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The myth of universal applicability

The second conceptual concern also arises from the fact that models emerging from the West are the norm in media studies, but the characteristics of the media systems of the West are not the norm at the global level. They are outliers among the huge diversity of national media systems across the world. Examining nonWestern media systems for the absence - or presence - of characteristics found in Western media arguably includes an assumption that the Western media represent a ‘developed’ form, which the media in other parts of the world should aspire to or should be measured against.

At a deeper level, it represents a limiting framework, one that restricts the approach and thus the field of vision of inquiries into the reality of media systems. In effect, this sets the conceptual perimeter of inquiry at the known world of structures, influences and underlying ideologies observed in Western media. Factors that may play a defining role in other cultures or media systems but are outside the experience of the liberal media system or its scholars are excluded; typologies fail to recognize that other media systems may be shaped by factors other than those that are significant in Western media systems.

The Indian media system, for instance, has been characterized since the 1990s by factors that are wholly outside the experience ofWestern media, among them the rapid multiplication of outlets and their reach, high voltage jostling for attention, a continental scale of linguistic diversity and marked internal differences of scale as well as professional practice (Jain, 2015). Media theory based on Western cases simply does not possess the conceptual vocabulary to account for these factors, but it is nevertheless applied.

Hallin and Mancini were considerably less confident than Siebert, Peterson and Schramm about claiming the universal applicability of their models.They tempered ambition and vision with a strong measure of caution and recognized the geographical and historical specificity of their models, acknowledging that they had undertaken a limited study of‘most similar systems’ in Europe and the North Atlantic in countries with roughly similar economic development and which shared a common history and culture to some extent. They stressed that they had rejected the normativism and universalism seen in Four Theories of the Press precisely because of its limited applicability to other national media systems, which had developed along diverse trajectories and logics. However, they simultaneously claimed an explanatory - and even predictive - power for their approach and models, claiming that models that prevail in Europe and North America ‘tend to be dominant globally’ and so would be useful to scholars elsewhere ‘not only as an example of how to conduct comparative research but also because these models have actually influenced the development of other systems’ (2004: 6). They also suggested that a process of convergence to the liberal model of the media was under way:

It is clear, however, that the differences among these models and in general the degree of variation among nation states, has diminished substantially over time. In 1970 the differences among the three groups of countries characterized by our three models were quite dramatic; a generation later, by the beginning of the twenty-first century, the differences have eroded to the point that it is reasonable to ask whether a single, global media model is displacing the national variation of the past, at least among the advanced capitalist democracies discussed in this book.

(Hallin and Mancini, 2004: 251)

This construct has been contested. Humphreys (2011: 170), for instance, points out that a number of studies have refuted the convergence hypothesis, pointing to the durability of national models of capitalism and stressing the crucial mediating role of national institutions. Humphreys suggests that though Hallin and Mancini touch upon the concept of path dependency, they do not adequately explore its implications, and that applying historical-institutional analysis to national media systems would reveal divergence rather than convergence.

Hallin and Mancini later also claimed that their polarized pluralist model was the one most relevant to the study of a remarkable range of national media systems:

[I|t is probably the Polarized Pluralist Model, more than the other two we outline here, that is most widely applicable to other systems as an empirical model of the relation between media and political systems. We suspect that scholars working on many parts of the world - Eastern Europe and the former

Soviet Union, Latin America, the Middle East and all of the Mediterranean region, Africa, and most of Asia will find much that is relevant in our analysis of Southern Europe.

(Hallin and Mancini, 2012b: 306)

Thussu views claims such as these as ‘parochialism’ and dismisses them as ‘untenable’ in his Internationalizing Media Studies (2009: 1). He theorizes internationalization as the third important intervention in the ‘anglobalized’ embodiment of media studies, the first two being feminism, and race and ethnicity (2009: 2-3). Hanitzsch and Esser also weigh in against them, saying that studies that assume methodological and theoretical universalism ‘are vulnerable to the production of out-of-context measurement’ (2012: 503).

Using concepts that emerge from the West to characterize other media systems is often no more than a negative exercise - the vocabulary of scholars is limited to the features that exist in the West so they look for these features elsewhere and, more often than not, do not find them to be central to the systems they are studying.This results in the strange situation of widely varying media systems being described as polarized pluralist or, worse, labelled with the nebulous adjectives hybrid and transitional.

 
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