Theory of normative media

Senior (College 4th year) ・Communications&Media ・APA ・12 Sources

Normative media philosophy was developed on the premise that the press should be able to assume the shape of the social as well as the political system on which it is based. The principle aims to provide a straightforward explanation of how the media can function in varying political and economic conditions. As a consequence, normative media theory is critical in understanding the nature of the media in a given context as well as the environment in which the media operates (Anaeto 2008, 32).

History of the philosophy of normative media

In 1950, Siebert et al came up with the idea of normative media. According to these great authors, the Normative Media Theory was comprised of four theories which include; Authoritarian theory, Libertarian Theory, Social Responsibility Theory and the Communist Media Theory as explained below.

Authoritarian theory

It is recognized as the oldest of all the theories. This is because it was applicable during the period of the late Renaissance in the western world (Siebert et al 1963, 10). During this period, those people in power had the greatest influence on the press and therefore determined what was to be communicated. In the late renaissance period, the aristocratic mode of governance was most dominant and was characterized by powerful regimes exercising their control over those at the lowest level of the social hierarchy. The great authors appreciated the fact that communication during this period was in a top down manner. The freedom of the press was only determined by the relationship between the press and those in power. During this renaissance period, the editorial independence of the press was not guaranteed and private ownership of the press was rarely guaranteed. This is due to the fact that when the press showed any signs of dishonoring the royal policies that had been established, it was then suppressed or closed down (Siebert et al 1963, 11-12). The authoritarian theory was therefore very effective in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries where the press was the servant of the state and could only perform its duties as required by those in power.

The authoritarian theory has been applied in different areas in the world by different leaders. Adolf Hitler and Mussolini used dictatorship to control the press during the Second World War. The press could not question or even publish against the leaders since they had the overall voice. In addition, the French king Louis XIV also practiced the use of authoritarian theory. This is because he had a lot of parliamentary and judicial powers. As such, he had the overall authority of the Supreme Court and had the capacity to denounce death penalty without any appeals from anyone. An example of situation where the theory is still applicable is that of the press in Bhutan. Moreover, there are many countries in the world that use authoritarian power in the media today. Examples of such countries include; Iran, Zibambwe, Iraq, Uzbekistan, Israel, Syria, Qatar and Belarus.

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Libertarian Theory

This theory became prevalent in the eighteenth century and it replaced the authoritarian theory. This is because the century was characterized by enlightening in different areas such as political democracy, growth of free trade as well as travel, religious freedom and the reception of free economics. These factors made it possible for libertarianism to reign in an environment that was largely dominated by authoritarian rule. During this period, the press was no longer a servant of the state but rather a source of informing, entertaining as well as educating the people (Watson 2000, 24). Libertarianism is the approach that considers human beings as being rational and can make coherent decisions. As a result, they are able to differentiate between what is right and what is wrong. Persons therefore had the right to express themselves in different ways (Siebert 1963, 18). As a result, the press had no reason to fear in their pursuit of truth. In addition, the press held the government accountable of its actions since human beings were viewed as rational.  The libertarian approach gave media the opportunity to be free from censorship and have editorial independence. This was the basis of promoting self-regulation of policies in media.

The United States adopted this theory after attaining independence as a watch dog for the general society. This theory is fully developed in United States. In addition, the Wiki Leaks website published all forms of confidential documents that are not easily available to the individuals of the public. The website gave the public the chance to be able to see and realize what goes on in society. As a result, they are able to make wise decisions while choosing the future leaders such as president.

Social Responsibility Theory

This theory was common in the twentieth century where media was becoming more diverse (Siebert 1963, 24). As a result, only those with huge sums of money had the opportunity to control the media. Libertarianism was therefore at risk of extinction since the few people with large amounts of money could easily determine the information that could reach the public. This raised the need to have a set of procedures or framework that could help to hold the few rich people accountable of their actions. Such procedures helped to prevent the rich from doing wrong due to the assumption that they would go unnoticed.

