Comparing Media Systems

Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics
Author Daniel C. Hallin, Paolo Mancini
Country United States
Language English
Subject politics, comparative analysis, media systems
Publisher Cambridge University Press
Publication date
Media type Paperback
Pages 342
ISBN 978-0521543088
OCLC 443366685

Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics (2004), by Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini, is a seminal study in the field of international comparative media system research. The study compares media systems of 18 Western democracies including nine Northern European countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland), five Southern European countries (France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain) and four Atlantic countries (Canada, Great Britain, Ireland, and the United States).

The conceptual framework developed in this study turned out to be an important contribution[1] to the field of the comparative media systems research because it provides a systematic and applicable approach to analyze differences and similarities of the relationships between media and politics.

Since the publication of Hallin and Mancini’s book in 2004, there has been a vivid academic discussion (Recent developments), particularly with regards to the adequacy of their suggested framework for understanding variations between different systems around the world, located within different cultural, social, and/or political contexts. As a consequence, a flourishing progression within the field of comparative media system research can be stated.


Comparative media system research

The field of comparative media system research has a long tradition reaching back to the study Four Theories of the Press by Siebert, Peterson and Schramm from 1956. This book was the origin of the academic debate on comparing and classifying media systems,[2] whereas it was normatively biased[3] and strongly influenced by the ideologies of the Cold War era.[4] Though this approach has often been criticized[5] (e.g. because of its ethnocentricity, inconsistent structure, questionable typologies, or its scant empirical basis of the analysis[6]), it was a starting point for following normative media theories[7][8] and the development of the field.

Comparative media system research has been subject to several changes since its establishment.[9] The number of categories to describe media systems grew and approaches got more complex. Another trend is that researchers factor in political systems more intensively to explain and compare media systems. A more fundamental development is the shift from normative to empirically based approaches.

There are still problems of comparative media studies in various countries which must be faced. The validity of the country sampling procedure is one problem, beside the adequate definition of the scope of the comparison to meet the specific national features of the cases, and the definition of adequate indicators as the basis for the comparison.[10] Additionally, the developed models are still relatively static not being able to describe changes adequately, and online media have been largely neglected though their importance has been increasing since the late 1990s.[11]

However, comparative media system studies are an important instrument for contemporary communication phenomena under study. The comparative design is a bridge between traditional and nation-centered studies of media systems and new media as well as globalization perspectives.[12] Jakubowicz points out that contemporarily comparative media system analyses are seen as the key approach to understand globalization processes of the media.[13]

Systematic classification of the approach

Comparative media system research is one possible approach to study transnational and border-crossing communication processes worldwide. A very useful and heuristic systematization of the vast field of transnational and border-crossing communication comes from Wessler and Brüggemann (2012)[14] (see also Dimensions of analysis). According to this heuristic, the approach from Hallin and Mancini can be identified and localized as one specific combination of the components along these three dimensions of analysis. Their perspective of analysis is focused on a systematic comparison of media systems within Western democracies. Consequently, their level of analysis concentrates on media systems within the context of nation states. Their main objectives are media-politics relations primarily on the level of structures, but in addition to it, they consider all objects of analysis to gain an encompassing understanding of these relations.


Developing a unifying conceptual framework for comparing media systems was essential for Hallin and Mancini. They focused on theory building rather than testing theories, as the then prevailing Four Theories of the Press and its subsequent normative modifications showed deficiencies in adequately analyzing present media systems. Consequently, Hallin and Mancini focused on an empirical “by treating these systems not as abstract ideals but as concrete social formations that developed under particular historical conditions.”[15] Hallin and Mancini initially chose a “most similar systems”-design – that is, comparing systems which are quite similar according to their structures and functioning to understand in which aspects they differ from each other to discover specific characteristics of each single system. Following this design, they conceptualized dimensions containing particular variables to analyze similarities and differences between the 18 countries under study. Their objective was to find more or less coherent patterns within their sample which could possibly be condensed into ideal types in terms of Max Weber’s conception of ideal types. Since the dimensions and the resulting models cover specifically the media-politics relations of the Western world, Hallin and Mancini do not claim universal validity of their framework. Hence, it must be reconceptualized to meet the specific conditions of media-politics relations beyond the Western world.[16]

Hallin and Mancini’s framework

Hallin and Mancini’s conceptual framework[17] consists of the four dimensions structure of media markets, political parallelism, professionalization of journalism, and the role of the state with regards to media systems; and of the five dimensions the role of the state, type of democracy (consensus vs. majoritarian), type of pluralism (individual vs. organized), degree of rational-legal authority, and degree of pluralism (moderate vs. polarized) with reference to the political contexts of media systems. According to specific constellations of the variables within these dimensions, Hallin and Mancini conceptualized the three models of media and politics.

