Learning Theories of Communication

Topics: Communication, Mass media, Marshall McLuhan Pages: 12 (3901 words) Published: November 14, 2010
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Theories of Communication
The study of communication and mass media has led to the formulation of many theories: structural and functional theories believe that social structures are real and function in ways that can be observed objectively; cognitive and behavioral theories tend to focus on psychology of individuals; interactionist theories view social life as a process of interaction; interpretive theories uncover the ways people actually understand their own experience; and critical theories are concerned with the conflict of interests in society and the way communication perpetuates domination of one group over another . The earliest theories were those propounded by Western theorists Siebert, Paterson and Schramm in their book Four Theories Of the Press (1956). These were termed "normative theories" by McQuail in the sense that they "mainly express ideas of how the media ought to or can be expected to operate under a prevailing set of conditions and values." Each of the four original or classical theories is based on a particular political theory or economic scenario. I) CLASSICAL THEORIES

Authoritarian Theory
According to this theory, mass media, though not under the direct control of the State, had to follow its bidding. Under an Authoritarian approach in Western Europe, freedom of thought was jealously guarded by a few people (ruling classes), who were concerned with the emergence of a new middle class and were worried about the effects of printed matter on their thought process. Steps were taken to control the freedom of expression. The result was advocacy of complete dictatorship. The theory promoted zealous obedience to a hierarchical superior and reliance on threat and punishment to those who did not follow the censorship rules or did not respect authority. Censorship of the press was justified on the ground that the State always took precedence over the individual's right to freedom of expression. This theory stemmed from the authoritarian philosophy of Plato (407 - 327 B.C), who thought that the State was safe only in the hands of a few wise men. Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679), a British academician, argued that the power to maintain order was sovereign and individual objections were to be ignored. Engel, a German thinker further reinforced the theory by stating that freedom came into its supreme right only under Authoritarianism. The world has been witness to authoritarian means of control over media by both dictatorial and democratic governments. Libertarianism or Free Press Theory

This movement is based on the right of an individual, and advocates absence of restraint. The basis of this theory dates back to 17th century England when the printing press made it possible to print several copies of a book or pamphlet at cheap rates. The State was thought of as a major source of interference on the rights of an individual and his property. Libertarians regarded taxation as institutional theft. Popular will (vox populi) was granted precedence over the power of State. Advocates of this theory were Lao Tzu, an early 16th century philosopher, John Locke of Great Britain in the17th century, John Milton, the epic poet ("Aeropagitica") and John Stuart Mill, an essayist ("On Liberty"). Milton in Aeropagitica in 1644, referred to a self righting process if free expression is permitted "let truth and falsehood grapple." In 1789, the French, in their Declaration Of The Rights Of Man, wrote "Every citizen may speak, write and publish freely." Out of such doctrines came the idea of a "free marketplace of ideas." George Orwell defined libertarianism as "allowing people to say things you do not want to hear". Libertarians argued that the press should be seen as the Fourth Estate reflecting public opinion. What the theory offers, in sum, is power without social responsibility. Social Responsibility Theory

Virulent critics of the Free Press Theory were Wilbur...
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