Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Compare and contrast the Libertarian Theory and the Social Responsibility Theory of the Press

Libertarian Theory and Social Responsibility Theory are among the other theories which come under the Normative Theories of the Media or the Press. They are four (4) theories which were propounded by three (3) people namely Wilbur Schramm, Fred Seaton Siebert and Theodore Peterson in 1956 in the book Four (4) Theories of the Press. The four theories of the press from which I am about to look at two (2) was trying to clarify the connection between media and political society in the modern world.

The four (4) theories are:

The Authoritarian Theory
The Libertarian Theory
The Social Responsibility Theory
The Soviet Community Theory

Along the line, Denis McQuail criticized the above four (4) that, they are biased that is, they are western centered. In his book ‘Mass Communication Theory: An introduction’, he developed two (2) other theories to take care of the biases: These are, The Development Concept of the Press and the Democratic Participant Theory

Among the above, we are going to look at the similarities and differences of the libertarian Theory and Social Responsibility Theory, but first, let us consider Normative Theory.

Normative Theory

Normative is a word from norm which according to the Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary means ‘a situation or a pattern of behaviour that is usually expected or accepted within a particular group or society.’ It means the norm, that is, what is supposed to be done

Theory, according to the Cambridge International Dictionary of English ‘is a formal statement of the rules on which a subject of study is based or on ideas which re suggested to explain fact or event or more generally n opinion or explanation.’

Therefore, normative theory is how the media is supposed to behave in a certain political, economic and social system. Normative theory is a theory that describes a norm or standard of behaviour that ought to be followed as opposed to the one that actually is followed. Ref: www.questia.com/index.com (14 May, 2009)
It is also any theory which seeks to explain or predict what would happen under theoretical constraints; what ought to be; such as perfect competition, rather than what is or will be. Ref www.highbeam.com/doc/1015 - normative theory.html
Article from: A dictionary Geography by Susan Mayhew therefore normative theories of the media are the ideal views of how journalism or media ought to be. For example when we speak of normative theory we refer to the ideas of rights and expectations of benefit from the media to individuals and society. Ref. McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory P. 163


The Libertarian Theory came in when democracy arrived (i.e. when people had the right to vote), this theory was adopted in England after 1688 and in the U S and it is influential elsewhere in the world. Its purpose is to inform entertain, sell as well as discover truth and check on government. Ownership is chiefly private. Before the Libertarian Theory there was the Authoritarian Theory but some factors weakened that theory: the idea of religions freedom, expansion of economic freedom and the idea of enlightenment. The emphasis on personal freedom and democracy also helped greatly for this theory to come.

The rise in of libertarian ideas especially in the 17th Century also contributed. Writers and philosophers like Milton John Locke, Saint Simone and others argued that man is rational and able to discern between truth and falsehood and therefore, can choose between a better and worse alternative. This theory also says that man is capable of determining his own destiny when given all the facts will make the right choice
In this theory everybody has the right to be free. The media used it and they went too far. They reported on anything like sex, explicit things, showed dead bodies and so on. That was how they got the name ‘Yellow Journalism.’ By 1949 in the U S A people were fed up with the media because they reported on anything and were infringing on people’s privacy and right. This led to the Social Responsibility Theory (S.R.T.).


This is a compliment to the Libertarian Theory. It was practiced in the U.S in the 20th Century. The purpose is to inform entertain, sell and also to raise conflict to the plane of discussion. Here Ownership is private.
It is the outgrowth of the libertarian theory. Around the 40s, the Libertarian Theory had problems with the total freedom they enjoyed. The media misused the word freedom. The media or press impeded on other people’s freedom. The people said that they (the media) should regulate their freedom: They should practice self regulation.
That was when the Hutchin’s Committee was formed in 1949 to look at how the media work. Based on their findings, they came out with: ‘the media should be free but they should have a self imposed responsibility.’

That is to say that they should make sure that their freedom does not go over board. So here, this theory unlike the libertarian talks about freedom but is said that your freedom should come with a responsibility because freedom without responsibility can go astray.

‘The theory takes a philosophical view that even though man is rational and can reason he is reluctant to do so. Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm noted that “freedom of expression under the Social Responsibility Theory is not in absolute rights under the pure Libertarian Theory…. One’s right to freedom of expression must be balanced against the private rights of others and against vital social interest.’ Ref. Four Theories of the Press: bookgoogle.com.

