Normative theories describe the way media systems should be operated for the realisation of some ideal values and principles. The theories are more concerned with the relationship between the media and the government.
The Social Responsibility Theory was formally designed by Siebert, Peterson and Schrann in 1956 in their book “Four Theories of the Media ” . Which was later developed and advanced by other scholars.
The theory emerged in the mid twentieth century. During the 17th and 18th centuries, libertarian principles gave absolute freedom to the media which caused journalists to publish whatever they liked not necessarily for the public good. Public uproar about media operations negated the emergence of Social responsibility theory which gave premise for professionalism in media to be taken serious.
Social Responsibility Theory as one of the Normative theories suggests that, the media has an obligation to act for the benefit of society at large. According to Pachamama Alliance (2019), social responsibility is an ethical theory, in which individuals are accountable for fulfilling their civic duty; the actions of an individual must benefit the whole society.
Looking at the Normative theories, it can be established that the theories have been transformed to suit the media landscape in terms of who owns the media and who controls the media. From Authoritarian theory to Libertarian theory to Social Responsibility Theory to Soviet communist theory.
Postulates of SRT
• Freedom comes with obligations; and the press which enjoys a privileged position under the government is expected to be responsible to society in performing certain essential functions of mass communication in contemporary society.
• To the extent that the press does not assume it’s responsibility, another agency must see that the essential functions of mass communication are carried out.
• The media should meet certain professional standards in line with democratic principles.
In assessing media operations in Ghana based on the Social Responsibility Theory, there’s a need to establish the socio-political context of the country.
Per the 1992 constitution, Ghana is a unitary constitutional democracy led by a President who is head of state and head of government. Under the democratic system, the constitution declares that sovereignty resides in the people of Ghana. The media of Ghana has witness different operations and functions from the 19th century (colonial system) to post-independence to 1992-2000 and 2000 to present.
The media is known to have played a vital role in the struggle for liberation and has helped promote some form of democracy in the country. Also the media has been described as “one of the most unfettered ” in Africa, operating with little restriction on private media. It is essential to note that due to some challenges, it has affected media operations in the country.
These challenges are:
*Lack of training
* Under resourced
One of the basic assumptions of social responsibility theory is that “Freedom comes with obligation and the press which enjoys a privileged position under the government is expected to be responsible to the society in performing certain essential function of mass communication in contemporary society. ” In as much as the media in Ghana has a qualified freedom, the Ghanaian media is known to perform some essential duties.
Again, under the SRT the media works for the society disregarding being profit oriented. But here in Ghana due to financial break down of some media houses it is profit oriented. In this case, the dissemination of contents is based on topics that will attract numerous viewers not necessarily serving the society.
The media in Ghana is slightly regulated by National Communication Authority, National Media Commission and sometimes the Ghana Journalist Association(code of ethics) but the media operating under the Social Responsibility Theory is expected to be regulated by the government if they do not perform functions according to the needs of the people.Deductively, the media operation in Ghana is always in check.
Under Hutchins Commission, a couple of recommendations were made on how the media is supposed to operate. The committee on free and responsible press expressed the view that the press should provide a truthful comprehensive and intelligent account of the day’s events in a context which gives them meaning; serve as a forum for the exchange of comment and criticism project a responsible picture of the constituent groups in society.
In as much as the media in Ghana is profit oriented there has been the observation of media playing the role of the watch dog by criticizing actions and inactions of the government, reporting news that informs and alert us with information to help us form our opinions about issues and also give platforms to people to exchange views on topical issues.
The only factor hindering the media from operating fully as stated by the Social Responsibility theory is the financial challenge, unprofessional standards by some journalists and having a state owned media house.
The Social Responsibility Theory is still relevant due to it features and arguments, however media operations sometimes depends on the socio-political context of the country. Also due to privatisation as a feature of the SRT it’s elusive to attain ethical considerate journalists.