Dimensions: media systems

Structure of media markets[18]

The structure of media markets is concerned with the development of a mass press. The authors highlight several variables which can be used to describe the characteristics of press systems:

Political parallelism[19]

Political parallelism refers to the “fact that media in some countries have distinct political orientations, while media in other countries do not.”[20] The authors established 5 factors or indicators to assess the extent of political parallelism:

Professionalization of journalism[21]

The professionalization refers to the continuum of independent to instrumentalized journalism:

Role of the state[22]

This dimension stresses the power the political system has in shaping the structure and functioning of a media system. “But there are considerable differences in the extent of state intervention as well as in the forms it takes.”[23] Hallin and Mancini use the following variables to cover this fourth dimension:

Ultimately, the interrelations of these four dimensions are complex. They have to be assessed empirically for every new case under study. Consequently, they may “influence one another in important ways, but also vary independently.”[24]

Dimensions: political context

In a next step, Hallin and Mancini identified five core dimensions to assess the political contexts of media systems. They took relevant concepts from the literatures on comparative politics and political sociology to gain a better understanding of the political influences on the development of media systems. The resulting dimensions are presented as dichotomies, but they are just poles on a continuum.

The first dimension is the role of the state.[25] It is conceptualized by the distinction between liberal democracies and welfare state democracies. The main difference between these two categories is the interventional activity of the state (e.g. funding vs. free market). This difference takes shape in the relative importance of private business or social institutions within the political system in question.

A further important dichotomic dimension is labeled consensus vs. majoritarian democracy.[26] Majoritarian democratic systems contain two dominating parties and, due to the plurality voting system, the winning party actually concentrates the political power so that there is a clear distinction between the government and the opposition. Furthermore, the Cabinet predominantly influences political decision processes. By contrast, the consensus politics model encompasses a multi-party system which is based on the power sharing principle according to the proportional representation so that compromise and cooperation between the opposing forces are central. Additionally, there is a separation of power between legislative and executive.

The third dimension is the distinction between individual and organized pluralism[27] resp. liberalism and corporatism. Individual pluralism is defined as the organization of the political representation “in terms of the relation between governing institutions and individual citizens, along with a multiplicity of competing ‘special interests’”.[28] On the other hand, the focus on organized social groups is more important within organized pluralism systems. Thus, corporatism includes the “formal integration of social groups into the political process”.[29]

Hallin and Mancini identify the distinction between rational-legal authority and clientelism[30] as another crucial dimension. Following Max Weber, Hallin and Mancini use the term rational-legal authority in its meaning as a form of governance whose main influence is maintained through formal and universalistic rules of procedure, i.e. an independent and autonomous administrative apparatus not affected by political and economic interests or lobbyism. This apparatus is the main institution of an efficient rational-legal system. In contrast, the orientation on common interests is much weaker within clientelism systems because individual interests and private relationships are the main forces maintaining the social organization. Consequently, “access to social resources is controlled by patrons and delivered to clients in exchange for deference and various forms of support”.[31]

The final dimension is conceptualized by the distinction between moderate and polarized pluralism.[32] Low consensus, challenged legitimacy of the political organizations or system, and deep cleavages within the political landscape are the main characteristics of polarized pluralism. An important indicator is the existence of anti-system parties and factions. Compared to this, moderate pluralism is mainly characterized by stronger tendencies toward the center, lower ideological differences between the political parties, greater acceptance of the political system, and better chances to gain consensus during political controversies.

