Normative Theory

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• Normative theories were first proposed by Fred Siebert,
Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm in their book called
“Four Theories of the Press”.
• At first the word “Normative Theory” was pronounced in USA
during the height of ‘cold war’ with communism and soviet.
Often it is called as western theories of mass media.
• It is a type of theory that describes an ideal way that
how media should be structured and operated within
the society or how journalism/ media ought to, or
are expected to, operate – what is desirable in
relation to both structure and performance.
• It shows how the press operated under the various
political environments.
• This theory explains how ideal media ought to
operate with specific system of social values.
Theories of the press and its role in a society would
fit in this category.
• It is a synthesis of ideas developed over the past four
centuries.
• These theories were based on observations and not
from hypotheses testing.
• These theories are basically different from other
communication theories because normative theories of press
are not providing any scientific explanations or prediction. At
the same these “four theories of the press” were came from
many sources rather than a single source.
• A Normative theory describes an ideal way for a media system
to be controlled and operated by the government, authority,
leader and public.
• Siebert, Peterson & Schramn (1956) proposed that the press
system is divided into four categories:
• 1. Authoritarian Theory
• 2. Libertarian Theory
• 3. Social Responsibility Theory
• 4. Soviet-Totalitarian Theory
Additions (Denis McQuail. Mass Communication Theory: An
Introduction) in 1980
• Development
• Democratic-participant
• 16th & 17th century England. Widely adopted and still in
practice in many places.
• B. PHILOSOPHY:
• Philosophy of absolute monarch/ruler, his government or both.
• Authoritarian theory holds that journalism should always be
subordinate to the interests of the state in maintaining social
order or achieving political goals (Siebert, Peterson, & Schramm
1956). At a minimum, the press is expected to avoid any
criticisms of government officials and to do nothing to challenge
the established order.
• Authoritarian concept: advocating the complete domination of
media by a government for the purpose of forcing those media
to serve government
• Responsibility of the media was To support and advance
the policies of the government in power and to serve the
state.
• The media in an authoritarian system are not allowed to
print or broadcast anything which could undermine the
established authority, and any offense to the existing
political values is avoided. The authoritarian government
may go to the step of punishing anyone who questions the
state's ideology
The fundamental assumption of the authoritarian system is
that the government is infallible. Media professionals are
therefore not allowed to have any independence within
the media organization.
• In the authoritarian theory system, the relationship between
the state and the media in an authoritarian system is vertical,
in that, the information is from the top (government) to down
(media).
• DEVELOPMENT:
• Adopted by England after 1688 and in the U.S. Influential
elsewhere.
• PHILOSOPHY:
• Writing of Milton, Loke, Mill and general philosophy or
rationalism and natural rights.
• In his book, Siebert goes on to explain the libertarian theory,
which is also called the free press theory. In contrast to the
authoritarian theory, the libertarian view rests on the idea that
the individual should be free to publish whatever he or she likes.
• In the libertarian system, attacks on the government's policies
are fully accepted and even encouraged. Moreover, there
should be no restrictions on import or export of media messages
across the national frontiers.
• that there should be no laws governing media operations. Free
press means that all forms of media must be totally
unregulated.
• If individuals could be freed from arbitrary limits on
communication imposed by church and state, they would
“naturally” follow the dictates of their conscience, seek truth,
engage in public debate, and ultimately create a better life for
themselves and others.
• Best known embodiment of the ideal is the First Amendment to
the U.S. Constitution, which specifies that
• “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press.” This formulation expresses the ideal
only in negative terms, as a freedom from state intervention.
• It asserted that all individuals have natural rights no government,
community, or group can unduly infringe upon or take away. The
ability to exercise dissent, to band together with others to resist
laws that people find to be wrong, to print or broadcast ideas,
opinions and beliefs- all of these rights are proclaimed as
central to democratic self government.
• Supporters of this theory believed strongly in the power of
unrestricted public debate and discussion to create more natural
way of structuring society.
• In AEROPAGETICA, a powerful libertarian published in 1644
by John Milton asserted that:
• “In a fair debate good and truthful arguments will always win out
over lies and deceit. If this is true it followed , then a new and
better social order could be forged using public debate.”
• This idea came to be referred to as MILTON’S SELF-RIGHTING
PRINCIPLE, and is still cited by contemporary media
professionals.
• These libertarian ideals are also seen as the heart of the United
States long-term experiment with democratic self-government.
