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International and empirical perspectives

Though comparative political and geo-political frameworks inspired by Four Theories have persisted through several generations, they have also sparked efforts to better understand and describe the manifest behaviour of media systems outside the West. Downing, for instance, called for:

communication theorizing to develop itself comparatively, acknowledging in particular that to extrapolate theoretically from such relatively unrepresentative nations as Britain and the United States is both conceptually impoverishing and a particularly restricted version of even Eurocentrism.

(1996: xi)

Others, too, have questioned the acceptance ofWestern meaning making as universal (Ngugi, 1987; Nyamnjoh, 1999; Hepp and Couldry, 2009). There were a number of other voices that were not convinced of the need to adopt international perspectives, which was seen as a form of exceptionalism (see, for instance, Ma, 2000; Lee, 2000).

A concerted effort to move beyond the theoretical dominance of what Thussu (2009) later called the ‘anglobalized’ media was made by Curran and Park in their De-Westernising Media Studies (2000). They adopted an empirically grounded approach to advance media systems theory beyond the cul-de-sac in which it found itself, classifying media systems along economic and political factors. They used an economic axis ranging from Neo-liberal to Regulated and a political axis running from Democratic to Authoritarian to classify media systems into four quadrants. They then added a miscellaneous category into which they placed those media systems that did not fit neatly into other categories - countries that were undergoing transformations and regions that had mixed regimes.

Interestingly, they chose to begin their discussions with this miscellaneous category, which they called ‘transitional and mixed societies’. This amorphous category - the equivalent of the ‘hybrid media system’ that often appears elsewhere - yielded, by their own admission, the most significant and interesting perspectives on the relationship between media and society, so significant that they decided to consider it before the four main categories arising from the four quadrants they defined. This was a striking testament to the complexity of real-world media systems and the inadequacy of current media theory in producing empirically verifiable generalizations at the global level.

Another intervention that has informed the critique of models of media systems, ideologically if not substantially, is that of‘Asian theories’ of media and communication, also an articulation of unease with the dominance ofWestern paradigms. This approach advocates the espousal of guiding principles such as ‘Asian values’, Confucianism or Islam as conceptual frameworks to replace ‘Western values’. It is driven politically, ideologically and philosophically, is often influenced by seminal tracts such as Edward Said’s Orientalism (1978), and is marked by resistance to the claimed universality - and superiority - of the values and narratives of the European Enlightenment to the exclusion of other cultural perspectives and practices. There is a strong element of reconnecting with undervalued tradition, asserting identity, overcoming the legacy of colonialism and what Gunaratne calls the ‘oligopoly of social science powers’ (2010: 474). Among other things, the attempt is to avoid adopting ‘the distortions of the West as reality about their own cultures’ (Wang, 2011: 7). Despite a number of attempts to formulate frameworks of Asiacentric, and indeed Afrocentric, communication (Chu, 1985; Asante, 1980; Nyamnjoh, 1999; Dissanayake, 2003; Banerjee, 2009; Miike, 2002; Chen and Starosta, 2003), nonWestern scholars have not managed to establish the centrality of their value systems in the study of media systems.

The field was reinvigorated in 2004 with the publication of Hallin and Mancini’s Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. They, too, focused primarily on the relationship between media and politics, but spurned the conceptually seductive normative approach in favour of an empirical approach. They analysed the historical development of 18 national media systems in Europe and North America, examining their linkages with the political, economic and social systems within which they existed, but focusing principally on the possible existence of ‘systematic connections’ between political structures and media systems. Their comparative analysis yielded sets of common characteristics that then became the basis of their models.

They proposed four major dimensions or variables for comparing media systems (2004: 21-45). The first,‘development of media markets’, focuses on the development of newspapers with mass circulation, which they saw as an indicator of the relationship of newspapers to their audiences and whether their role emphasised mass- or elite-oriented communication. The second, ‘political parallelism’, takes into account the manner and degree to which journalists and newspapers indulge in political advocacy or embrace the values of neutrality between competing political narratives. Their third dimension concerns itself with the level of professionalism among journalists and comprises three factors - the autonomy of journalists, distinct professional norms and the level of orientation to the ethic of public service. They contrast professionalization with the instrumentalization of journalism, though they focus largely on political rather than commercial or other forms of external control and influence. Their fourth dimension examines the extent and nature of state intervention in the media system, whether in the form of public service broadcasting, state ownership, subsidies or legal and regulatory frameworks.

It is worth noting that Hallin and Mancini’s four dimensions conceptually resemble a framework proposed by Blunder and Gurevitch in 1995:

[W]e propose a framework, consisting of four dimensions, by reference to which political communication arrangements of different states could be profiled, and their further consequences for the production, reception and wider repercussions of political messages could be hypothetically specified: (1) degree of state control over mass media organizations; (2) degree of mass media partisanship; (3) degree of media-political élite integration;

  • (4) the nature of the legitimizing creed of media institutions.
  • (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1995: 62)

Apart from the four dimensions for comparing media systems, Hallin and Mancini also considered a number of variables to describe various characteristics of political systems: late versus early democratization; patterns of conflict and consensus (polarized versus moderate pluralism); whether pluralism is organized or individual; the role of the state (including to what extent a welfare state exists); and clientelism versus the existence of a rational-legal authority (Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 46-86).

They defined their three models of the media by combining these attributes of political systems with the four dimensions of media systems and labelled their three models: 1) Polarized Pluralist, 2) Democratic Corporatist and 3) Liberal. Each of them is also identified with a specific geography, the first with the Mediterranean region (France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain), the second model with North and Central Europe (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland), and the liberal model with the North Atlantic (Britain, the US, Canada and Ireland).

The Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist model is marked by strong state intervention; periods of censorship; high levels of political parallelism; low newspaper circulation; an elite and politically oriented press; commentary-oriented journalism; weaker professionalization, and the instrumentalization of journalism. The Democratic Corporatist or North/Central European model is typified by newspapers that developed mass circulation early; have reached high levels of penetration; a strong party-political press that shifted towards a more neutral commercial model; strong and autonomous public broadcasting, and professionalized and institutionalized journalism that benefits from state interventions to protect freedom of the press. The Liberal or North Atlantic model is characterized by an early development of the mass media; medium newspaper circulation; a neutral commercial press; information-oriented and professionalized journalism, and noninstitutionalized self-regulation.

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