Attila Bátorfy, ELTE MMI


Media System Theories

Normative theories

- what journalism should be and do

- the basis of comparison: American, British model, modernism (Freedom House, RSF based on the normative theory)


Positive/descriptive theories

- what is and why it is




Siebert-Peterson-Schramm - Four Theories of Press, 1956

Dimension Authoritarian Libertarian Social Responsibility Soviet-totalitarian
Developed 16th, 17th century England 17th century England, 18th century USA 20th century USA USSR
Out of Absolute power of the monarch General philosphy of rationalism and natural rights Commission of Freedom of Press, self regulatory codes Marxism-Leninism, Hegelism
Chief purpose Support of the monarch/government Inform, entertain, sell, discover the truth, check the government inform, entertain, sell, raise awareness, giving voice to the powerless Contribution to the success of the dictator
Who has right Who has royal patent or permission Anyone with economic means Everyone who has something to say Loyals to the dictator and to the party
How are the media controlled? by government patents, guilds, license, censorship self regulation, free market, courts self regulation, ethics, consumer action surveillance, political and economic influence on the press
What is forbidden? criticism of the monarch and its decisions defamation, obscenity, indecency invasion of private and human rights, and vital social interests criticism of the dictator and party objectives
Ownership Pirvate or public Mostly private Mostly private  Public
Essence Instrument of effecting government policy Checking the government Assume obligation of social responsibility Arm of state

Critical remarks


  • Idealization of modernity and the North-Atlantic, mostly American and British press
  • Idealization of neutral watchdog journalism, while this kind of journalism is in minority
  • Media actors think normatively, but act differently
  • There aren't homogeneous media systems (except in dictatorships)

Hallin and Mancini - Comparing Media Systems, 2004

Dimension Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Northern-European or Democratic Corporatist  North-Atlantic Liberal
Where France, Spain, Greece, Italy, Portugal Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Netherlands, France GBR, USA, Ireland, Canada
Newspaper industry Low circulation, elite and politically oriented press High circulation, early developed mass-circulation press Medium circulation, early adopted mass and commercial press
Political parallelism High political parallelism, external pluralism, commentary-journalism, parliamentary/government model of broadcasting Historically strong party press, shift towards neutral commercial press, politics in broadcasting with substantial autonomy Neutral commercial press, information oriented journalism, internal pluralism
Professionalization Weak, instrumentalization Strong professionalization, institutionalized self regulation Strong, noninstitutionalized self regulation
Role of the state Strong, state subsidies of the press, periods of censorship, deregulation Strong with protection of press freedom, state subsidies, strong PSM Market-dominated media, strong PSM in GBR and Ireland

Hallin and Mancini - Comparing Media Systems, 2004

Party-press parallelism:
The structure of the media system is parallel to the structure of the party system

Political parallelism:
The structure of the media system is parallel to the structure of the political system

External/internal pluralism: high level of external pluralism = high level of parallelism. 


Instrumentalization: influence of politics, politicians, business or commercial interest on content. 

Critical remarks


  • Eastern-Europe, South America, Africa, Asia are missing
  • Too much importance on politics and political press
  • Too much exceptions within "coherent" media systems
  • Submarkets (press and broadcast media) can act quite differently within a country, thus very hard to define them as "system"

Dobek-Ostrowska - Four Models in CEE, 2015

Dimension Hybrid-liberal Politicized Transitional Authoritarian
Where? Czechia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, Slovenia Hungary, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania, Serbia Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Macedonia, Moldova, Ukraine Russia, Belorussia
Main characteristics - High points on freedom of press and democracy rankings
- Political stability
- Strong, independent market
- Numerous multinational companies
- Political independence
- Decreasing points on rankings
- Strong political parallelism and party press
- Growing political and governmental influence
- Lower democratization
- Low professionalism, low ethics and norms, partisanship
- Oligarchization
- Poor countries
- Low points
- Political instability
- Weak opposition
- Oligarchization
- Strong connection between the political and the business elite
- Few independent media

- Surveillance, threats, harassment
- Censorship
- Political and business elite is the same
- No independent actors
- Strong government control


Who, when Denomination
Lázár, 1992 Multi party press
Splichal, 1994, Sipos 2010 Italianization
Wyka, 2007 Berlusconization
Jakubowicz, 2008 Mediterranean 
Polyák-Urbán, 2013– Captured
Bajomi-Lázár, 2013 Party-colonized
Becker, 2013 Vassal
Dobek-Ostrowska, 2015 Politicized
Bajomi-Lázár, 2018 Putinization
Bajomi-Lázár, 2019 Patronage-clientelism
Bátorfy, 2020 Semi-authoritarian
Bátorfy, 2022 Controlled, purchased

Problems with media system theories

  • false assumption that liberal democratic media serve better the society's interest than controlled, regulated media (particularism)
  • theories are focusing on political media, while the media is way more diverse
  • theories are focusing on legacy press and broadcast media
  • every country has mixed media system with different norms
  • every country has particular history and culture

Journalistic roles

Question Neutral Watchdog Activist Propagandist
Where England, USA England, USA France, Russia, Germany USSR, Nazi Germany
Aim Inform, entertain hold the powerful accountable raise awareness, advocacy, representation serving the power and the leader
Genre News, report, infotainment report, investigative report investigative report, opinion-led report, gonzo journalism interview, opinion
Regulation Self-regulation Self regulation Self regulation and state intervention Particular media regulation, state intervention
What is forbidden Defamation, libel, fabrication, blasphemy Defamation, libel, fabrication, expressing opinion in reports Doing harm against the community/minority interest Criticizing the power, the leader
Media types Tabloids, commercial television and radio legacy press, public broadcaster Online news media Mostly state owned media, or oligarchs
Financial background Commercial advertising, subscription Commercial advertising, grants, state subsidies Grants, crowdfunding, state subsidies Deflected commercial advertising, state advertising, state subvention

Journalistic roles

  1. Journalism's first obligation is to the truth

  2. Its first loyalty is to citizens

  3. Its essence is a discipline of verification

  4. Its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover

  5. It must serve as an independent monitor of power

  6. It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise

  7. It must strive to keep the significant interesting and relevant

  8. It must keep the news comprehensive and proportional

  9. Its practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience

  10. Citizens, too, have rights and responsibilities when it comes to the news

Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel - The Elements of Journalism, 2002


The Government's rights

US Constitution

Right to speak

Right to listen

Free speech rights

protection against


US Constitution

Right to speak

Right to listen


Right against coerced speech

Right against compelled listening

Free speech rights

Does the Government have the right to speak?



  • subsidies
  • advertising
  • press releases
  • ownership

Does the Government have the right to speak?

Siebert, Peterson, Shramm, 1956 Bagdikian, 1983 Fiss, 2013
Mayton, 1994 Altschull, 1984 Redish and Kessler, 1996
Heymann, 1999 Picard, 1985 Post, 1995
Blocher, 2015 Chomsky and Herman, 1988
Kamenshine, 1979 Hoynes and Croteau, 2013
Yudof, 1983 Merrill, 1973

Media systems

By Attila Bátorfy