When Frederick S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm’s first introduced Theories of the Press more than 40 years ago, it constituted the most well-known attempt to clarify the link between mass media culture in modern world. Their theories have been widely accepted and utilized by media scholars.
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However, their theories appear in some respects outdated and too simplistic to be useful in today’s global mass media environment. The four theories are: the authoritarian theory – in this theory, the function of the press is to support the policies and actions of the state, and its authorities. The press should foster social solidarity and national unity. The state has the right to control the press for the overall public good. In many cases, controlling the press means preventing the press from embarrassing the existing government, to repress criticism and protest, and to severely restrict press freedom. The authoritarian view was prevalent in 17th century Europe where publishing came under the prerogative and censorship powers of the monarch and church. The authoritarian theory is embraced today by many leaders of non-democratic states; Next, the libertarian theory – the function of the press is to protect the people’s liberties and rights, and to inform the public so they can participate as citizens in democratic self-government. The liberal theory prefers a privately owned news media that is maximally free to inform citizens and criticize public policy, as well as act as a watchdog on authorities. The right to publish and express oneself freely is not a prerogative of the state or a government. It is a fundamental right of free individuals. The liberal theory argues that a free marketplace of ideas, while it may cause harm over the short term, is the best safeguard in the long run for a free and liberal society. Third, the social responsibility – an American initiative in the late forties brought forth the social responsibility theory. Realizing that the market had failed to fulfil the promise that press freedom would reveal the truth, The Commission on Freedom of the Press provided a model in which the media had certain obligations to society. These obligations were expressed in the words “informativeness, truth, accuracy, objectivity, and balance”. Siebert wrote that the goal of the social responsibility system is that media as a whole is pluralized, indicating “a reflection of the diversity of society as well as access to various points of view” As opposed to the libertarian theory, the social responsibility principle is to provide an entrance to different mass media to minority groups. The journalist is accountable to his audience as well as to the government. It attempts to balance the liberal stress on the freedom of the press. It argues that such freedoms of a powerful news media must be balanced by social responsibilities.
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