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Normative Theories of the Media

Normative Theories of the Media: Journalism in Democratic Societies

Clifford G. Christians
Theodore L. Glasser
Denis McQuail
Kaarle Nordenstreng
Robert A. White
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Normative Theories of the Media
    Book Description:

    In this book, five leading scholars of media and communication take on the difficult but important task of explicating the role of journalism in democratic societies. Using Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm's classic Four Theories of the Press as their point of departure, the authors explore the philosophical underpinnings and the political realities that inform a normative approach to questions about the relationship between journalism and democracy, investigating not just what journalism is but what it ought to be._x000B__x000B_The authors identify four distinct yet overlapping roles for the media: the monitorial role of a vigilant informer collecting and publishing information of potential interest to the public; the facilitative role that not only reports on but also seeks to support and strengthen civil society; the radical role that challenges authority and voices support for reform; and the collaborative role that creates partnerships between journalists and centers of power in society, notably the state, to advance mutually acceptable interests. Demonstrating the value of a reconsideration of media roles, Normative Theories of the Media provides a sturdy foundation for subsequent discussions of the changing media landscape and what it portends for democratic ideals.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09083-7
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Clifford G. Christians, Theodore L. Glasser, Denis McQuail, Kaarle Nordenstreng and Robert A. White
  4. Introduction

    • 1 Beyond Four Theories of the Press
      (pp. 3-34)

      Since the 1960s a rich expansion of thought has taken place regarding normative theories of public communication, models of democracy, and the roles of journalism in democratic societies. The media world has become far more complicated, and the analysis is increasingly widespread. In this chapter we review American, European, and other perspectives as a basis for our own synthesis later in the chapter. The debate following the publication ofFour Theories of the Pressby the University of Illinois Press in 1956¹ provides a convenient starting point because that typology, so very controversial, stimulated a variety of contrasting models of...

  5. Part One: Theory

    • 2 Evolution of Normative Traditions
      (pp. 37-64)

      Where does a history of normative theory of public communication begin? Some historically based typologies of normative thinking about the media such asFour Theoriesare widely recognized as flawed in part because these typologies locate the beginning of contemporary normative theory in the rise of the libertarian ideal and ignore or judge negatively the historical origins of Western normative theory in classical thinkers such as Plato and Aristotle (Nerone 1995, 21–28). The founders of the libertarian and social responsibility traditions themselves recognized their indebtedness to a long history of normative reflections on public communication. John Milton, for instance,...

    • 3 Characteristics of Normative Theory
      (pp. 65-88)

      The historical review of the previous chapter shows that the clarification of normative theory is not a deterministic process of historical progression, but a continuous conversation among major social actors seeking to understand how public discourseshouldbe carried on in a given sociopolitical context. The past formulas are drawn upon, but the normative is best described as seeking consensus on how to carry out communication for public decisions in the present circumstances. At times there is a high degree of satisfaction with the new formulas of public communication, but these conceptions are always being challenged by new actors and...

  6. Part Two: Democracy

    • 4 The Principles and Practice of Democracy
      (pp. 91-113)

      Democracy means popular sovereignty. In whatever particular form it might take, a democratic community represents the triumph of the rule of the many over rule by the few. Unlike monarchies, where individuals or an individual family rules, or oligarchies, where a small group of individuals rule, democracies promise rule by the people.¹

      While different theories of democracy define popular sovereignty in different ways, they almost always agree on its two basic constituents: equality and liberty. Equality implies identical or substantively similar opportunities to participate in the decision-making processes through which the people rule themselves—everyone gets to vote, for example,...

    • 5 Roles of News Media in Democracy
      (pp. 114-136)

      The first news media were newspapers, that is, regularly appearing written accounts of current events, mainly of a political, diplomatic, military, or commercial character. They claimed to offer reliable information, or at least to be an authoritative, official source of information. They primarily served the needs of a mercantile class in growing urban centers of trade and administration. While early European newspapers had only limited freedom in practice and were sometimes organs of authority, the press institution could not have developed without making some claim both to freedom of publication and to economic freedom. The newspaper press grew slowly, its...

  7. Part Three: Roles

    • 6 The Monitorial Role
      (pp. 139-157)

      Harold Lasswell (1948) gave the media’s monitorial role a theoretical basis, describing a basic function of all communication assurveillance. This idea has been generally adopted in communication theory to refer to the process of observing an extended environment for relevant information about events, conditions, trends, and threats. It conjures an image of a watching post, a lookout tower, or the crow’s nest of a ship, which gives a longer and wider view and early warning of developments on the horizon, both natural and human. Surveillance is sometimes used as a shorthand expression to cover processes of observation, collection of...

    • 7 The Facilitative Role
      (pp. 158-178)

      The facilitative role of the news media is rooted in the democratic tradition of civic republicanism (chapter 4). The media reflect the political order in which they are situated, and the logic and rationale for their facilitating public life is primarily that of civic democracy. In this perspective, only within active communities do we discover goods together that we cannot know alone. Public opinion arises from deliberation and is not antecedent to it. Rather than an aggregation of personal preferences generated by the innermost self, public opinion is collective wisdom based on open debate. Civic democracy understands community as constituted...

    • 8 The Radical Role
      (pp. 179-195)

      The radical role of the media and journalism insists on the absolute equality and freedom of all members of a democratic society in a completely uncompromising way. Too often, in societies based on the competitive market principle, great imbalances of wealth, education, and access to information and communication are accepted as simply the rewards of personal initiative. Journalism in the radical role makes every effort to ensure that no injustice is ever tolerated. The radical democratic commitment works for the continual elimination of concentrations of social power to enable every person to participate equally in all societal decisions. Professionally, journalists...

    • 9 The Collaborative Role
      (pp. 196-218)

      Perhaps because the very idea of collaboration implies a relationship with the state or other centers of power that clashes with the libertarian ideal of a free and autonomous press, a collaborative role for journalism seldom receives the attention it deserves. In many parts of the world, the media exist as a check on power, not as a conduit for it. Lee Bollinger makes just this point when he describes American journalists’ self-image with reference to a “model of journalistic autonomy” that “breathes life” into “a press conceived in the image of the artist . . . who lives (figuratively)...

  8. Prospects

    • 10 Media Roles under Challenge
      (pp. 221-242)

      We have outlined the underlying normative principles by which the media’s contribution to the democratic political process has typically been judged. We have also tried to describe the various journalistic roles that the media themselves choose to play in society, in varying degrees and with varying consequences. Although the so-called free media choose their own actions in these matters, their freedom is circumscribed. Many constraints and inducements affect them—social, political, and financial. The more extensive and potentially influential the media are, the more likely is pressure to conform to the wishes of others, despite nominal or last-resort independence. The...

  9. References
    (pp. 243-268)
  10. Index
    (pp. 269-276)
  11. Back Matter
    (pp. 277-284)