Both theories have some similarities and differences. One is seemingly an outgrowth of the other. Now after talking about the two theories we will look at their similarities (comparisons) and differences (contrasts).

The very first point I would like to raise is the fact that they are both theories of the press or the media. This is a similarity. As we have already discussed, the normative theory talks about how the media ought to behave in a particular society and both the Libertarian and the Social Responsibility Theories states how the press should behave in society. The fifth edition of the book “Mass Communication Theory by Denis McQuail” says that normative theory states the idea of how the media ought to, or are expected to be organized and to behave in the wider public or for the good of the society as a whole. They both look at how the press should functioning particular political, economic and social system.

The Libertarian Theory and Social Responsibility Theories looks at media structure and performance. They both look at whether the political and social systems provide the media freedom from the state and does it allow for multiplicity of different channels.

Secondly, the Libertarian Theory and the Social Responsibility Theory mention freedom. When we take a look at the two(2) theories, unlike the authoritarian, here, the media is free from control by government or other powerful interests, sufficient to allow them to report and express freely and independently and to meet the needs of their audiences. People should also be free to receive the media of their choice. Ref: McQuail’s Mass media Communication Theory.

Relating this to a third world country like Ghana, I can strongly say that the media is under no control from the government. The Government of Ghana does not instruct any of the media houses on which programme to show on the television or which programmes to broadcast on radio. The media in Ghana is allowed to report and express freely. An example is Joy fm which is owned by Multimedia Broadcasting Company, it broadcast freely, giving to its target audience the things to meet their needs. They are not controlled by the government.

Even though we have stated that both of them talks about freedom, Libertarian Theory talks about total and absolute freedom. While in contrast the Social Responsibility Theory reaffirms the principles of freedom but added to them the notion of social responsibility freedom of expression under the Social Responsibility Theory is not an absolute right as under pure Libertarian Theory. “The notion of rights, costless, unconditional, conferred by the creator at birth, was a marvelous principle against arbitrary governments and had its historical work to do” says the Hutchins commission. “But in the context of an achieved political freedom, the need of limitation becomes evident”. One’s right to freedom of expression must be balanced against the private rights of others and against vital social interest”. Ref. Four Theories of The Press by Fred Seaton Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm (books.google.com.gh). Social Responsibility Theory states that, it is far more in keeping with a free society that men achieve responsibility through their own wish and self-control than through some external force.

Yes there are a lot of media houses in Ghana. They are not controlled by the government, but it is believed that they become responsible of their actions. Here we can see the two (2) theories at play because there are many media houses but they are codes and regulations to guide them. The media due to Libertarian Theory can report on anything but the S R T tells you, you should be guided by codes and ethics of the society. As the Hutchin’s Commission stated in one of their finding: “Man is to remain free, he must live by reason instead of passively accepting what he sees, hears, and feels. Therefore, the more alert element of the community must drive him into the exercise of his reason. Without such goading, man is not likely to be moved to seek truth. The laziness which keeps him from using his gift of reason extends to all public discussion. Man’s aim is not to find truth but to satisfy his immediate needs and desire. There are some newspapers in Ghana here, which reports on anything without responsibility. Today if you go to the news stands, there are shouting headlines on sex. Due to the freedom, that is absolute freedom they just bring these pictures forgetting that children also come to the news stand, showing no responsibility.

Some newspapers too report on anything and not the truth because of the freedom and the fact they have to fill their pockets. They report on issues without checking and double checking, feeding the society with anything. Due to the Libertarian Theory, some of the television stations show anything and do not care about the society they are transmitting to. They even show dead bodies without any prior notice.

But again, a television station like G T V will not do that because they know they owe society a responsibility. Some of the newspapers will also check and re-check their facts before bringing some stories out due to the Social Responsibility Theory. Ghana Broadcasting Corporation as a media house do not just bring out any story to tarnish people images or broadcast a anything against the cultural behaviours of our society. They are very particular about the things they show on the television and those that are aired on the radio. Ghana Television for example shows a lot of educative programmes to serve the society. Among them is Adult Education in the six (6) languages and they discuss issues pertaining to the growth of society.