The American Revolution against Britain was legitimized by
libertarian ideals. Patrick Henry’s famous comment
• “Give me liberty or Give me Death.”
• HOW ARE THE MEDIA CONTROLLED?
• By ‘self right process of truth’ in ‘free market place of ideas’
and by courts.
• WHAT IS PROHBITED?
• Defamation, obscenity, indecency, wartime sedition
• OWNERSHIP:
• Chiefly private
• ESSENTIAL DIFERENCE FROM OTHERS:
• Instrument for checking on government and meeting other needs
of society
• In (1644) John Milton asserted that in a fair debate good and
truthful arguments will always win over lies and deceit.
• Thus, it followed that a new and better social order could be
forged. This became known as the “self-righting principle”.
• Market place of ideas
• The notion that all ideas should be put before the public, and
the public will choose the best from that market place.
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STRENGTH:
Value media freedom.
Values individuals.
Preclude (prevent from happening) government control of
media
• WEAKNESS
• It is overly optimistic about media willingness to
meet responsibilities.
• It is overly optimistic about individuals’ ethics and
rationality.
• Ignores the need for reasonable control of
media.
• Ignores the dilemmas posed by conflicting
freedoms (e.g free press vs personal privacy)
• Unfortunately, most early libertarians had a unrealistic view of
how long it would take to find the “truth” and establish an ideal
social order. In the 18th century it became clear that “truth”
couldn’t be quickly or easily established, some libertarians
became discouraged. They drifted between libertarian
and authoritarian views.
Whenever new media technologies are invented, it is necessary to
decide how they should be regulated. The debate over
communication freedom never ends, sometimes the balance shifts
toward expanding freedom and other times, freedom is curtailed.
• The question is why it is necessary to place limits on
communication freedom. The common reason could be, where
do the rights guaranteed to you by the constitution end and
those of another begins?
• What happens when groups attempt to stir up hatred and
resentment against racial or ethnic minorities?
• Should media practitioners be allowed to invade our homes,
publish erroneous information about us, or deceive us with false
advertising? Do media professionals have the right to produce
and distribute anything that will earn profits, or should some
limits be placed on them?
• These feelings were particularly developed in the United States
in the 1800s, during the penny press and yellow journalism
eras. Public confidence in both business and government was
shaken by recurring depressions, widespread corruption and
injustice. Public respect for newspapers also receded as
• publishers pursued profits and created news to sell papers.
Social movement sprang up to call for new laws and greater
government regulation. A group who believed in direct
regulation of media, most often by a government agency or
commission. These include advocates of TECHNORATIC
CONTROL, people like Harold Lasswell and Walter Lippmann.
• So during the 1920s and 1930s a new normative theory of
mass communication began to emerge that rejected both
radical libertarian and ideas of technocratic control. As
pressure for government regulation of media mounted, industry
leaders responded with efforts to professionalize. Rather than
cede control of media to a government agency, media
managers went on record with pledges to serve public needs.
• Industry codes of ethics began to formalize another important
conception about the role of media-that of a watchdog
guarding the welfare of the public. It assumed that media
should continually scan the social world and alert the public to
problems.
• Realizing that the market had failed to fulfill the promise that
press freedom would reveal the truth, The Commission on
Freedom of the Press provided a model in which the media had
certain obligations to society.
• So Henry Luce, CEO of Time Inc., provided funding for an
independent commission to make
• recommendations concerning the role of the press.
• The Hutchins Commission on Freedom of the press was established
in 1942 and released a major report of its findings in 1947.
• The Commission members were sharply divided between those
who held strongly libertarian views and those who thought some
form of press regulation was necessary. Those who favored
regulation were fearful that the marketplace of ideas was much
too vulnerable to subversion by antidemocratic forces; most of
them were impressed by the Chicago School.
• Written by Robert Maynard Hutchins and a dozen other
• preeminent intellectuals of the day, A Free and Responsible Press
offers an astute, literate, and impassioned indictment of the
nation's mass media.
• The 133-page report contends that the press is free for the
purpose of serving democracy; a press that shirks its democratic
duties will lose its freedom.
• The report calls on the press to improve itself in the name of
morality, democracy, and self-preservation.
• Chicago School envisioned modern cities as “Great Communities”
comprising hundreds of small social groups- everything from
neighborhood social organizations to citywide associations. For
these Great Communities to develop, all the constituent groups
had to work together and contribute. These were referred to as
pluralistic groups in recognition of their cultural and racial
diversity.
