How to identify a media system

 

What is media system?

A media system refers to the entire media in a country, the ownership structure, interest groups and other influences that give the media sector an identity. Media system is used to describe the coordinated set of principles, laws, ideas, and procedures relating to the media sector in any country. It consists of the nature and operations of the media in a country, including the media landscape, relationship between and among the media in a system and with other institutions in the society. Other things that make up the media system are the nature of the audience, how the media make money, media ownership, control and regulation, and to some extent journalism training and professionalism. The term media system looks at the number and spread of the mass media in any society – newspapers, magazines, radio, television, the Internet media (blogs and other society media), including the existence and influence of alternative media (traditional media) in the society.

Indicators of a media system

Indicators of a media system are the features that combine to give a media system an identity. It is based on these features that you can refer to a media system as Western, Authoritarian, Communist, or a combination of systems. According to Hallin and Mancini (2004) (cited in Nwabueze, 2014), the following features are used to understand the characteristics of a media system:

Structure of the media markets

This has to do with how newspapers circulate across the country, How newspapers are read, that is, whether those who read newspapers are mostly elites or whether newspapers are read by people across different classes of the society (elites and non-elites), how gender influences audience of different media (whether more men read newspapers or whether more women watch television). Other factors are comparative analysis of newspapers and magazines as important news sources; ratio of local, regional, and national newspapers and other media in the media landscape of a country; you know what a media system looks like by checking whether there are too many sensational newspapers and other media, or whether you have more quality press (non-sensational hard news publications such as The Guardian, Punch, Vanguard in Nigeria). You also know a media system based on the number of local language media in the society. For instance, in Nigeria you have Yoruba, Hausa or other local language newspapers in Nigeria and there are English language newspapers that are popular among readers in specific regions such as Daily Trust and Leadership in Northern part of Nigeria or among readers of Northern origin. These factors help you to identify a media system and to be able to describe what it looks like. You can also identify a media system by ascertaining how political, economic, and other activities in neighbouring countries influence what happens in the media system of another country in terms of news content, media landscape and journalism practice. For instance, how do activities in Nigeria affect what the press is saying in Ghana or Benin Republic? All these make up the structure of the media market and you can use the structure to know the type of media system in any country.

Political Parallelism

This has to do with knowing the political orientation of the media in a country and using that to understand the nature of the media system. Political orientation refers to the political ideologies, interests, or influences of media organizations. Some media organizations are overtly or covertly partisan while some others are not. Understanding the degree of partisanship or political orientation of the media and the ratio of partisan and non-partisan media is a factor in determining the type of media system that operates in a country.

You check whether editorial contents are largely politically biased or not; you study the nature relationship between media and political organizations, whether media workers are likely to take part in politics; how partisan media audiences are; what journalists perceive their role to be in a political system – advocates or neutral arbiters; degree of media pluralism – how the media reflect divers opinions and perspectives in their contents; how public service broadcasting is regulated – by government, direct political control, or representative political parties or socially relevant groups. This is what is referred to as political parallelism and you use it to know the nature of a media system.

Professionalization of Journalism

This is the factor that describes the extent of autonomy or independence of journalists while doing their job. Are there professional codes of ethics for journalists? What is the orientation of journalists towards journalism practice as public service rather than an avenue for satisfaction of selfish interests? Answers to these questions help you understand the nature of a media system. Professionalization of journalism takes into consideration, for instance, of the influence of brown envelope syndrome (acceptance of gratifications in the line of duty) which is common in media systems in most African countries, or the absence of it (in a large magnitude) as is the case in the Western world. You look at how brown envelope syndrome is affecting professionalism in journalism practice in any society. That can give you a picture of whether a media system is corrupt or not. A truly professional media system gives no room for brown envelope syndrome.

Role of the State

This has to do with government intervention in the media sector. Does government have over-bearing influence on the media or does it allow the media to operate freely? This can help you know the model of media system that exists in a particular country. Is it authoritarian or libertarian? In most Western countries, government allows the media to operate freely, though with some social responsibilities, unlike in China and North Korea which are communist nations, where there is authoritarian model of media system and government has serious influence on what the media do and say.

The nature of a media system is determined to a large extent by the extent of government intervention; that is, in terms of government regulation and control of the media. The kind of political system in a country determines to a very large extent the type of media system that exists in that country. Government can influence the media sector through various ways among which are censorship, regulations, licensing, ownership, provision of financial support for the media, or by making the state as primary determinant of what makes news.

 

Reference

Nwabueze, C. (2014). Introduction to mass communication: Media ecology in the digital age. Owerri: Topshelve

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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