The Libertarian Theory of the mass media focuses on the press’ right to broadcast any opinion, either right or wrong, in an uncensored fashion. Libertarian advocates, argue that the mass media can promote wide variety of opinions without government intervention through regulation or other censorship.

Another Libertarian Theory belief is that the audience is a group of rational thinkers. The audience is able to distinguish right from wrong, and they are able to comprehend the difference between facts and opinions. Knowing that the audience is rational, mass media are then able to present a diverse number of ideas to everyone. These ideas can then be evaluated and tested by rational audience.

In contrast, the Social Responsibility Theory criticizes many of the views of Libertarian Theory. The Social Responsibility Theory stressed that the audience is not as rational as the Libertarian Theory suggests. They argue that many consumers have a distorted view of the world based on television viewing.

Social Responsibility Theory assumes that the state uses censorship and other legal measures to prevent and punish antisocial publication; but for the Libertarian Theory, there are no regulations.

John Milton said that individuals must have access to what is (in resent day Libertarian Theory) called “free market place of ides”. This is one of the most important functions that the mass media must fulfill according to this theory. That is, media serves to provide a forum in which people can exchange ideas, and through such dialogue, can arrive at the truth.

The Social Responsibility Theory on the other hand even though agrees to this “free market place of ideas” says that , the people who come to the market place should be regulated so that the people who come there are people who will come and say responsible things. It should not be a plat form for anybody to just trade ideas but it should check those who come in n dot of the place.

A typical example in Ghana is the private stations; they have people coming on to their stations to air their views but when it comes to appearing on GTV or Uniiq fm of the Ghana Broadcasting there is serious scrutinizing before people are allowed on air.

For both Social Responsibility Theory and Libertarian Theory there is free market where people put their ideas on table and then the people (that is, come and pick the ones that they think is good for them. But when it comes to the Social Responsibility Theory, there is some sort of sieving because your ideas should be responsible, not that anything is put on the market.

Further more, Libertarian Theory looks at ownership by an individual or few individuals while the Social Responsibility Theory is owned by the society, a lot of people and sometimes government. For Libertarian Theory accountability is to a few people while the Social Responsibility Theory accounts to the society.

The Libertarian Theory as it promotes total freedom looks t individuals coming with press houses. The individual when operating media house becomes accountable to the owner or owners and will do everything to get money to pay its workers. Even when showing an educative programme which help society, there will be a lot of advert running, there by distorting the message because he has to look for money to pay workers and bills.
On the contrary, the media under the Social Responsibility Theory is accountable to a larger group of people; that is, the society. So what they show or present on radio, television or print in the newspapers, should come with a lot of responsibility.

Finally according to Article 162 of t he 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana, it states that “Freedom and independence of the media are hereby guaranteed.” It goes on to say that, there shall be no censorship on Ghana and that editors and publishers of newspapers and other institutions of the mass media shall not be subject to control or influence by Government. This is what the Libertarian Theory seeks to promote. There should be freedom without any impediment. Due to this, there are a lot of press houses which do things without any responsibility.

The Social Responsibility Theory on the other hand states there should not be absolute freedom. In view of this, the media has a code of ethics to guide its day-to-day activities. “A journalistic code of ethics refers to a set of principles of professional conducts that are adopted and controlled by journalists themselves.” Ref McQuail’s Mass Communication Theory.

For example Article 2 of the Ghana Journalists Association codes of Ethics, title Social Responsibility states that; “In collecting and disseminating information. The journalist should bear in mind his/her responsibility to the public at large and at the various interests in society.’’ This is a clear display of what the Social Responsibility Theory seeks to promote. This buttress the point of being responsible to the society in which you operate. The media in Ghana as much as reporting on anything because of absolute freedom, also go by the GJA code of ethics but some of them does not respect it because there is no law backing it. For instance, when there are issues for development to be discussed, one newspaper was reporting on the fact that, the former president of Ghana, Jerry John Rawlings has been given a stolen goat. Is this responsibility?