The word social responsibility was among the major aims of the institutions in the United States. In addition, it was really relevant to the press due to the need to ensure that those in power are accountable. This led to the establishment of a commission headed by Robert Hutchins which was called the Hutchins Commission. It was tasked with the duty of analyzing the roles of media and its environment and come up with recommendation that could improve its effectiveness. The commission recommended that the press should be able to meet certain expectations from the public. Some of these expectations include; giving accurate and comprehensive daily news, reaching out to all members of the society as well as providing forums for people to articulate their opinions and comments. The concept of social responsibility was developed and the press was seen as a private enterprise that did not owe anything to the public (Altschull 1984, 180). As a result of social responsibility, the press was required to carry out several roles which include; being able to provide service to the political system by giving information and forums on which to discuss about the public affairs, sensitizing the  public to make it ware of self-government, ensuring there is accountability of the actions of government, carrying out advertisements, providing advertisement as well as ensuring its financial stability to ensure that it not influenced by persons with lots of money (McQuail 1992, 45).

The social responsibility theory was used by Joseph McCarthy who was able to use propaganda as a technique to make the whole nation to pay attention to him as well as spread messages of hatred about persons whom he accused imprecisely of communism. It was difficult for the journalists to be able to oppose his views since he had a large popularity of people who supported him. Moreover, Social Responsibility is common in European countries as well other countries across the world that have European influence. In addition, in 1949 United States established the “the Commission of the Freedom of the Press” that aimed at promoting social responsibility in the United States.

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Soviet Media Theory/Communist Media Theory

This theory became prevalent after the revolution in 1917 where the Soviet Union was restructured in which there was development of a communist party. The soviet media theory was developed as a result of combining different concepts from Marxist, Leninist and Stalinist thoughts.  Moreover, the theory was developed and used in Nazi in Germany under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Using this theory, the government has absolute ownership of the press and it determines what is communicated to the people. In this theory, there lacks a private ownership of the press and the role of the press are to give feedback on different aspects that need improvement. According to this theory, censorship of the press is legitimate and it lacks the freedom of expression (Christians et al 2009, 62).

Several people critique this theory since it is similar to authoritarian theory. This is because in both theories, there is one way communication. The only distinction is that the soviet media theory gives room for communication. In addition, there failure to have private ownership of the press makes it impossible for the press to have the independence of controlling what to give to the public. This is really risky since if the leadership makes an error, then the wrong nation also makes the error which is disadvantageous to the state (Christians et al 2009, 63).

The communist theory was used by Adolf Hitler in Germany as well as Benito Mussolini in Italy. The two leaders used the press as a channel to convey their rules to the public. The media had to follow all guidelines as given by the leaders and they did not have the opportunity to question. Any attempt of questioning was viewed as way of dishonoring the administration in control. In addition, the media in China also aims at achieving communist goals of the whole state (Folarin 2005, 32).

In the year 1980, MCQuail added two more theories to the four discussed above. They include the Democratic Participant theory and Developmental Media Theory as discussed below;

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Developmental Media Theory

The theory aimed at highlighting the need for media to support the government in its social and economic goals. As such, media was not to be viewed as an institution that aimed at criticizing the government, but rather one that supported it in implementing its policies. This theory is most relevant in the developing countries which are still experiencing growth in different sectors of the economy. Media should therefore be a means of spreading good news as well as treating the bad news with caution since they are likely to slow down the growth rate of a country. The autonomy of the media should be a great tool of promoting creativity as well as literacy, national integration among all members as well as social and economic growth. The application of this theory promotes the support for the state and helps in eliminating competition between different states. Some of the characteristics of the developmental media theory include; media should be able to set perform tasks that promote the development of the state as well as are in line with the development wants of all the citizens and media should provide coverage of content that is development driven and that which directly influences the lives of all citizens (MCQuail 1992, 50-51).

In spite of the theory advocating for the need for media autonomy, media censorship can occur at any given time. This is common where the media does not provide coverage of areas that promote the development of the country but rather hinders the development of the country. Developmental media theory is very applicable in the third world countries which are still in the state of development, since they are able to use media to promote activities that promote social, economic and political growth of their countries. In addition, media in the developed countries should also wholly focus on different aspects in the developing countries as a way of promoting their growth. Some of these aspects include; geographical, political and economic growth (Holmes 2006, 70).

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Democratic Participant Theory

This theory is aimed at eliminating commercialization as well as monopoly and remaining resistance to administration that is common in public media institutions. The theory emphasizes on the need to be mindful about the receiver of the information. The receiver of the information is therefore entitled to receiving quality information that is truthful as well as being given a chance to express their views as well. The theory advocates for the absence of any political influence on the press and should therefore be autonomous. It gives opportunity for the small scale, multiple as well as non-institutional media to grow since they link the senders as the receivers. According to this theory, the press should foster horizontal communication where all the members of a given state are given the opportunity to be heard as much as they are also given information. The theory promotes democracy and all persons even those of at the grass root level are involved in communication (MCQuail 1992, 70).

