1. (the media) The various technological means of producing and disseminating messages and cultural forms (notably news, information, entertainment, and advertising) to large, widely dispersed, heterogeneous audiences (see also mass communication). In the world today these include television, radio, the cinema, newspapers, magazines, bestselling books, audio CDs, DVDs, and the internet. The origins of the mass media are typically traced back to the commercial exploitation of printing by Gutenberg around 1450, or to early newspapers in the 17th century.
2. Key economic, political, and social institutions based on producing and disseminating materials using such channels. Typically large-scale organizations concentrated either in the hands of the state, or a public body, or a relatively small number of media moguls (see also media controls; media ownership), all being subject to state regulation and various forms of censorship.
3. Ideological forces in these institutions. These are seen in Marxist theory as involved in engineering consent in the interests of the dominant class in capitalist society (see also dominant ideology; ideological state apparatus; legitimation; manufacture of consent). Others have focused on an agenda setting function. Critics of such stances argue that they fail to account for conflict and contradictions within media institutions, and underestimate the audience. See also active audience theory; dominant reading; negotiated reading; oppositional reading.
5. Forms of mediation between the public and private spheres, frequently characterized as bringing public issues into the everyday domestic or familial environment and extending the social knowledge of individuals beyond what is possible in direct lived experience (within the selective frameworks of media practices). At the same time, audience fragmentation and the pressures of popularization have led to the media being held responsible by some for diminishing the public sphere and degrading political debate. See also dumbing down; fiction values; public and private sphere; story model; tabloidization.