1 Investigating the Relation between Media System and Social System By Denis McQuail Moscow Readings, November 14-15, 2013, Faculty of Journalism, Moscow University. (Provisional text of lecture) A question of effect, but in which direction? Since early days, the study of (mass) media has centred on this very large issue. The seeming transformation of society in the emerging modern world of the 19-20th century was accompanied by a fascination with the rapidly changing character of ‘media systems’ – from virtual non-existence to the mass popular press, then to ever newer forms. The media-centric view tended to frame the link as a question of long-term effects of the media on society. Less consideration was given to the extent to which emerging public forms of communication were themselves primarily a creation of new forms of society, in other words, a case of effects, but in the reverse direction. The larger, ‘socio-centric’, view of the conditions created by social change in the ‘developing’ world of the later nineteenth century could recognise the creation of a ‘mass public’, with some literacy, some freedom and leisure and collective needs for information and entertainment, needs to which 2 the ‘mass media’ of press, cinema and later broadcasting responded. At the same time, the purposes and requirements of government, economy and political systems were also helping to shape the forms and the emerging organisational arrangements of public communication. The issue seems too general and abstract for empirical research, but its revival reflects large changes in media and society as well as a sharper focus on detailed aspects of the case. The aim of this short paper is to consider the general problem, the obstacles to investigation and what possibilities there might be for progress in either theory or research. Why reopen the issue? Certain major transitions in forms of media seem to call for a revision of initial interpretations. The two most significant shifts in media history in modern times were the transition from print-based to audio-visual forms and, subsequently, the digitisation of all forms and the rise of entirely new means of on-line transmission. Many good reasons and much scattered evidence could and still can be found for linking various changes in society with changes in mass media. The topic cannot be simply ignored, but nor does it lend itself to very satisfactory inquiry by way of current theory and methodology. 3 Identifying the obstacles is the easy part. For one, the two elements to be related, society and media, are of entirely uneven in weight, the latter only one feature of a complex reality. For another, we lack clear conceptual definitions of what is to be studied, starting with ‘social system’ and its component elements, but also of ‘media system’. There is similarly no certain guide for the choice of variables that also need to be defined before any measure or value can be made or given. The volume of data that might be needed for testing any hypothesis is essentially unlimited. Not least problematic for this kind of analysis is the fact, as pointed out by Hallin and Mancini (2004), that two separate features of any given society may be related to each other by having common historical roots, thus another independent cause or point of origin. The interaction of ‘culture’ and structure Despite these uncomfortable truths, the issue ts too important to dismiss. As an initial step, it is worth looking back at Karl Erik Rosengren’s (1981) general formulation of the relation between social structure and culture, as it relates to mass media. For this purpose, ‘mass media’ was identified as a key element of the culture of a modern society, essentially an aspect of its ‘superstructure’. (This designation may be doubtful if we are talking about media system, rather than typical content and uses). 4 ROSENGREN’S TYPOLOGY OF STRUCTURE-CULTURE RELATIONSHIPS Social Structure Influences culture YES NO Culture influences: YES Interdependence Idealism Social structure NO Materialism Autonomy Rosengren (1981) offered a simple four-fold typology in which two main propositions were cross-classified – ‘Social Structure influences Culture’ (Yes or No) and ‘Culture influences Social Structure’ (Yes or No). The resulting four possibilities are labelled as “Interdependence” (Both Yes); Autonomy (Both No), Materialism (Yes/No); and “Idealism” (No/Yes). The first type (Interdependence) describes a situation of mutual influence in both directions, with difficulty in distinguishing any predominant direction of effect The second type (Autonomy) reflects the possibility of the Social system being largely unaffected by Mass Media, because of the strength of other, material factors and the Mass Media being independent and self-driven. The ‘Idealist’ type 5 of relation attributes a strong possibility for mass media to influence society by way of the dissemination of ideas, opinions, stories and information. This scheme is too general to produce empirical cases to match its hypothetical categories, but it is a useful guide to the many and divergent possibilities of the relationship