Undoubtedly, the two theories are in play here in Ghana since the above examples clearly states them. As we can see the Social Responsibility Theory is an outgrowth of the Libertarian Theory and they have similarities and difference. The purpose of the two (2) theories is to inform, entertain, sell, discover the truth as well as check on government, however Social Responsibility goes beyond “objective” reporting to “interpretive” reporting: A truthful, complete account of the news is not necessarily enough today, notes the Commission on Freedom of the press; “it is no longer enough truth bout the fact..” Today’s complex world often necessitate analysis, explanation, and interpretation. Ref; Four Theories of the Press by Fred Seation Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm.

“The journalist has the right to report, that is to write, it is human rights. The freedom is a right, it is privilege but should it be limitless? Freedom is a very expensive and difficult property on you. We are supposed to have the freedom but we should use it responsibly.” (Mr. Kwadwo Boateng, Lecturer, Mass Communication, Ghana Institute of Journalism.)

Though the Libertarian and Social Responsibility Theories have their differences and similarities, using the fusion of the two (2) as it is done in Ghana is allowed but can be very dangerous. Every freedom must go with a responsibility. Let me end with a quote by T. L Glasser (1986) ‘’Press Responsibility and First Amendment Values; in D Elliot (ed), Responsibility Journalism, pp. 88. New burry Park, CA: Sage.”

‘From the perspective of a negative concept, the press is under no obligation to extend its liberty or to accommodate the liberty of others… From the perspective of an affirmative understanding ….in contrast, freedom and responsibility stand side by side….(and) an individual’s ability to gain the benefits of liberty must be included among the conditions definitive of liberty.’


Mass Communication Theory
By Denis McQuail
5th Edition


www.highbeam.com/doc/1015 - normative theory.html

Four Theories of the Press: bookgoogle.com.

Ghana Journalists Association Code of Ethics

T. L Glasser (1986) Press Responsibility and First Amendment Values; in D Elliot (ed), Responsibility Journalism, pp. 88. New burry Park, CA: Sage.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


Article 18 (clause 1) of the 1992 Constitution of the Republic of Ghana states that “Every person has the right to own property either alone or in association with others.” The Constitution also gives every citizen a right to life, liberty, fair trial, equality and freedom from discrimination, freedom of speech and expression, freedom to form or join political parties and to participate in political activities and elect leaders. The rights to life, liberty and to own property are called natural rights, basic rights or fundamental rights.

The concept of natural or basic rights means that all persons automatically have these rights because they are human beings.

Everyone is born with these basic rights and they should not be taken without a person’s agreement.

The 1992 Constitution gives every citizen of Ghana of 18 years or above and of sound mind the right to vote and is entitled to be registered as a voter for the purposes of public elections and referenda.

When we vote and elect our government, it means that we give up some of our rights and freedoms in exchange for our protection and security. This is to say that, people agree to follow laws in exchange for their protection and security.

Our Constitution also gives us the right to choose a government, and the government in turn has responsibility to protect our fights and seek our welfare by providing food, shelter, clothing, education, healthcare to mention just a few. This agreement is called a Social Contract.

John Locke, an English scholar and a political thinker argued that government is created by a common agreement (That is treaty/contract) among human beings to serve the interest of other communities. Therefore all forms of rules should be based on agreement and consent of the people. Once there is a contract, there is an offer and an acceptance.
We, as people went to the polls and voted for this new government, telling them that we have accepted whatever offers they laid on the table in the political market-place and that we have given them the mandate to govern or rule over us.

I want to use your medium to remind President John Evan Atta Mills that during his campaign when he was the presidential candidate of the National Democratic Congress, he made it clear that he was signing a social contract with the people of Ghana and that if he was voted form he would fulfill his part of the contract.

I am appealing to other officers like the Members of Parliament, Ministers, District Chief Executives and Assemblymen and women who are agents of the president to also fulfill their part of the contract by addressing the problems of the people with speed and efficiency.

As citizens of Ghana, we must also carryout our side of the contract by raising high the good name of our country, Ghana, paying our taxes upholding and defending the Constitution, promoting natural unity and living in unity with others.

I also entreat all Ghanaians to co-operate with the law-enforcement and help to protect the environment and help to protect public property and funds.

Finally, I would like to remind all of us (Both electorate and those in authorities) that if we honour the social agreement that we have signed, it will help maintain governmental stability, peace and order. It also reduces the extent to which the repressive machinery of the state is exercised.

Thank you for the time and space in your most-read newspaper.