Press, Politics and Private Ownership: Comparing Global Media Systems

Image of a stack of newspapers.

The nature of a country’s media cannot be divorced from its political, cultural or historical context. Comparing media systems provides an opportunity to understand how different nations view the role of the press, journalism and information distribution.

Types of Media Systems

Below are a few of the most common and influential media systems.

Polarized Pluralist Model

The Polarized Pluralist model occurs in countries that embraced liberal views of public speech and press later than most. This is most often due to a history of authoritarian regimes, Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini explain in their book, Comparing Media Systems. Once these countries transitioned to a democratic government, political parallelism, or the intertwining of political entities and media organizations, became the norm. Some characteristics of this model include:

  • An elite-oriented press with a strong political focus.
  • A relatively small press circulation.
  • Regular influence of the media by government, political parties and wealthy business owners with political ties.
  • A heavy emphasis on commentary and advocacy-based journalism.
  • A weak emphasis on journalism as a profession, as well as a restrictive stance on journalistic autonomy.
  • A culture of strong ties between journalism and activism.
  • A prominent role of the state as owners and funders of media, but with limited capacity to regulate.

Polarized Pluralist systems can be found in Mediterranean region countries, such as Greece, Italy and Spain.

Democratic Corporatist Model

While the Polarized Pluralist model is common in the Mediterranean, the Democratic Corporatist model can be found most often in the north and central regions of Europe. This model is popular in countries that had early development of both the newspaper industry and freedom of the press. Notable to this system is the compatibility of certain systemic elements often assumed to be in conflict. Strong state intervention of media exists along with a robust culture of freedom of information. Politically linked media and strong commercial media both fare well, and political parallelism can be seen alongside a tradition of high journalistic professionalism.

Characteristics of the Democratic Corporatist model include:

  • High newspaper circulation.
  • A strong history of political party newspapers.
  • Commentary-oriented journalism.
  • A growing emphasis on information-oriented journalism and attempts at being both neutral and professional.
  • A high degree of formal organization among professional journalists.
  • The view that media is a social institution for which the government has responsibility.

Countries where this model is common include Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Norway and Switzerland.

Liberal Model

Also called the “North Atlantic” model, the Liberal model is the media system found in the United States, Britain, Canada and Ireland. These countries are notable for having developed early systems of free press and mass circulation. Characteristics of the Liberal model include:

  • A domination of commercial newspapers.
  • Low political parallelism.
  • Strongly professionalized journalism, but a lack of the kind of formal organization that exists in Democratic Corporatist model countries.
  • Somewhat limited autonomy of journalists because of the commercial pressure of politics.
  • A limited role on behalf of the state.
  • Strong public broadcasting, as well as public broadcasting regulations.
  • Relatively strong insulation of the press from political influence.

The American press is considered a “local, monopoly press,” the American Bar Association states. Interestingly, the ABA suggests that the rise of electronic media has led to an increasingly fragmented national audience and the reemergence of partisanship among readers. 

Learn More About Global Media Systems

Learning the nature of global media systems is important for understanding the influence that larger contexts have on the way people obtain information. Those seeking to gain knowledge about global media systems and other relevant topics can benefit greatly from the online Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication degree from Point Park University. The program prepares students for careers in broadcasting, public relations, graphic design, news reporting, advertising, writing and more.

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