we wish to investigate. Before leaving it, it can be observed that a media system does in fact have structural as well as cultural aspects that can mirror the same kind of pattern, with typical media content and culture sometimes being affected by the form of media organisation, sometimes independent of it. Questions of definition Definition cannot be avoided and summary, basic, definitions of the two main concepts as used in this paper are as follows: DEFINITIONS OF SOCIAL SYSTEM AND MEDIA SYSTEM Social System refers to a set of interrelated provisions and activities necessary to achieve all primary needs of society. The existence and identity of a social system is observable from the continuity of relevant features within the boundaries of a state or other extensive community. Social systems will be characterised by variable positions on a set of empirical or normative dimensions 6 that are widely recognisable. Different ‘types’ of social system may be signalled by certain patterns of linked characteristics. Media System refers to a set of arrangements and activities for public communication, with certain distinct patterns of features to be observed, in a similar way. Four main empirical components of a system are involved: infrastructure; organisation (including finance and regulation); personnel; typical contents. A range of dimensions of variation can be established. It has to be admitted that the concept of system as used here is weak and imprecise, due primarily to the great diversity of conditions affecting media development and operation. There seem to be few examples of planned or integrated media arrangements in any society, although there have been some attempts at this. There are many cases where an array of media organisations operate in a basically similar way, according to more or less shared logic principles. There are also cases where different media within the same national ‘system’ appear to have quite different types of relationship with their society. The contribution of Hallin and Mancini The typology of media-society relations developed by Hallin and Mancini (2004) provides evidence on these matters. For instance, some ‘media systems’ are dominated by a commercial logic, some 7 by one of ‘public interest’ or ‘public service’. Most are mixed variants, with other logics adding to diversity, including one of partisan allegiance, another of media professional or creative purpose or driven by technological developments well ahead of market demands. It is not a requirement of identity as a system that a bounded set of media arrangements, with certain shared conditions of operation need to have the same logic. The clearest example of success in investigating the relationship at issue is offered by their work on the linkages between political systems (an aspect of Social Structure) and Media System, with other contributions from the growing number of cross-country comparative research projects, especially into news and journalism. On the whole, the design of Hallin and Mancini’s work is consistent with the logic of Rosengren’s overview scheme and offers a practical way of proceeding towards the identification of different types of relationship in the chosen problem area. Their research process involves identifying the key differentiating factors on both sides of the equation and assigning values to these as variables. To illustrate, the most relevant variable features of political systems in the cases they studied were found to include: 8 MAIN VARIABLE DIMENSIONS OF POLITICAL SYSTEMS - A fundamental distinction in relation of state to society between liberal and welfare democracy. The former allots a minImal role to the state, the second tends towards interventions for the ‘general good’. - The extent to which a system exhibits either consensual or majoritarian forms of government and processes of choosing them. The former is linked with coalition and cooperation, the latter with greater conflict and other features as noted below. - Individual versus organized pluralism, this being characterised as ‘corporatist’, with diversity reflecting separate sectors of society, often with competing interests. - Degree of rational-legalism in political arrangements. A high level is associated with professionalism, a neutral bureaucracy and strict adherence to rules, the alternative with clientilism and ‘instrumentalisation’ or control by outside interests. - Moderate versus polarized pluralism, this showing up in a high degree of political ‘parallelism’ in many social arrangements. The authors also provide a guide to the main variables of media systems that will be relevant to these political system features. These are: VARIABLES OF MEDIA SYSTEM RELEVANT TO EFFECTS 9 - Development of the mass newspaper press; - Professionalization of media; - Role of the state (degree and kind of intervention) - Political parallelism of media structure. The collection and analysis of evidence from a set of politically similar nations led to the identification of three main ‘ideal types’ of relations between media and political systems. Amongst the caveats to applying this approach