Saturday, March 24, 2012

GlobalMedia: International Journalism: 4 Theories of the Press (U5-P1)

In the late 1950s Siebert, Peterson and Schramm (Wilbur) identified four types of press systems that existed in countries up until the 1950s.

They published their findings in their book titled Four Theories of the Press: The Authoritarian, Libertarian, Social Responsibility and Soviet Communist Concepts of What the Press Should Be and Do (Illini Books)

In the book they highlight the relationship between the form of government that a nation has and the press that operates within it.
The four theories:

  1. Authoritarian
    1. Purpose: To serve and promote the government/rulers
    2. Ownership of Press: private or public
    3. Notes/Examples: England/Western European countries 19th century and before; Afghanistan under the Taliban
  2. Soviet-Communist
    1. Purpose: To serve and promote the government or the Communist party
    2. Ownership of Press: public
    3. Notes/Examples: Soviet Union and other communist countries
  3. Libertarian
    1. Purpose: To inform (i.e., present the facts) and monitor the government
    2. Ownership of Press: Mostly private
    3. Notes/Examples: England
  4. Social Responsibility
    1. Purpose: To monitor the government.  While another purpose is to inform (i.e., present the facts to) the citizens, this press system goes beyond just presenting the facts to promoting understanding and discussion/debate related to those facts.  
    2. Ownership of Press: Private
    3. Notes/Examples: U.S., Canada

What would it be like being a journalism student or a journalist working in these different press systems?

Do you think that these four theories still adequately describe the types of press systems that operate in the countries of today?  Does, for example, the introduction on social media, require modifications to the four theories?

The work of Siebert, Peterson and Schramm has received criticism and updating.  If you are interested, see for example the following books.

Last Rights: Revisting Four Theories of the Press (History of Communication)

Normative Theories of the Media: Journalism in Democratic Societies (History of Communication)

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