fundamental idea that informs this book. The media are a specific institution in society, informed by particular interests, practices, norms and values; but to highlight the separateness of the media is not to appreciate fully how integral the media are to the meaning-making processes of a society. The functioning of politics, and of public life more generally, is not tainted by the unnecessary and unwelcome intrusions of the media: rather, the media are an indissoluble part of the contexts, the messages and the relationships that create and give shape to politics and public life. We will investigate the strengths and weaknesses of media contributions to politics and public life, but this will be on the basis that the media are intrinsic to the functioning of modern societies.
The media are difficult to capture and define. ‘The media’ is a catch-all term that includes transnational corporations, communication technologies, policy and regulatory frameworks, the practices of journalists, gossip columns, the nightly television news, blockbuster movies, advertisements, business magazines, music radio, the local newspaper and the Internet. The media are businesses and yet they are also ascribed a special function in the democratic health of a society; the media are the news media and function as journalism, but they are also the entertainment media and provide escape from the pressures of everyday life.