to the larger issue of effect on society posed above, is that on neither ‘side’, is there an attempt to characterise a whole ‘social system,’ or ‘media system’, only a limited institutional sector. There is also no claim or attempt to deal with the question of cause and effect. The types of relationship identified are only correlations and compatibilities. Even so, the broad logic of the inquiry can serve a larger purpose, suitably adopted. The authors (2012) say their work was ‘oriented towards theory-building rather than hypothesis testing’, and that is also true of this paper. History of thinking about media-society interaction Looked at in a certain way, the history of thinking about mass media and public life has been a continuous reflection on the intersection between distinctive features of society and of media, 10 framed by a variety of successive or conflicting theories. There is no shortage of attempts, often convincing in their own terms, to characterise both ‘sides’ of the relationship, beginning with the links made between ‘mass society’ and ‘mass communication’. Such correspondences are at least a fruitful source of ideas relevant to the present purpose. Limiting attention mainly to the ‘media system’ side of the equation and to potential effects on society by the media, we can note the following key ideas. A media system that is strongly geared to a model of ‘mass communication’ (large audiences, popular content) will foster practical conditions for centralised control and supervision, relative uniformity of outlook, consensus maintenance, mobilisation of the many, but also privatised life-styles, low levels of ‘social capital’, and psychological dependence. ‘Modernization’ theory in its early form at least, tended to stress an individualizing and personally motivating effect from (exogenous) mass media, encouraging the expression of opinion, weakening traditional social and cultural ties. These ideas were typical in relation to commercial (largely imported) mass media with no ulterior purpose, but a version of the same thinking about media as an engine of progress lay behind official efforts at 11 applying communication to the purposes of economic and social change. The critical ‘political economic’ ,post-marxist, perspective adapted some basic orientations of mass society theory, attributing a first cause to the capitalist form of ownership, but foreseeing much the same consequences from the way the media system would ‘deliver’ audiences to agencies of hegemony and defuse any latent resistance. Amongst the various media/social theories, a place needs to be found for a relatively new variant of thinking about the working of mass media, perhaps best labelled as ‘Organizational media theory’. This draws especially on the concepts of ‘media logic’ and ‘mediatization’, but it can also relate to certain aspects of media technological determination that, otherwise, have no home. As a whole we are referring to a ‘media-centric’ body of theory. The core element is that modern media systems, as they expanded and gained more independence in the ‘television age’, developed their own standards of production practice and value, often related to audience appeal, but also to professional preferences and perceptions of intrinsic media properties, relating primarily to the technologies employed for production and dissemination. The broad result has been, according to evidence as well as theory, 12 that the content of much public communication is filtered through the media system’s own priorities and values. The increasing centrality and rising status of media as an institution for ‘mediating public knowledge’ has increased media power relative to other social actors, leading society, even at ‘command’ levels, to adapt their strategies of public communication to the preference of the ‘mediators’. These adaptations are partially related to the guidelines and maxims of advertising, but also shaped by the organizational requirements of production (e.g. making and shaping of news). Alternative media theory, a heading that covers all kinds of small scale, grass roots or community media, plus oppositional and underground publications flourishes in certain social conditions. It is also made possible by the development of many forms of media transmission that are not ‘massive’, nor seek to be so. The scope of potential influence has been much enlarged by the spread of individual online devices and networks. The most promoted ideas concern potential change, resistance, opposition and innovation in societies. The media system changes implied by more recent developments have origins partly in society, partly in technology. 