Section 1: Four Theories of the Press
Who Gave the Media the Right?
The Hutchins Commission
Four Theories of the Press
Where Various Forms of Government and Media are Practiced

Who Gave the Media the Right?
A basic question is: Who gave the media the right to do the things they do?

Who gave the media the right:
to investigate wrongdoing by public officials,
to delve into the private lives of public figures,
to report on the shortcomings of government and institutions?

Understanding the answer to that question is to understand one aspect of the American way of life.

The way we deal with the media is indicative of the way we are as a people.

This isn't an easy situation to understand.

To begin with, it isn't a right.

The media are primarily a business institution, operating within the free enterprise system.

However, media have a sense of obligation based on history, tradition, ethics, morality.

Why is that?

Because, in this country many of us seek to do what's right because we think that we will have a better society if we think that way and act that way.

That's the reason you are here, in college, to better yourselves. The concept determines a great deal about what we do as individuals.

In Other Countries
However, the situation is not the same in many countries.

See these links for additional information.
Human Rights Watch:
The Committee to Protect Journalists:
The Newseum:

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The Hutchins Commission
Mankind has been seeking a way to understand communications and information -- and the way it relates to other aspects of human experience -- since Henry VIII's time, if not before.

That concern continues.

We have had a series of formal studies, to wit:

In the mid-1040s, Robert M. Hutchins of the University of Chicago led a commission that was to bear his name. The result was a book released in March 1947 entitled A Free and Responsible Press.

But the timing was bad:
At the end of World War II...
... and just before the arrival of television.

Also, the commission did its work in secrecy, not a practice designed to win the support of the media. And it made what was at the time a bold an unwelcomed suggestion: that a national news council be formed to monitor the media.

Another study was begun in the early 1950s under the auspices of the National Council of Churches. The report took the form of essays and was published in 1956 by the University of Illinois Press. The name of the book is Four Theories of the Press.

This approach is still applicable in examining the role of media in society today.

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Four Theories of the Press
The theories are:
Social Responsibility

These are actually two general theories and a variation from each.

Two basic things to understand:
1. Mass media always takes on the form and coloration of the social and political structures within which the media operate.

2. We understand governments -- and the people who live within those governments -- by understanding media.

1. Authoritarian
Authoritarian doctrine has determined the mass communication pattern for more people over a longer period of time than any other theory.

What Fred S. Siebert said:

For almost two hundred years after the spread of printing in the western world, the authoritarian theory furnished the exclusive basis for determining the function and relationship of the popular press to contemporary society.

... in fact practically all western Europe... utilized the basic principles of authoritarianism as the theoretical foundation for their systems of press control.

Page 9, Four Theories of the Press

Who owns the media in an authoritarian system?

Ownership of printing remains mostly in private hands, but broadcasting and cinema usually remain in the hands of government.

The form of control the government exercises over media in authoritarian countries is the same as the control it has over the people who live there. The concepts are inseparable. That is, one follows the other.

History provides us with many examples. Two stand out:

Germany under Hitler and Italy under Mussolini.

Along with everything else he did, Hitler introduced propaganda.

What is that?

It's shading the news and information to fit a preconceived conclusion on what the information should mean and on how people should interpret it.

From Mein Kampf (my struggle):

"All propaganda should be popular and should adapt its intellectual level to the receptive ability of the least intellectual of those whom it is desired to address."

This was one of the ways Hitler was able to control the people.

See page 16, Four Theories of the Press.

Examples abound of countries that are authoritarian and of countries
where the governments limit freedoms – especially press freedoms.

Among the purely authoritarian governments are Syria, Belarus, Uzbekistan and to a certain extent Zimbabwe.

Other countries have only recently emerged – or are emerging -- from long periods of authoritarian control.
Historically that list would include South Africa, the Philippines and South Korea.

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, quashed the pro-democracy movement and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Ky. But, recently,
under new leadership, Myanmar has shown some signs of loosening its control.

The New Concern: Islamic Rule
This is to be seen in Iran (where they ousted the Shah and established an Islamic state) under Ayatollah Khomeini.

Another good example was Afghanistan when the Taliban was in control. The best example of the control exercised by the Taliban was the way they controlled every aspect of the lives of women.

Another case in point: Salman Rushdie.

A fatwa was issued against Rushdie after the publication of his novel, The Satanic Verses. The then leader of the Islamic Republic in Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, believed the book to be blasphemous.

The Satanic Verses is still banned in many Muslim countries.

When Rushdie appeared at the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University in 1991 on the 200th anniversary of the Bill of Rights, he said: "Freedom of speech is life itself."

Rushdie was at the University of Houston and at the Alley Theatre on September 10, 2001. He was met by protesters at the Alley that night.

2. The Soviet-Communist Theory
It is related to the authoritarian theory.

The main difference is that under the Soviet-Communist system, the state owns or in some way controls all forms of mass media directly. Therefore, the authority for all mass communications is in the hands of a small group of party leaders.

At least that's the way it had been from 1918 until recently.

How it worked/works:

1. They play down everything bad under communism while

2. And play up everything bad in democratic countries.

For example, the Soviet media didnt emphasize accidents like train wrecks and boat sinkings or natural disasters. Why? Because it made the government look bad.

At the same time the media in the Soviet Union played up the bad news in democratic countries -- especially the United States. That made democracies look like they weren't working.

A great example of this theory is the disdain communists tend to have for democracy. Here's a good example from Fidel Castro. In a speech in 1991, Castro referred to democracy as "complete garbage."

