Comparing Media Systems

Authored by: Jonathan Hardy

Handbook of Comparative Communication Research

Print publication date:  April  2012
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415802710
eBook ISBN: 9780203149102
Adobe ISBN: 9781136514241


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It is only in recent years that a tradition of empirically grounded comparative research into media systems has developed. One of its most important contributions has been to insist on examining, and questioning, the historical formation and contemporary organization of media at the national level. Another has been to take steps towards a promising synthesis of work that has often been damagingly compartmentalized. It promotes historical, holistic, empirically driven yet theoretically ambitious and reflexive research work, yet its central term—“media system”—is in many respects an unfortunate choice: it invites criticism of claims that most analysts are careful to avoid. Few contemporary analysts of media systems adopt a structuralist functionalist approach that presumes necessary interconnections within bounded systems. Instead, as this chapter explores, media system has been adopted by those seeking to answer a range of questions. An old question that remains central is: Why do the media take the forms they do under different political systems? How and why have media developed in different ways in different conditions? How are the various media interconnected and mutually influential? How are media systems being transformed? These questions derive from and require the integration of political science, political economy, media studies, and historical, social, and cultural analysis. A key strength of “media systems” research lies in examining connections between media and politics, with a tendency to focus on formal institutional arrangements. One of its weaknesses is a tendency to generalize or extrapolate beyond a restricted account of these important relationships. There is undoubtedly a tension between analysis of the cluster of features that have shaped and differentiated media systems, organized largely on national lines, and the transnational and transcultural dynamics that are reshaping these systems.

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