13 In mainstream thinking, a body of new media theory focuses on the system and social effects of the whole range of wireless media and services that are challenging the established structures of media provision everywhere, without a very clear pattern settling down. Ideas about consequences have been speculative and diverse. There is a basic uncertainty about whether the new technologies available will transform media systems or in some ways result in an adaptation that leaves essentially the same purposes and consequences of society-wide communication in much the same state as before. Leaving this debate aside, it looks as if a fundamental differentiating feature of current and future media systems will be the extent to which they depend on on-line or mobile transmission, as opposed to use of traditional platforms of print, physical display, live performance, etc. Following an axiomatic rule of thumb from earlier times, it seems that the form of finance (advertising and or sales) and structure of ownership (probably large corporate) will determine more of the nature of media systems that the intrinsic possibilities that have been widely welcomed for their beneficial social effects. These relate primarily to the freeing up of access for many different voices and the possibilities of interactive exchange 14 between citizens, leading to more participative and better informed societies. SUCCESSIVE THEORIES OF MEDIA EFFECTS ON SOCIETY MASS COMMUNICATION PROMOTES CONFORMITY AND COHESION MODERNIZATION: PROMOTES CHANGE AND INDIVIDUALISM POLITICAL-ECONOMIC THEORY PREDICTS HEGEMONIC CONTROL BY OWNING/RULING CLASS MEDIATIZATION INCREASES POWER OF INFLUENCE OF MEDIA THEMSELVES ALTERNATIVE MEDIA FACILITATE DISSENT AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS NEW (DIGITAL) MEDIA HAVE LIBERATING AND DIVERSIFYING EFFECTS, PLUS UNKNOWNS Research tradition concerned with media structure and performance In this summary catalogue of media system features and tendencies of social influence, attention is also merited by the long tradition of research and thinking about the relation between media 15 structure and performance. The driving force has always been a critical perspective on media performance, sometimes from a media professional, sometimes from a ‘public interest’, view. Central to the tradition has been the belief that ‘quality’ of performance can be defined and in some degree measured, and that also, to some extent variations in quality as measured can be related to structured features (especially of ownership and purposes). There are possibilities for finding elements of media systems/structures that could be reformed or influenced. Democratic norms permit certain interventions in structural matters, but little affecting content directly. Amongst the yield of this tradition has been guidance on the criteria that have, at a given period and place, been considered as pertaining to a ‘good’ media system – one that promotes ‘good’ performance, as reflected in a number of recurring criteria, especially the following: Diversity - of media types (and technologies), forms and of control/ownership; Local relevance , in the widest sense area served; Freedom of action and expression for communicators; Professionalism and associated responsibility and accountability. Informativenes, especially as applied to news and journalism; 16 Social activism , especially a critical role on behalf of the public, in the face of abuse or scandal at higher levels (also mainly applying to journalism). Causal influences of media structure on performance In addition to developing criteria of good performance, the research tradition has also deployed a number of variables of media structure that could be influential on performance and also open to manipulation or intervention ‘in the public interest.’ The main structural variables that are relevant to these purposes comprise: form of ownership - private or public, profit or non-profit; degree of organizational/professional autonomy; scale and intended reach – local, national; international; barriers to access for would-be sources and voices – whether high or low; dependence or independence in international media markets; Related to this, with the arrival of on-line media, new structural principles have been added to the above, mainly relating to the degree of system control of output/transmission and degree of interactivity between senders and receivers. It is clear that the way in which most media systems have been formed has been initially strongly influenced by the culture and structure of the society in which they are located. However, further 17 consequences for society are likely to stem from the particular configuration of communication that flows from the media as a result of their system features. The range of potential influences is summarized in the following Table. RELEVANT (CAUSAL) MEDIA SYSTEM FEATURES CONCENTRATION AND MONOPOLY; DIVERSITY OF CHANNELS, MEDIA TYPES AND CONTENT ; ACCESS TO CHANNELS (for senders and receivers); SELF-REGULATORY PROCESSES; FORMS OF OWNERSHIP/FINANCE; SCALE AND REACH; DEGREE OF (IN)DEPENDENCE IN GLOBAL MEDIA MARKET; DEGREE OF INTERACTIVITY IN USE; Features of social systems most susceptible (or liable) to influence from media systems The long and very mixed theorising alluded to earlier has at least one other yield to offer in the way of guidance for pursuing the matter of media system influence. This consists of ideas about the features of social structures that are most plausibly susceptible 18 to influence as a consequence of some the specific features of