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Utilization of the Normative Media Theory

The Normative media theory has been significant in helping to explain the basis of some of the inconsistencies shown by different media systems across the world. This is due to the reason that media systems are not governed by a single theory at any particular time (Ugunga 2013, 46). In addition, the theory has been crucial in explaining the media-society relationship that is common in many countries for example in Africa. This is because it provides the best analytic as well as philosophical explanation behind the media and society in Africa (Ugunga 2013, 46). Moreover, the normative media theory has been a great tool of making people thinks about such issues as the freedom of the press which is not easily looked in to. In addition, the establishment of the theory provided the opportunity for people to look at the world media system starting from a geographical and political dimension. This has helped in making the World media system as a common ground on which different media systems can interact and come up with strategies of strengthening the media across the different regions of the world (Ugunga 2013, 50).

In addition, Ethnocentrism has really increased across the different religions of the world. It is usually a way of evaluating the cultures of other people according to their preconceptions that originate from their culture. This simply means the ability to be able to judge others based on different factors such as language, behavior, customs and religion (Holmes, 80). Moreover, the theory has helped in justifying the need modern methods of journalism such as the use of the market model of journalism in the United States (Nerone 1995, 100). The use of such modern methods has shown to greatly influence the growth of international organizations such as the World Association of newspapers as well as Inter American Press Association (Ostini & Ostini 2002, 41-56).

In addition the theories that encompass the normative theory have been instrumental in helping journalists to raise their professional consciousness as well as make policy makers and other professionals in the field of Journalism to realize their dependencies (Watson 2000, 42). This has fueled the need for media autonomy as well as self-regulation since the normative theory helps the professionals in the media to appreciate the need to stay free from any influence by other parties. They are therefore able to a body that people can trust as their accountability checker especially in the society. In addition, the four theories are a great tool of promoting conservative instruction in the field of media (Van 2004, 280).

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The Normative Media Theory has shown to be really relevant in the contemporary world. It has however faced lots of criticism among many professionals over time. Many professionals often feel that the authors of the normative media theory drew their conclusion from the western libertarian philosophy and made a generalization. As a result, many elites feel that such a generalization did not consider the non-western societies thus raising concerns of its reliability. This is due to the reason that normative media theory appreciates the fact that each of the traditions is based on its religion and philosophical systems as well as the different civilizations. This will therefore have an impact on the way different regions view their media system. As a result, the perspective by authors of the theory becomes subjective since it is based on the western world. For this reason, professionals view that the perception brings about ethnocentrism and is therefore not a strong basis to make a generalization. The third world countries have been most disadvantaged by the normative media theory since the environment of the media is different from the one found in the western world. The future of the normative media theory in the next ten to fifteen years will be faced by lots of criticism since there will be many critics who will question the credibility of the generalization put authors of the great normative media theory.

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Altschull, J, H. 1984. Agents of Power: The Role of the Media in Human Affairs, New York: Longman inc.

Anaeto,S .G, Onabanjo, O.S. & Osifeso, J.B (2008) Models and theories of Communication. America: Africa Renaissance Book Incorporated.

Christians,l C., Glasser, T., McQuail, D., Nordenstreng, K. & White, R. (2009). Normative theories of the media : journalism in democratic societies. Urbana: University of Illinois Press.

Folarin. B. (2005) Theories of Mass- Communication. Ota: Bakinfol Publications.

Holmes, D (2006) Communication Theory. Stephen, W. Littlejohn/ Karena, F.Theories of Human Communication. Eighth Edition.

McQuail, D. 1992. Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest. London: Sage.

Nerone, J (ed). 1995. Last Rights: Revisiting the Four Theories of the Press. Illinois: University of Illinois.

Ostini, J & Ostini, AYH. 2002. Beyond the Four Theories of the Press; a New Model of National Media Systems. Mass Communication and Society, 5(1), 41-56.

Siebert, F.S, Peterson, T, & Schramm, W. (1963) Four theories of the Press. Urbana: University of Illinois Press. 

Ugangu, W. (2013). Normative media theory and the rethinking of the role of the Kenyan media in a changing social economic context, University of South Africa, Pretoria.

Van Zoonen, l. 2004. Popular Qualities in Public Broadcasting, in European Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol 7, (3) 275-282.

Watson, J. (2003) Media Communication. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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