Four Theories of the Press

Topics: Communism, Political philosophy, Communist state Pages: 5 (1522 words) Published: April 6, 2013

The “Four Theories of the Press” was by three professors, Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm, and since 1956, has come a long way. Over time, it has established a typology in the minds of journalism educators and students. The four theories are authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility and soviet communist (Preserve Articles, 2012).

Authoritarian is defined as favouring or enforcing strict obedience to the authority at the expense of personal freedom. Siebert has referred to this theory as the original prototype and most extensive of all the theories. He had meant that this theory remains to influence press practices even when a government may subscribe to other systems officially (Siebert, Peterson, & Schramm, 1956).

The mass communication pattern has been determined by the authoritarian doctrine for more people over a long period of time than any other theory and we may ask ourselves who actually owns the media in an authoritarian system. The answer to this would be that ownership of printing is still owned privately while broadcasting and cinema are normally owned by the government. The government of authoritarian countries exercise this control over media the same way they control the citizens of that particular country (McHam, 2012).

Some examples of countries practicing this form of government control are Syria, Belarus, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe (McHam, 2012).
Based on this theory, although the mass media is not directly under the control of the State, they had to follow its bidding. In Western Europe, the freedom of thought under an authoritarian approach was guarded by a few people such as people from the ruling class. They claimed to have been concerned with the emergence of a new middle class and were worried about the impact of printed matter on their thought process so precaution was taken to control the freedom of expression. This, of course, lead to complete dictatorship (Whiz Mass Comm, 2011). The libertarian theory came up in opposition to the authoritarian theory where they justify their power as a means to protect and preserve a divinely ordained social order. In most countries that practice this system, leaders would grant charters or licenses to media practitioners who could be jailed if ever they violate charters and their charters or licenses could be revoked. Ergo, all types of censorship were easily possible.

Although this theory may seem very strict most of the time, sometimes, minority viewpoints and culture that did not directly pose a threat to the authorities were given considerable freedom (, 2010).

A libertarian is a person who advocates civil liberty while libertarianism is a set of related political philosophies that emphasize the primacy of individual liberty, political freedom and voluntary association.

The reason for this theory is to be ideal where the main purpose of society is to advance the interests of its individual members (Siebert, Peterson, & Schramm, 1956). A natural distrust is involved in the role of the government and the state adhering to libertarian ideals and state surveillance becomes the basic social function of the media (Ostini & Fung, 2002).

This press concept can be traced back to England and the American colonies of the seventeenth century. Man as a rational animal with inherent natural rights was the philosophy that gave rise to the libertarian press theory. One of those natural rights include pursuing the truth, and potential interferes (such as kings and governors) would be restrained.

Individual liberties were stressed by philosophers who were also exponents of this press movement during the seventeenth century (and the 200 years which followed) who are Milton, Locke, Erskine, Jefferson and John Stuart Mill, along with a basic trust in the people to take intelligent decisions if a climate of free...
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