media systems indicated. Certain items recur in this connection, especially: - The type and quality of social relations that exist or develop between individuals and thus underlie the formation of groups and the potential for combined social action. - The typical non-coercive control processes of society that can range from the more hierarchical to the negotiated and truly democratic, from the open to the covert. - Some features of ideology and belief systems, such as their diversity, strength, stability, etc. This relates also to fundamental values, such as attachment to freedom or equality, tolerance. - The awareness of collective identity as nation or culture, its strength and distribution in a population. - The distribution of knowledge (in matters of public relevance and significance) in society, its relative equality and inequality, plus its adequacy. - Some aspects of the distribution of power and social esteem, that partly depend on individually formed social attitudes These can be summarised as: - SOCIAL RELATIONSHIPS AND NETWORK 19 - NON-COERCIVE CONGTROL PROCESSES - IDEOLOGY AND BELIEF SYSTEMS - COLLECTIVE OR GROUP IDENTITIES - DISTRIBUTION OF KNOWLEDGE - DISTRIBUTION OF ‘SOFT POWER’ Pathways of influence An additional yield from the history of ideas reviewed is an indication of the various pathways by which media system influence can operate. These are summarised as follows: - BY ADAPTATION TO THE PREVAILING MEDIA PRACTICES - BY THE MEDIA’S CHOICE (OR ASSIGNMENT) OF ITS ROLE IN SOCIETY - VIA RELATIVE PRIORITY GIVEN TO MEDIA GOALS OF PROFIT OR PURPOSE - VIA POWER AND CONTROL PROCESES WITHIN MEDIA - VIA EXTERNAL ACCESS TO MEDIA (CLIENTILISM) The normative dimension of media systems and social systems A conclusion that has occurred to me in the course of this journey is the extent to which the framing of definitions, concepts 20 and hypotheses is very dependent on normative criteria, thus not fully objective and open to measurement. This applies both to the characterisation of social structure features as well as those of media systems. Even where there are elements to that can be observed objectively and empirically (for instance the level of conflict/consensus in political systems, or the degree of concentration of media markets), the priority given to one feature over another (e.g. of freedom over accuracy of information) depends on an evaluative choice. The whole large body of theorising about media and society has always been about opposing values as much as about evidence of any influence. This reflection is not meant as discouragement, but it means that in one way or another the influence of alternative values relating to society and to media respectively needs to be recognised. One step to assist formal analysis would be to treat society and media as each having a cultural and a structural dimension and construct variables for analysis that pertain to one or the other sphere. Rosengren’s simple typology can be useful here, although it becomes rather complex. In conclusion This has been an exploration of possibilities for re-opening long standing issues of overall influences of media practice, 21 content and organisations (systems, thus) on aspects of society, encouraged by the success of Hallin and Mancini in opening up a part of the terrain. The task of investigating in this area of inquiry seems to become more intractable when the different approaches and many variables are assembled in any general overview, as I have tried to do. At the same time, the topic only increases in potential interest and relevance at a time of large upheavals in media systems (however conceptualised). Much thought has already been given to many aspects of the problem area and there are many fruitful lines of inquiry that could still be followed, especially by way of comparative research. New sources of relevant evidence are emerging from studies of public opinion on media e.g. degree of trust, perception of relative value and utility, media uses and satisfactions. Research on attitudes of key actors, especially journalists and editors also makes an increasing contribution to judgment in these matters. For the reasons given it will be important to pay careful attention to the underlying normative dimensions of the problem that cannot be by-passed, but have to be accounted for in an open way. It will also be necessary to restrain global ambitions and concentrate on specific, demarcated areas of the life of societies 22 that are in a significant degree institutionalised and stable. None of this easy, but it seems worth the attempt. Denis McQuail, Faculty of Journalism Moscow University, November 14, 2013.. References: Hallin, D.C. and Mancini, P. (2004). Comparative Media Systems. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hallin, D.C. and Mancini, P. (2012). Comparing Media Systems: Beyond the Western World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Rosengren, Karl Erik (1981). ‘Mass media and social change: some current approaches’, in E. Katz and T. Szecsko, eds., Mass Media and Social Change, pp. 247-63. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.