Theories of the Press
In 1956, three professors of communication; Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm, published their Four Theories of the Press which went a long way in establishing a classification in the minds of students and educators of journalism. The book was originally published to help give historical, philosophical and international perspective of the press. The four theories were namely the authoritarian theory, the libertarian theory, social responsibility theory and finally, the soviet totalitarian theory.
Before I distinguish which of the four press theories I think greatly relates to Trinidad and Tobago, I’ll firstly give some brief introductions to each one of the four theories. Firstly, the authoritarian theory. It was developed in the 16th and 17th century in England. Of the four theories, the authoritarian theory has proven to be the most pervasive. This press concept has formed and now forms, the basis for many media systems of the world. The mass media, under authoritarianism, have only as much freedom as the national leadership at any particular time is willing to permit.
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The state, being the highest ranked structure in the anarchy pyramid, supersedes the individual and makes it possible for the individual to acquire and develop a stable and harmonious mass communication life, then, supports the state and the government in power so that total society may advance and the state may be viable and attain its objectives. The state directs and rules the citizens who are not considered competent and interested enough to make critical political decisions. The mass media, under authoritarianism, are educators and propagandists by which the power elite exercise social control.
Citizens, therefore, owe an obligation to the leaders in the authoritarian theory. Moving on to the libertarian theory, it holds that it is not the business of anyone to tell another what they should believe or not believe. This theory is behind the notion of a free marketplace of ideas. The libertarian theory of the press is that information is knowledge, and knowledge is power. It enables people to realize their potential, and since news is about people making the news, the press reminds us that society has not grown to an entity of greater importance than the people comprising it.
This was adopted in England after 1688, and in the U. S. , and is influential elsewhere in the world. The purpose is to inform, entertain, and sell as well as to discover the truth and check on government. It is impossible to do this if it is controlled by some authority outside itself. This theory takes the philosophical view that man is rational and able to perceive between truth and falsehood and, therefore, can choose between a better and worse alternative. Therefore, Man is capable of determining his own destiny, and given all the facts will make the right choice.
The flow of basic faith by the libertarians advocates that a free press who is working in a laissez faire, uncontrolled situation, will naturally result in a pluralism and repeat of information and viewpoints necessary in a democratic society. Another of the four theories is the social responsibility theory. Social responsibility allows free press without any censorship but at the same time the content of the press should be discussed in public panel and media should accept any obligation from public interference or professional self regulations or both.
The theory lies between both authoritarian theory and libertarian theory because it gives total media freedom in one hand but the external controls in other hand. Here, the press ownership is private. Social responsibility requires a balancing of private enterprise rights with vital social interests. The press itself should acknowledge that considerations of public welfare can override unfettered utterance, and individuals should realize that they cannot demand the media publish anything they say. There’s a duty to think before anything is published in media.
The right to freedom of expression is not absolute; it’s conditional upon acceptance of this social duty or obligation. If a publication systematically panders to vulgarity, sensationalism, or degradation of the human race, it has forfeited its moral right to freedom of the press. Individuals are also not allowed to deliberately lie, falsely publish, slander, or defame other individuals because doing so forfeits their social bond with others. Lies which are honestly mistaken beliefs, however, should be tolerated.
In this theory, it is believed that mischief must face its consequences. Finally, the soviet communist theory was supported by the communist ideology Karl Marx and Frederiche Engels who proposed a system where power or governmental rule lay amongst just a few in societies who were judged to be the elite or high in social class. They went further to predict that there would be a revolution where the individuals of the lower class would overthrow those in power to form a classless society where everyone shared equal power and status.
The media was therefore supposed to amplify or bring to light the concerns of the working class or less influential in society. They were not owned by the government but were to some extent controlled by it. The media was also not to be under private control and also be self- regulatory. This type of media was similar to that of the authoritarian theory in some way but the difference was that, the authoritarian theory was totalitarian in nature.
They opposed the libertarian democratic ideology of the western states which primed itself with the freedom of the press, regarding it as ideological and unsuitable. This system surfaced in the Russian Revolution which occurred in October 1917. So in a nutshell, the soviet communist theory in relation to the media meant that the media was controlled by the central authority and no one else had authority to do so. Basically, the State was seen as the master while the individual was viewed as the servant.
Whatever the media said was in praise of the authority and opposition of the rivals. So from the aforementioned information that was researched and read, I believe that the social responsibility theory, among all the other theories, adequately represents the situation here in Trinidad and Tobago. Reasons to support my choice are firstly, according to the criteria or characteristics of this theory, everyone is allowed to say something and express their points of view and opinions about the media. This shows a certain level of freedom amongst the individuals.
The social responsibility allows community opinion, consumer action as well as professional ethics all of which are permitted in Trinidad and Tobago. Another substantial reason is that the private ownership in the media may give better public service unless however, the government has to take over to assure the public to provide better media service because if they fail to do this the government or some other organization might leap at the opportunity in doing so. Even though there are positives to acquiring the social responsibility theoretical status in a state, there are also some negative attributes as well.
Some of these opposing attributes are that the media avoids the conflict situation during emergencies at times by accepting the public’s opinions. This can prove a lack of truthfulness from the media and this can thus lead to propaganda from the media as well the members of society. Another is that the media will sometimes become concerned with and focused on the higher class in the society rather than all classes of individuals. This type of media work can lead to bias reporting as well as, once again, dishonest or nearly dishonest news stories.
And this will further lead to the media not playing monopoly because the audience and media scholars would rise questions if the media published or broadcasted anything wrong or manipulated any story. Even though there maybe opposing points towards the social responsibility theory being applicable for Trinidad and Tobago’s press, I stand strong by my point in believing that it effectively and sufficiently describes and represents the twin island. It helps in creating professionalism in the media in Trinidad and Tobago by setting up a high level of accuracy, truth, and information.