Comparing Media Systems: Three models of media and
politics - Chapters 1, 2 & 3
Hallin & Mancini
Chapter 1: Introduction (1-17)
This book compares North America with Western Europe.
Since the 1970s, there have been attempts to push the field of communication in the direction of
Primary focus: relation between media systems and political systems, emphasizing the analysis
of journalism and the news media, media policy and law. Why comparative analysis?
Siebert, Peterson and Schramm: Why is the press as it is? → comparative analysis.
The role of comparative analysis in social theory can be understood in terms of two basic
❖ Its role in concept formation and clarification.
❖ Its role in causal inference.
Comparative analysis is valuable in social investigation:
❖ Sensitizes us to variation and similarity → can contribute powerfully to concept
formation and to the refinement of our conceptual apparatus.
➢ Most of the literature on the media is highly ethnocentric (experience of a single
country written in general terms, as though the model that prevails is universal).
● True in the countries with the most-developed media scholarship.
● Countries with less developed traditions of media research have a
tendency to borrow the literature of other countries.
■ Aspects of media systems are assumed to be ‘natural’, or are so familiar
that they are not perceived at all.
■ Because it ‘denaturalizes’ a media system that is so familiar to is,
comparison forces us to conceptualize more clearly what aspects of that
system actually require explanation.
■ Blumler and Gurevitch: comparative analysis has the “capacity to render
the invisible visible”.
❖ Makes it possible to notice things we did not notice and therefore had not conceptualized,
and forces us to clarify the scope and applicability of the concepts we do employ →
clarify the limits of their application.
❖ Sensitizes us to similarity → forces us to think more clearly about how we might explain
media systems, protecting us from false generalizations but also encourage us to move
from overly particular explanations to more general ones where this is appropriate.
❖ Comparative analysis can be ethnocentric itself, imposing on diverse systems a
framework that reflects the point of view of these.
➢ Ethnocentrism has been intensified in the field of communication by the strongly
normative character of much theory.
❖ Comparison allows us in many cases to test hypotheses about the interrelationships
among social phenomena.
➢ Emile Durkheim: ‘We have only one means of demonstrating that one
phenomenon is the cause of another: it is to compare the cases where they are
simultaneously present or absent’ → standard methodology in much of the social
sciences, particularly in analyzing social phenomena at the system level, where
variation will often not exist in a single-country study.
■ In the field of communication, those who do analysis at the system level
often tend to be skeptical of ‘positivism’ (individual level, based on
■ Empirical research in communication was almost synonymous with the
media effects paradigm, which was concerned not with larger media
structures but with the effects of particular messages on individual
attitudes and beliefs.
→ Systematic use of comparative analysis has developed slowly.
❖ Purpose of the study: to develop a framework for comparing media systems and a set of
hypotheses about how they are linked structurally and historically to the development of
the political system.
Scope of the Study
❖ This study is based on a ‘most similar systems’ design → “many variables, few
cases”(Lijphart) → relatively comparable cases, number of relevant variables reduced.
➢ Careful development of concepts that can be used for further comparative
analysis, as well as hypotheses about their interrelations.
➢ Exploratory study: geographical definition of its scope is arbitrary. No theoretical
framework provided the basis for selection of cases → study limited to a
region/area using assumptions.
❖ Limitation: Limited to North America and Western Europe (comparable levels of
economic development and much common culture/political history) → models will not
apply without adaptation to other areas.
❖ Advantage: the media models that prevail in Western Europe and North America tend to
be the dominant models globally → influenced the development of other systems.
❖ Four Theories of the Press: its scope is so grand that it is almost inevitably superficial.
❖ Martin and Chaudhary (1983): attempts a global analysis of media systems, dividing the
world into ‘three ideological systems’; the Western, Communist, and Third World →
huge generalizations within these groups.
❖ ‘Reduce the property space of the analysis’ (Lijphart): Focus on news media and media
The Legacy of Four Theories of the Press
Four Theories of the Press: attempt to lay out a broad framework for comparative analysis of the
Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm:
❖ Thesis of this volume: the press always takes on the form and coloration of the social and
political structures in which it operates. It reflects the system of social control whereby
the relations of individuals and institutions are adjusted.
❖ One cannot understand the news media without understanding the nature of the state, the
political systems of political parties, the pattern of relations between economic and
political interests, and the development of civil society, among other elements of social
❖ Assume that the media will always be the ‘dependent variable’ in relation to the ‘system
of social control’ which it ‘reflects’. → similar to a traditional Marxist base and
❖ Focus on “philosophies” (ideologies) of the press.
➢ Did not empirically analyze the relation between media systems and social
systems, nor at the actual functioning of media systems neither that of the social
systems in which they operated.
❖ Analysis wasn’t comparative due to the background of the Cold War: preoccupied with
the dichotomy between the contending U.S. and Soviet models.
❖ There is historical variation in the degree to which media are reflective or independently
➢ Trend in the direction of greater media influence, particularly in relation to the
➢ Belief that the media have become an “exogenous” variable affecting other
political institutions → scholars in comparative politics have begun to pay
attention to media institutions that previously ignored.
❖ Classic works on political parties paid little attention to the press or media, even though
politicians have certainly been preoccupied by - and occupied in - the press/media as long
as political parties have existed.