Four Theories of the Press

Four Theories of the Press provided the primary theoretical framework for understanding variation in national media systems for a half century after its publication in 1956. Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm argued that a communication system reflects the structure of the society in which it operates, and that this relationship is determined by philosophical assumptions about human nature, state and society, knowledge and truth. They elaborated on four “concepts of what the press should be and do”: the authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility, and Soviet Communist theories.

The authoritarian theory, they argued, grew out of the absolutist states that prevailed in most of Europe when the printing press was first introduced. It was based on the premise that the maintenance of social order depended ...

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