The three models of media and politics

By using the aforementioned dimensions, Hallin and Mancini deduced and conceptualized three ideal models of media-politics relations (‘ideal’ according to Max Weber). Hallin and Mancini could identify specific patterns by geographical regions which were crucial for labeling the individual models:

The Three Models: Media System Characteristics[33]

Dimensions Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model
France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain
North/Central Europe or Democratic Corporatist Model
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland
North Atlantic or Liberal Model
Britain, United States, Canada, Ireland
Newspaper Industry low newspaper circulation; elite politically oriented press high newspaper circulation; early development of mass-circulation press medium newspaper circulation; early development of mass-circulation commercial press
Political Parallelism high political parallelism; external pluralism, commentary-oriented journalism; parliamentary[34] or government[35] model of broadcast governance; politics-over-broadcasting systems[36] external pluralism especially in national press; historically strong party press; shift toward neutral commercial press; politics-in-broadcasting system[37] with substantial autonomy neutral commercial press; information-oriented journalism; internal pluralism (but external pluralism in Britain); professional[38] model of broadcast governance; formally autonomous system[39]
Professionalization weaker professionalization; instrumentalization strong professionalization; institutionalized self-regulation strong professionalization; non-institutionalized self-regulation
Role of the State in Media System strong state intervention; press subsidies in France and Italy; periods of censorship; “savage deregulation”[40] (except France) strong state intervention but with protection for press freedom; press subsidies, particularly strong in Scandinavia; strong public-service broadcasting market dominated (except strong public broadcasting in Britain and Ireland)

The Three Models: Political System Characteristics[41]

Dimensions Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist Model
France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain
North/Central Europe or Democratic Corporatist Model
Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland
North Atlantic or Liberal Model
Britain, United States, Canada, Ireland
Political History; Patterns of Conflict and Consensus late democratization; polarized pluralism early democratization; moderate pluralism (except Germany, Austria pre-1945) early democratization; moderate pluralism
Consensus or Majoritarian Government both predominantly consensus predominantly majoritarian
Individual vs. Organized Pluralism organized pluralism; strong role of political parties organized pluralism; history of segmented pluralism; democratic corporatism individualized representation rather than organized pluralism (especially United States)
Role of the State dirigisme, strong involvement of state and parties in economy; periods of authoritarianism, strong welfare state in France and Italy strong welfare state; significant involvement of state in economy liberalism; weaker welfare state particularly in United States
Rational-Legal Authority weaker development of rational-legal authority (except France); clientelism strong development of rational-legal authority strong development of rational-legal authority


Hallin and Mancini point to restrictions[42] of their three models which have to be considered in order not to overvalue the validity and significance of them. First of all, they focus on nation states and this level of analysis allows a specific perspective on media-politics relations but misses other phenomena of importance (e.g. transnational developments of media markets in Europe). Another concern is that the cases summarized within the single models vary enormously (especially within the Liberal model). Consequently, the models show a wide range of cases which might blur their distinction. Furthermore, the media systems within the analyzed countries might not be homogeneous (e.g. the structural differences between the print system and the broadcasting system in Germany). Because of the differences within the countries and the interferences between them, it is difficult to treat the 18 countries analyzed, as single cases because they depend on each other and influence each other. A final point is the dynamic of media systems because they cannot be assumed as static entities. Hence, media systems will always progress and there will always be changes resulting from those developing processes, so that reconsidering the characteristics of the mentioned models becomes necessary over time. Consequently, Hallin and Mancini point out in subsequent discussions that their models are not intended to be universal typologies which can be applied to other cases mechanically.[43][44][45] Instead, they suggest rather focusing on the dimensions and their applicability and adaption to analyze other media systems adequately – e.g. regarding Eastern European media systems, they propose to attach more weight to the role of the state and especially to the role of civil society to understand these systems appropriately.

The convergence-thesis

At the end of their book,[46] Hallin and Mancini discuss the convergence- or homogenization-thesis. The basis for their argument is their observation of several transformation processes that take place especially in Europe. The most important processes are the European integration, politically as well as with regards to the media (e.g. European media laws), the decline of traditional political mass parties, the American influence on the professionalization of journalism, and finally the commercialization of the media markets in Europe. These are the main reasons why Hallin and Mancini conclude, that the European countries might be pushed toward the Liberal model. They even go one step further and hypothesize that the core forces of that homogenization- or convergence-process might be valid for other parts of the world. However, they point out that there might be limitations to this process as well because the elements of the process are anchored in the structural differences between the political systems around the world.

