Normative Theories of mass communication

Explainnormative theories of mass communication.

·        Professionalism, a crusade toclean up the media and make it respectable and credible, followed the era ofyellow journalism; its objective was to eliminate shoddy and irresponsiblecontent. 

·        Media professionals and socialelites used normative theory to answer questions regarding media reform.  Social responsibility is the normative theoryused in the United States.

·        Social responsibility theory

The Origins of NormativeTheories of Media

Ø Twoopposing viewpoints

o  Radical libertarians (FirstAmendment absolutists) & Technocratic Control

§ First Amendment absolutiststake the idea of “free press” as literal and oppose government regulation.

§ Technocrats do not trust themedia and believes in the use of regulators to act in the publicinterest. 

o  Propaganda and mass societytheories are used to justify media regulation. 

Normative theory:

The type of theory that describes an ideal way for media systemsto be structured and operated.

Normative theories:

1. Authoritarian theory

The theory that places all forms of communication under thecontrol of governing elites or authorities. Under this theory , the intellectof a common is greatly undermined. Criticism on ruling elites is not tolerated.Many steps are taken to curb the freedom of press like licensing, censorships,approval of content prior to publication and punishments etc.

2. Libertarian theory

The Origin of LibertarianThought

·        Libertarian theory opposesauthoritarian theory, which requires all forms of communication to submit togoverning elites.

·        If freed from authoritarian ruleindividuals would “naturally” follow their conscience, seek truth, engage inpublic debate, and create better life for themselves and others.

·        John Milton asserted in fairdebate good and truthful arguments would always win out over lies and deceit,the self-righting principle. The self-righting principle is fundamental withinsocial responsibility theory.

·        The founding fathers alsosubscribed to liberal thought.

·        Three fundamental conceptsunderpinning the founders’ belief in press freedom:

o  Theology

o  Individual rights

o  Attainment of truth

o  At the nation’s founding, the USwas one of the first nations to adopt Libertarian principles lined out in theDeclaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

o  Restrictions on communication:

§  Libel

§  GagOrders

§  Regulationsprohibiting false advertising, child pornography, and offensive language.

§  Lawshave been written to restrict communication freedom so that other seemingly equallyimportant rights might be guaranteed.

On the other extreme, there is libertarian theory, whichconsiders that people are rational and have the right to all angles of an issueto decide between truth and falsehood. The government cannot interfere in mattersof press.

3. Social responsibility theory

Press has a right to criticize the government and otherinstitutions but it also has  a responsibility to preserve democracy byproperly informing the public. The press is not free to do as it wills, it isobligated to respond to society’s needs. he government may involve itself inmedia operations by issuing regulations (e.g. Pemra), if public interest is notbeing adequately addressed.

·        The first major test of socialresponsibility theory occurred during the 1950s with the rise of anti-communistsentiments at the time of the Cold War.

·        Joseph McCarthy successfullyused propaganda techniques to draw national attention to himself and tostimulate widespread public hatred and suspicion of people whom he linked, mostoften inaccurately, to communism.

o  This illustrates how difficultit can be for journalists to adhere to social responsibility theory in crisissituations.

Social Responsibility Theory

Oncejournalists began to doubt McCarthy, his popularity was so great that it wasrisky to oppose him.


1.     Values media responsibility

2.     Values audience responsibility

3.     Limits government intrusion in media operation

4.     Allows reasonable government control of media

5.     Values diversity and pluralism

6.     Aids the “powerless”

7.     Appeals to the best instincts of media practitioners and audiences

8.     Is consistent with US legal tradition


1.      Is overly optimistic about media’s willingness to meet responsibilities

2.      Is overly optimistic about individual responsibility

3.      Underestimates power of profit motivation and competition

4.      Legitimizes status quo


4. Communist Theory

It promotes communism and strives to achieve goals set by thecommunist party. Media is owned by the representatives of the communist state.It works best in a closed society where information is tightly controlled bythe government.

5. Developmental theory

Government mobilizes media to serve national goals in economicand social development. Information is considered a natural resource and mustbe carefully manipulated to achieve national goals for literacy, economicself-sufficiency etc.It is considered that media should support the governmentuntil society is well developed.

Other Normative Theories

}  Developmentalmedia theory: A normative theory calling for government and media to work inpartnership to ensure that media assist in the planned beneficial developmentof the country

}  Democratic-participanttheory: A normative theory advocating media support for cultural pluralism at agrassroots level

}  Western concept:A normative theory combining aspects of Libertarianism and socialresponsibility theory

}  Developmentconcept: A normative theory describing systems in which government and mediawork in concert to ensure that the media aid the planned, beneficialdevelopment of a given nation

}  Revolutionaryconcept: A normative theory describing a system in which media are used in theservice of revolution

}  Authoritarianconcept: A normative theory advocating the complete domination of media by agovernment for the purpose of forcing those media to serve the government

}  Communismconcept: A normative theory advocating the complete domination of media by aCommunist government for the purpose of forcing those media to serve theCommunist Party

}  Transitionalmedia approach: A less category based, more flexible approach to evaluatingmedia systems than traditional normative theory

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