The Great Change in Russia
The great change came after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and started on a plan that was to eventually cause the Soviet Union to be no more.

Two concepts introduced by Gorbachev:

Perestroika: restructuring of society and the economy
Glasnost: openness

Changes then occurred at a dizzying pace:

November 9, 1989 -- the Berlin Wall fell.

December 25, 1991 -- Gorbachev resigned, meaning the end to the Soviet Union.

While Gorbachev was still in power, he changed the way the state broadcast monopoly worked and gave greater authority to local governments and professionals.

Also while Gorbachev was still in power, the Soviets admitted:

That the effects of the Chernobyl accident in 1986 were much worst than had been admitted at the time.


That the Soviets (not the Germans) were responsible for the 1940 massacre of 15,000 Polish Army officers in 1940 (during World War II).

Immediately we must add that Russia and most of the former Soviet republics have had a difficult time making it in the transition from communism to democracy. And some of the reforms have not lasted.

In Russia, crime is rampant. A strong mob element that had existed under communism that simply took over areas of the economy. And the government has exercised more and more control over the media.

Soviet/Communism Today
The countries that follow the communist line are dwindling. Still, many are left. Each exists in its on unique situation.

Among the examples are:

North Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam

3. The Libertarian Theory
Almost always a theory, mostly not acted upon except in the absence of government (which also is anarchy).

An example of the absence of government: Lebanon during the war. Also, nations such as Sierra Leone and Sudan where tribal warfare has raged. In Lebanon, hostages were taken and there was no way to reclaim them. Remember Terry Anderson?

The best early expression of libertarian ideals is Areopagitica, an essay published by John Milton in 1644. In the essay, which was intended for Parliament, Milton argued for intellectual freedom without government control.

He said:

"... though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so truth be in the field. ... Let her (truth) and falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse, in a free and open encounter?"

In America, the best example historically of libertarian thought was Thomas Jefferson.

In a letter he wrote in 1787, Jefferson said:

"The basis of our government being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Jefferson also said:

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

That quote is on the right side at the entrance to the National Archives Building in Washington.

The best spokesman for Libertarian thought was John Stuart Mill, an Englishman who lived from 1806 to 1873.

In 1859, he wrote On Liberty:

"When we consider either the history of opinion or the ordinary conduct of human life, to what is it to be ascribed that the one and the other are no worse than they are? Not certainly to the inherent force of the human understanding, for on any matter not self-evident there are ninety-nine persons totally incapable of judging of it for one who is capable; and the capacity of the hundredth person is only comparative, for the majority of the eminent men of every past generation held many opinions now known to be erroneous, and did or approved numerous things which no one will now justify. Why is it, then, that there is on the whole a preponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational conduct? If there really is this preponderance - which there must be unless human affairs are, and have always been, in an almost desperate state - it is owing to a quality of the human mind, the source of everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that his errors are corrigible."

To put this into perspective: we've never had a complete libertarian system existing for any length of time in any country except in times of war or civil unrest.

We do have examples of libertarian thought in The Netherlands, in some of the Scandinavian countries and to a certain extent in a few other countries.

We do have a Libertarian Party here in the United States. This is not the same as the Libertarian Theory of the Press, although similarities do exist.

Nonetheless, libertarian thought could be said to be the underpinning of the system of free press we have in America.

4. What we practice in America: Social-Responsibility.
How it works:

Social Responsibility provides for private ownership of mass media in exchange for responsible use of that media.

Social Responsibility is tied to a form of government that is based an the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

In theory we have a free market place of ideas that coincides with capitalism and the free-enterprise system.

We couldn't have free-enterprise without that. And, we couldn't have a free press without the free enterprise system to back it up.

Why? Controls in one area would mean controls in other areas too.

In summary: We give the media in America enormous power. At the same time, we hold the media to the highest standard of responsibility, or of social responsibility.

Ideas in Conflict
But, ideas by their nature are in conflict. They are resolved in all sorts of ways. And, what we are examining is the way conflicts are resolved in a democracy.

Democracy is messy. Orderliness comes from control.

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Where Various Forms of Government and Media are Practiced
Answering the question of where various approaches to government/media are practiced requires a understanding of current events and of geography. The situation is in flux.

Students should stay current with news events from around the world to follow the latest issues related to freedom of speech and/or the press...

With that in mind, here are examples of countries where different theories are practiced. The list is far from complete.

This approach is practiced wherever an authoritarian government is in place. Obviously, all shades of authoritarianism exist.

The authoritarian government can be secular or religious. In recent times, many governments have become more authoritarian as a result of religious influences. Iran is the best example of that. And so was Afganistan under the Taliban.

Many governments are entirely secular, yet extremely authoritarian. Singapore is totally secular but still tightly controlled in many ways.

Still, some countries are considered authoritarian with additional information required to put everything into context. Saudi Arabia has become more rigid, mostly because of religious influence.

North Korea, China, Cuba and Vietnam are the best examples of the Soviet/Communist system in existence today. By far the best example is North Korea under the dictator Kim Jong Un. Each of the other countries - China, Cuba and Vietnam – provides insights into the communist system at work.

To a certain extent, a form of social libertarianism is practiced in The Netherlands, and in some of the Scandinavian countries.

Social Responsibility
The list includes the United States, Canada, Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, India etc.

Many nations in Latin America and elsewhere practice democracy, but the concept of press freedom is a fragile one.

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