Recent developments (Beyond the Western world)

In this section, some recent issues and topics are mentioned because they arose from an ongoing scholar discussion about the applicability of Hallin and Mancini’s framework to other, especially non-Western countries:

This vivid discussion reflects the status of Hallin and Mancini’s approach, as it is currently “the most well-developed analytical framework so far for understanding the relationship between media and political systems.”[62] Consequently, there are many studies that apply and adapt the framework for their cases under study.

For example, Dobek-Ostrowska and colleagues published the edited volume Comparative Media Systems. European and Global Perspective (2010)[63] which contains comparative studies referring to or applying Hallin and Mancini’s framework for Central and Eastern Europe media systems. Hallin and Mancini published the edited volume Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World (2012)[64] which gives a comprehensive overview with a more global perspective. Case studies from the media systems of Israel, Poland, Baltic states, Brazil, South Africa, Russia, China, and the Arab world are discussed by the contributors and a methodological reflection of Hallin and Mancini’s framework with regards to non-Western media systems is added.

Further research was conducted by Jonathan Hardy, who analyzed the implications of transformation processes shaping contemporary media systems. As Hallin and Mancini did, Hardy focuses on media systems within Western democracies (actually 18 countries) and he adjoins their convergence thesis while he concentrates on print and broadcasting (especially TV).[65] He chooses four paradigms (namely the liberal democratic theory, neoliberalism, libertarianism, and the critical political economy) as an analytical framework to examine relationships between media and politics, media and policy, media ownership and transnationalisation processes.

Furthermore, Roger Blum’s approach (2005) is an attempt to broaden and complete Hallin and Mancini’s models by adding and modifying dimensions (he developed nine instead of four dimensions), classifying them as liberal, regulated, or as in between these two poles. Blum identifies six models of media systems,[66] but he does “not explain how he created the models and why no other combination of specification is necessary”,[67] so Blum’s framework is still in need for empirical support.

Other studies focus on a single aspect of Hallin and Mancini’s framework and analyze it in detail. For example, Curran and his colleagues (2009) study the implications of the movement towards rather market-driven media and compare news contents and public knowledge of public affairs within different media systems by testing the hypothesis, “that market-based systems (…) impede the exercise of informed citizenship.”[68]

There were also several conferences “triggered” by Hallin and Mancini’s framework; for example the International Media and Communication Conference “Comparing Media Systems: West Meets East” organized by the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Wroclaw (April 23–25, 2007), where more than 100 researchers attained[69] or conferences initiated by Hallin and Mancini themselves in Perugia in 2007, and in San Diego in 2009.[70]

Comparative media system research is an encouraging and important subfield of mediated cross-border communication. And Hallin and Mancini’s framework has been contributing to its consolidation and progression.[71]

