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4 Theories of Press

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In 1956 three professors of communication-Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm-brought out their Four Theories of the Press which went a long way in establishing a typology in the minds of journalism educators and students. Siebert, Peterson and Schramm discuss journalism philosophy presenting four theories (or concepts): 1. the authoritarian theory, 2. the libertarian theory, 3. the communist theory and 4 the social responsibility theory. Very briefly, here are the main characterstics of each of these theories.

Authoritarian: The state, as the highest expression of institutionalized structure, supersedes the individual and makes it possible for the individual to acquire and develop a stable and harmonious life Mass communication, then, supports the state and the government in power so that total society may advance and the state may be viable and attain its objectives. The State (the elite that runs the state) directs the citizenry, which is not considered competent and interested enough to make critical political decisions. One man or an elite group is placed in a leadership role. As the group or person controls society generally it (or he or she) also controls the mass media since they are recognized as vital instruments of social control. The mass media, under authoritarianism, are educators and propagandists by which the power elite exercise social control. Generally the media are privately owned, although the leader or his elite group may own units in the total communication system. A basic: assumption a person engaged in journalism is so engaged as a special privilege granted by the national leadership. He, therefore, owes an obligation to the leadership. This press concept has formed and now forms, the basis for many media systems of the world. The mass media, under authoritarianism, have only as much freedom as the national leadership at any particular time is willing to permit. What Fred S. Siebert said:

For almost two hundred years after the spread of printing in the western world, the authoritarian theory furnished the exclusive basis for determining the function and relationship of the popular press to contemporary society. ... in fact practically all western Europe... utilized the basic principles of authoritarianism as the theoretical foundation for their systems of press control. Page 9, Four Theories of the Press

Libertarian: The libertarian press concept is generally traced back to England and the American colonies of the seventeenth century. Giving rise to the libertarian press theory was the philosophy that looked upon man as a rational animal with inherent natural rights. One of these rights was the right to pursue truth, and potential interferes (kings, governors et al) would (or should) be restrained. Exponents of this press movement during the seventeenth century, and the 200 years which followed, included Milton, Locke, Erskine, Jefferson, and John Stuart Mill. Individual liberties were stressed by these philosophers, along with a basic trust in the people to take intelligent decisions (generally) if a climate of free expression existed. In theory, a libertarian press functions to present the truth, however splintered it may be in a pluralism of voices. It is impossible to do this if it is controlled by some authority outside itself. Through the years many new ideas were grafted on to early press libetarianism: One of these, for example, was the general acceptance of a kind of obligation to keep the public abreast of governmental activities, or being a kind of fourth branch of government supplementing the executive, legislative and judicial branches. This was actually a rather recent concept, having been grafted on to the original libertarian theory. There flows a basic faith, shown by libertarian advocates that a free press- working in a laissez faire, unfettered situation-will naturally result in a pluralism of information and viewpoints necessary in a democratic society. Communist: The communist theory of the press arose, along with the theory of communism itself, in the first quarter of the present century. Karl Marx was its father, drawing

heavily on the ideas of his fellow German, George W. F. Hegel. The mass media in a communist society, said Marx, were to function basically to perpetuate and expand the socialist system. Transmission of social policy, not searching for the truth, was to be the main rationale for existence of a communist media system. Mass media, under this theory, are instruments of government and integral parts of the State. They are owned and operated by the State and directed by the Communist Party or its agencies. Criticism is permitted in the media (i. e. criticism of failure to achieve goals), but criticism of basic ideology is forbidden. Communist theory, like that of authoritarianism, is based on the premise that the masses are too fickle and too ignorant and unconcerned with government to be entrusted with governmental responsibilities. Thus, the media have no real concern with giving them much information about governmental activities or of its leaders. Mass media are to do what is best for the state and party; and what is best determined by the elite leadership of State and Party. Whatever the media do to contribute to communism and the Socialist State is moral; whatever is done to harm or hinder the growth of communism is immoral. Social Responsibility: This concept, a product of mid-twentieth century America, is said by its proponents to have its roots in libertarian theory. But it goes beyond the libertarian theory, in that it places more emphasis on the press's responsibility to society than on the press's freedom. It is seen as a higher level, theoretically, than libertarianism-a kind of moral and intellectual evolutionary trip from discredited old, libertarianism to a new or perfected libertarianism where things are forced to work as they really should have worked under libertarian theory. The explainers and defenders of this theory maintain that they are libertarians, but socially responsible libertarians, contrasted presumably with other libertarians who (if their views and actions do not agree with those of the new libertarians) are not socially responsible. This fourth theory of the press has been drawn largely from a report published in 1947 by the Hutchins Commission. Emerging from the Commission's publications and solidified in the literature of journalism by Four Theories of the Press, this new theory maintains that the importance of the press in modern society makes it absolutely necessary that an obligation of social responsibility be imposed on the media of mass communication. Merril's Philosophy:

John C. Merrill emphasises the freedom of the Press in the following words: "Freedom is essential to authentic journalism, to creative press system and to expanding vigorous and self-assured journalists. Journalistic autonomy is the imperative (the only valid responsibility) for those who want to participate in journalism on a really human level, and when the philosophy and psychology of adjustment begin to make inroads in nations today, the concept of press freedom is changed to journalistic social-determinism or press responsibility." His definition of the freedom of the Press is linked to social determinism or press responsibility. He says there are two main ways to consider freedom of the press: (1) As media autonomy with journalistic self-determinism, and (2) As media adjustment to social or political desires. In other words, one can look at press freedom as media-determinism of the content of mass communications or as public (a kind of people's lobby or majority desire) determinism of media content. The determination of socially responsible journalism is of course, left strictly to the media people themselves. This is exactly what we already have in a libertarian, laissez-faire, self-deterministic .media system in western nations today.

A comparison

Four Theories of the Press Authoritarian Developed 16th & 17th century England Out of... philosophy of absolute power of monarch, his government, or both Libertarian Social Responsibility Adopted by In U.S. in th England after 20 Century 1688 and in U.S. writings of writing of W.E. Milton, Locke, Hocking, media Mill and codes, Commission general on Freedom of philosophy of Press rationalism and natural rights Marxist In Soviet Union, although similar to Nazis Marxists Leninist Stalinist thought, with some Hengel tossed in


Support and advance policies of the government

Who can whoever gets use media? royal patent or permission How government media patents, guilds, controlled? licensing, sometimes censorship What criticism of forbidden? political machinery and officials in power Ownership private or public

inform, entertain, sell-but primarily discover truth and check on govt. anyone with the economic means to do so self-righting process of truth. "marketplace of ideas" and courts Defamation, obscenity, indecency, wartime sedition chiefly private

inform, entertain, sell--but chiefly to raise conflict to the plane of discussion

to contribute to success and continuance of the system and the party

everyone who has loyal and something to say orthodox party members Community Surveillance opinion, consumer and economic action, pro ethics or political action by the government serious invasion of Criticism of recognized private party objectives rights and vital social interests private unless govt has to take over to ensure public service media must assume obligation of social responsibility, and if not, someone makes sure they do public

Essential differences from others

Instrument for effecting government policy, though not necessarily govt. owned

Instrument for checking on government and meeting other needs of society

state-owned and closely controlled media existing solely as an arm of the state

Libertarian Authoritarian

Social Soviet Responsibility Totalitarian

Libertarian Authoritarian Function To support and advance the policies of government in power and to serve the state. (eg: to inform the masses of state policies)

Social Soviet Responsibility Totalitarian To inform, entertain, and sell. Most importantly, to discover the truth and to check on the government. To contribute to the success and continuation of political dictatorship.

To inform, entertain, sellbut mainly to reflect diversity of society and provide access to different points of view. and Relationship Media helps to Media polices Media the government between cascade government to collaborate government government's surface any and depend on and media policies. government each other. wrongdoing. Mainly Ownership Private or public Private, private unless government has to take over to ensure public service. How are Government By “self- By license, law, righting media community censorship. controlled? process of opinion, truth” in “free consumer marketplace of action, ideas” and by professional court. ethics. What is Criticism of the Defamation, forbidden? political structure obscenity, Serious invasion

Government has total control of media. Public

Surveillance, economic or political action of the government.

Criticism of of the political

Libertarian Authoritarian and officials power.

Social Responsibility in indecency, wartime sedition.

Soviet Totalitarian recognised structure and private rights officials in and vital power. social interests. Media must be socially responsible to ensure fair representation and balance (or others may intervene). State-owned and closely controlled media existing solely as a tool of the state. Today, this model is only of historical interest. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has a mass media model closer to the social responsibility principle.

Essential differences from others

Tool for effecting government policy, though not necessarily government owned.

Tool for checking on government and meeting other needs of society.

Similar to

Singapore,Myanmar U.S.

Soviet Unionunder Myanmarrestricts Encourages A TV channel Communist freedom of speech the freedom of in France, influence by detaining pro- press in a free Arte, is market system. democracy funded by Media was


Libertarian Authoritarian leader, Aung Suu Ky.

Social Responsibility in San Media America is given huge power.

Soviet Totalitarian both the French and German governments. There is no advertising, no games shows, no sitcoms, only documentaries and arts programmes. The channel broadcasts only in the evenings. Its audience share hovers around 2%. state-owned and used to promote propaganda. E.g. Soviet media played up bad news in democratic countries, especially the U.S., to show that democracy is not working.

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