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Four Theories of the Press

Mass communications continues to operate by the theories of the writings of Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm in a small but comprehensive book entitled “Four Theories of the Press”.  Written in 1956, this book continues to be used in the education of mass communications throughout the country instructing students in the four basic systems that embody the operations of the mass media.  The four theories used by mass communications formulated by the authors include the authoritarian, the libertarian, the social responsibility, and the Soviet-totalitarian.  These theories were devised to impart mass communications with a philosophical, historical, and international perspective on the workings of the press. 

Four Theories of the Press

Although components of Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm’s book have become somewhat antiquated the principles of their theories still categorize the restrictions placed on the press.  The authoritarian theory was developed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  Devised under a government of absolute power it is still utilized in many places.  The philosophy behind the authoritarian theory is to support and advance policies in a government of absolute power.  The chief purpose of the authoritarian method of press was to service the state.

The libertarian theory is one of the philosophies of mass communications found in today’s world of free press.  Embraced by England after 1688, the United States operates under the theory of libertarian as well as many other areas of the world.  One of the more influential philosophies it originated from the writings of Milton, Locke, and Mill.  The libertarian theory understands that man possesses the capabilities to choose between what is factual and what is false.  It also is based on the natural rights of man to determine his own destiny when presented with all the facts.  Thomas Jefferson echoed elements of the libertarian theory with his conviction that man, as a group with sound reason will determine judicious decisions that the individual might not.  The purpose of the libertarian theory is to uncover the truth and scrutinize the government while entertaining the general public. 

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