See also


  1. Quotes for illustration: „[T]his work, which is being acknowledged as a central text in an emerging subfield.” (Jones, 2008, p. 128) “Comparing Media Systems is, indeed, a path-breaking volume that will serve as a model for today’s comparative communication analyses.” (Graber, 2006, p. 935) “What is not open to speculation is the significance of this work. Hallin and Mancini’s pio-neering effort will define comparative media research for years to come.” (Patterson, 2007, p. 331) “A major recent contribution to the comparative research tradition “ (Hardy, 2008, p. 17)
  2. cf. Hardy (2008), p. 11.
  3. cf. Hardy (2008), p. xv.
  4. Siebert and his colleagues developed a normative classification of four ideal media systems: the libertarian, the social responsible, the Soviet Communist, and the authoritarian model. Consequently, the author’s typology referred to the then ideological segmentation of the world: a liberal democratic free world in the “West” (labeled the First World), a soviet-communist sphere (labeled the Second World), and authoritarian states (labeled the Third World) (cf. Hardy, 2008, p. 11).
  5. cf. Patterson (2007), p. 329.
  6. cf. Hardy (2008), p. 12-13.
  7. cf. Jackubowicz (2010), p. 2.
  8. As Hardy (2008) and Jakubowicz (2010) point out, there were additional and modifying developments of the original typologies (e.g. by Denis McQuail (1987), Raymond Williams (1968), or Robert G. Picard (1985)) and alternative schemas as well, which moved further away from the original typologies (e.g. J. Herbert Altschull (1984)).
  9. cf. Jakubowicz (2010), p. 1.
  10. cf. Sparks (2006), p. 24.
  11. cf. Jakubowicz (2010), p. 1.
  12. cf. Hardy (2008), p. 21.
  13. cf. Jakubowicz (2010), p. 1.
  14. cf. Wessler & Brüggemann (2012, in press).
  15. Hallin & Mancini (2012a), p. 1-2.
  16. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2012b).
  17. The dimensions that Hallin and Mancini use for their framework are originally not devised by them. They trace to then existing concepts (e.g. the dimension of political parallelism is initially developed by Seymour-Ure (1974)) but they “go beyond earlier scholars in amplifying these dimensions and exploring their linkages” (Patterson, 2007, p. 329).
  18. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 22-26.
  19. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 26-33.
  20. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 27.
  21. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 33-41.
  22. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 41-44.
  23. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 41.
  24. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 45.
  25. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 49-50.
  26. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 50-53.
  27. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 53-55.
  28. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 53.
  29. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 53.
  30. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 55-59.
  31. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 58.
  32. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 59-61.
  33. cf. Table 4.1 The Three Models: Media System Characteristics (Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 67).
  34. Political parties and factions are represented proportionally to their political power within the public broadcasting (cf. Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 31).
  35. Public broadcasting is controlled directly by the government or by the political majority (cf. Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 30).
  36. This concept was introduced by Kelly (1983) and refers to the relatively high influence of the political system on the public broadcasting system.
  37. This concept was also developed by Kelly (1983) and refers to the attempt to include all important social groups in the political process of gaining consensus; and this process encompasses the representation of these groups within the public broadcasting as well.
  38. Public broadcasting is largely insulated from direct political control (cf. Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 31).
  39. This is Kelly's (1983) third concept within her three-way distinction and it points to the independence of the media system from political control.
  40. Musso and Pineau (1985) differentiate between controlled and savage deregulation with regards to the heavy development of commercial broadcasting in Europe in the 1970s. Controlled deregulation refers to the establishment of media policies by the political system, e.g. the implementation of formal licensing procedures for commercial broadcasting. Savage deregulation relates to the failure of the political system to impose such media policies. Consequently, the media corporations defined the regulation of the broadcasting market. Additionally, Traquina (1995) points out that the competition among broadcasters ends in a mainstream orientation and less diversity concerning media contents.
  41. cf. Table 4.2 The Three Models: Political System Characteristics (Hallin & Mancini, 2004, p. 68).
  42. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 66-73.
  43. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2010), p. xi.
  44. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2012a), p. 1.
  45. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 304.
  46. Hallin & Mancini (2004), p. 251-295.
  47. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 279-280.
  48. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 279-284.
  49. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 284-287.
  50. cf. Hardy (2008), p. 231-232.
  51. cf. Jackubowicz (2010), p. 10.
  52. cf. Hardy (2008), p. 20.
  53. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 287-299.
  54. cf. Jackubowicz (2010), p. 12.
  55. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 299-300.
  56. Jackubowicz (2010), p. 9.
  57. Hardy (2008), p. 237.
  58. Hardy (2008), p. xvi.
  59. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 301-304.
  60. cf. Jackubowicz (2010), p. 11.
  61. Summary of argumentation in: Hallin & Mancini (2012b), p. 300-301.
  62. Hardy (2008), p. 232.
  63. Dobek-Ostrowska, B., Glowacki, M., Jakubowicz, K., & Sükösd, M. (2010). Comparative Media Systems. European and Global Perspective. Budapest: CEU Press.
  64. Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2012). Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  65. cf. Hardy (2008), p. xv.
  66. For a summary, cf. Jakubowicz (2010), p. 4-6.
  67. Jakubowicz (2010), p. 6.
  68. Curran et al. (2009), p. 6.
  69. cf. Dobek-Ostrowska et al. (2010), p. vii.
  70. cf. Hallin & Mancini (2012a), p. 2.
  71. cf. Patterson (2007), p. 331.


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