Models of Media Systems

Every nation in the world has a media system that reflects the nature of that nation. Different interest groups and individuals struggle for media attention and appearance in order to dominate the society with their ideas and interests. When groups and individuals with various interests become prominent in the media, this provides an opportunity to affect the political agenda and influence the content of ongoing debates as well as political decisions. The media system is a mirror of what any society looks like, the nature of activities in that society and relationship between government and the people, among others. Comparing media systems involves looking at the relationship and differences between the nature and operations of the media in different countries, that is, the type of media ownership in the countries you are looking at, the kind of media that exist in these countries, the nature of media audience in the countries you are comparing, how many newspapers or magazines are printed, the number of broadcast media that exist in these countries, the impact of social media in these countries, government influence in these countries, the challenges faced by the media in these countries, among other factors. First of all, let us look at the meaning of 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 (that is the kind and number of media that exist in a country, where they are located, nature and structure of ownership), 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 how alternative media (traditional or indigenous media) influence the society.

There is a relationship between the media system and other structures, systems and institutions in the society. This relationship also influences the media and this is why it is said that media systems reflect the nature of the society within which they exist. Politics, culture, religion, and the economy are among some basic societal factors and forces that influence a media system. The single most influential factor on a media system is the political system. The political system largely creates the model or ideology within which the media in various countries operate. This is because of the power of government and politics to shape the media, determine how the media operate, create laws to control and regulate the media, and also create enabling environment for the media to survive. There are certain things you use to know what a media system looks like in any society. They are called indicators of a media system. They are the features of a media system; that is, the characteristics that indicate what any media system looks like. Let’s briefly discuss them.

Difference between type of media ownership and models of media systems

Media ownership is clearly different from model of media system.

Ownership refers to the possession and control of a medium of communication. It has to do with how a specific medium of communication (such as radio, television, newspaper, etc.) is funded or financed, managed, who calls the shots especially in terms of control, among other issues. This could be based on partial or total financing of the medium either by an individual, an organization or a government. The basic ownership structures in different countries are government ownership, private ownership, and joint ownership which is a combination of ownership of a media house by government and private entities.

Under these categories (especially private ownership) you could have conglomerates (a situation whereby an owner of a media organization runs other types of businesses which are not necessarily media or entertainment businesses), chain ownership (which is ownership of more than one outfit within the same media category, that is, ownership of a number of organizations within the same line – here a person or group owns chains of radio stations, or chains of newspapers, or a string of television stations, or several book publishing companies), cross media ownership (ownership of a combination of media establishments in different segments of the industry at the same time –  broadcast and print media, cinema houses, book publishing company and other entertainment establishments), or party ownership (ownership of media by political parties).

Models of media system refer to the political ideology or frame that guides the existence of the media in any society. It basically has to do with the way government and other political interests determine how the media operate, whether the media are free to operate independently or government has overbearing control on what the media report, and the way they are funded. So here we could have authoritarian model of media system where the media under serious control of government in terms of what they report and which media are allowed to even practice. We also have the Western model of media system which is basically the libertarian system, where the media are free to operate independently but are expected to do so while observing their social responsibility to the society. Many other countries reflect a combination of different models of media system by ‘claiming’ to be democratic countries operating Western libertarian models but also showing some form of authoritarianism by oppressing the media.

Press theories that gave rise to models of media systems

Certain basic press theories gave rise to media models and these models still exist in various societies today. These theories are called the normative or classical media theories. They are authoritarian theory (where every institution including the media, are controlled by the ruling elite and the state which controls all institutions uses devises such as licensing, censorship, and harsh punishment of government critics to force press compliance to state control), libertarian theory (suggests that the press should be free to provide accurate information for the public because the public is made up of rational individuals capable of discerning accurate or distorted information), social responsibility theory (says press freedom should go with certain obligations which recognize societal needs and aspirations. It is also called Western concept, and says the press has responsibility in preserving democracy and that government intervention in form of regulatory bodies could be necessary to protect and promote public interest and that), and Communist theory (also called soviet-communist theory suggests that the state owns and controls every institution, and the media exist to promote the communist ideology). Two other normative theories that were later added are democratic-participant theory (where the media facilitate a two-way participatory communication process between the public and government, with numerous community media existing in the landscape), and development media theory (says the mass media should foster development communication, giving priority to development needs of the society but also suggests that the state can intervene or restrict media operations in the interest of development, thereby justifying direct state control of the media). These theories reflect the nature of media systems over the years, including in modern times. Most media systems have traits of a mixture of two or more theories depending on the government in power (dictatorship or truly democratic government). The normative theories gave rise to models of media system which are;

Authoritarian Model of Media System

This is the system which is explained by the Authoritarian press theory. This media system is characterized by one-way, top-down information flow from the rulers to the people largely because editorial content of the media is determined by the rulers.

Western Model of Media System

This is media system prevalent in developed Western nations of Europe and North America. A number of nations in Africa, Asia, and Latin America also practice this system at least on paper. The Western media system operates within the libertarian and social responsibility tradition which uphold a free and responsible press.

Revolutionary Model of Media System

This is a media system which exists in nations where the citizens are engaged in struggle against dictatorships or any form of repressive regime. Countries governed by military regimes (as in Nigeria before the civilian rule), apartheid government (as was the case in South Africa), and brutal communist government (as was the case under Fidel Castro of Cuba) have media organizations operating in the revolutionary tradition.

Communist Model of Media System

The communist media system operates in communist countries such as China and North Korea. This is a media system that projects the supremacy of the communist party. Media organizations in this system are government owned; private media ownership is not allowed.

Development Model of Media System

This is a media system that functions basically to mobilize a nation for nation-building. It operates in developing nations with limited democratic space in the political system. The media are used by the government to promote development ideas giving little room for criticism or opposition of such policies. This system is not the ideal media system explained by the democratic participant theory where the media facilitate a two-way participatory communication process between the public and government, with numerous community media existing in the landscape.

 

The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

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

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