• The Chicago School Opposed marketplace of ideas notions and
argued that unregulated mass media inevitably served the
interests and tastes of large or socially dominant groups. Small,
weak, pluralistic groups would be either neglected or degraded.
• This perspective also held that ruthless elites could use media as
a means of gaining personal political power. These
demagogues could manipulate media to transmit propaganda
to fuel hatred and fear among a majority unite them against
minorities, e.g. as Hitler used the media to arouse hatred
against the Jews. Although majority of the Hutchins commission
members had some sympathy for Chicago School ideas, they
opposed any direct form of press regulation.
• 1. Media should accept and fulfill certain obligations to society.
• 2. These obligations are mainly to be met by setting high or
professional standards of informativeness, truth, accuracy,
objectivity and balance.
• 3. In accepting and applying these obligations, media should be
self-regulating within the framework of law and established
institutions.
• 4. The media should avoid whatever might lead to crime,
violence or civil disorder or give offense to minority groups.
• 5. The media as a whole should be pluralist and reflect the
diversity of their society, giving access to various points of view
and to rights of reply.
• 6. Society and the public have a right to expect high standards
of performance, and intervention can be justified to secure the
public good.
• 7. Journalists and media professionals should be accountable to
society as well as to employers and the market
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STRENGTH
Values media responsibility
Value audience responsibility
Limit media intrusion in media operation
Allows reasonable government control of media
Values diversity and pluralism
Aids the ‘powerless’
Appeals to the best instincts of media practitioners and
audience
• WEAKNESSES
• It is overly optimistic about media willingness to meet
responsibility.
• It is overly optimistic about individual responsibility.
• Underestimate the power of profit motivation &
competition.
• Legitimizes status quo
• Apparent from its name, the Soviet theory is closely
tied to a specific ideology; the communist. Siebert
traces the roots of this theory back to the 1917
Russian Revolution based on the postulates of Marx
and Engels.
• The media organizations in this system were not
intended to be privately owned and were to serve
the interests of the working class.
• The mass media in the Soviet model are expected to
be self-regulatory with regard to the content of their
messages.
• C. MAIN PURPOSE:
• To continue to the success and continuance of the
Soviet Socialist System especially that led to the
dictatorship of the party.
• D. WHO HAS THE RIGHT TO USE THE MEDIA:
• Loyal and orthodox party members
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E. HOW ARE THE MEDIA CONTROLLED?
Surveillance and economic or political action of government
F. WHAT IS PROHBITED?
Criticism of the party objectives as distinguish from tactics
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G. OWNERSHIP:
Public
H. ESSENTIAL DIFERENCE FROM OTHERS:
State owned and closely controlled media existing solely as
arms of eh state.
• Democratic-participant theory was proposed in recognition
of new media developments and of increasing criticism of
the dominance of the main mass media by private or public
monopolies.
• From the 1960’s onwards call could be heard for
alternative, grass-roots media, expressing the needs of
citizens. The theory supports the right to relevant local
information, the right to answer back and the right to use
the new means of communication for interaction and social
action in small-scale settings of community, interest groups
or subculture.
• This theory challenged the necessity for and desirability of
• uniform, centralized, high-cost, commercialized, professionalized
or state-controlled media.
• In their place should be encouraged multiple, small-scale, local,
non-institutional, committed media which link senders to
receivers and also favor horizontal patterns of interaction.
• B. PHILOSOPHY:
• It reflects public “reaction against the
commercialisation and monopolisation of
privately owned media and against the centralism
and bureaucratisation of public broadcasting
institutions
• This theory seeks to explain the normative behavior of
the press in countries that are conventionally classified
together as “developing countries” or “third world
countries”.
• It, too, is not easy to locate in any particular institution
or country, because it encompasses a great variety of
fluctuating economic and political conditions
• Development media theory was intended to recognize the fact
that societies undergoing a transition from underdevelopment
and colonialism to independence and better material conditions
often lack the infrastructure, the money, the traditions, the
professional skills and even the audiences needed to sustain
• Major Tenets:
• Media must accept and carry out positive development
tasks in line with nationally established policy.
• Freedom of the media should be open to economic
priorities and development needs of the society.
• Media should give priority in their content to the
national culture and language(s).
• Media should assist the Government in any
development project.
Thank You
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