Media Systems Research Essay

Media Systems Research Essay


This paper looks at the application of Hallin and Mancini’s four variables of analyzing media in the debates in international media studies. Although Hallin and Mancini’s model of analyzing media was initially applicable in Western media, it has been established that it can also be applied in the study of non-Western countries advancing towards democracy. This paper examines the application of this mode of media analysis in these countries. It uses China as an example of such countries.


Various media scholars and researchers have given important and valuable contributions towards major debates pertaining to international media studies. In their seminal study, Paolo Mancini and Daniel Hallin compared various media systems of Western democracies and Atlantic countries. From the findings of their study, the researchers came up with four main dimensions that can be used in the analysis of mass media. These are: structure of media markets, political parallelism, professionalization of media and journalism, and state intervention. This conceptual framework has become useful in the study of international media. This paper explores major debates in international media studies. It applies Hallin and Mancini’s four variables in critiquing, challenging, extending and adding to various arguments advanced in such debates. The paper specifically looks at how the variables can be applied in countries that are in transition to democracy. It uses the Chinese media as an example.

Structure of Media Markets

In their comparison of media systems, Hallin and Mancini (2004) suggest that the analysis of media should involve the assessment of the structure of media markets. According to them, media can be evaluated in terms of mass circulation of the press, its audience (mass public), and how it mediates citizens with political elites. Mass circulation of the press is concerned with the way various press products are distributed in a country. In a country where there is a high circulation of press products, media companies tend to enjoy the economies of scale (Bastiansen, 2008). This means that such companies are able to produce and sell more products at a reduced cost.

In the case of China, the circulation of the press products is growing at a faster rate. For instance, the country has a high rate of circulation of newspapers. It is said that the country targeted the circulation capacity of ninety newspapers per a thousand people by the year 2010 (Zhao, 2012). The high rate of circulation of various media products in China enables the country’s media companies to make huge profits. However, it needs to be pointed out that it is not all media companies that are able to benefit this way. The circulation of media products tends to favor giant companies that have enough money to advertize their products and produce them in large quantities (Liu & University of Michigan, 2000).

The media mass public refers to the audience of media products. Some types of media have specific niche audience. Examples include business newspapers and lifestyle magazines. Other forms of media are meant for the mainstream audience. An example is the television. In China, the television remains the popular mass media choice with about 72.5% of the audience. Newspapers and magazines are mainly read by the urban elites (Bastiansen, 2008). The criterion of focusing on certain niche markets is financially risky (Stromback & Shehata, 2010). If something happens, media companies are likely to incur huge losses. Therefore, it is important for the companies to minimize the losses by diversifying their products.

It is generally assumed that mass media is used to mediate citizens with their political elites. It is used for the communication of government policies to the members of the public. Politicians use it to communicate their political ideologies (Stromback & Shehata, 2010). Despite this, mass media can also be used as a means of controlling the citizens for the purpose of achieving political interests. For instance, in China, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) created China Central Television (CCTV)’s prime-time national news program as the main vehicle for the dissemination of its political agenda (Zhao, 2012). It used it as an outlet for important political news in the country.

Political Parallelism

According to Hallin and Mancini (2004), some media systems tend to have certain political orientations. This is referred to as political parallelism. Political parallelism of media can be assessed through the extent of political orientation within media systems, media content, and media personnel. This assessment helps to reveal major political divisions in the society (Woods, 2007). Media systems can be used to reflect power struggles at different level in both single-party and multi-party politics. In China, most media companies are used to expose political conflicts within CCP and outside the party (Zhao, 2012). Various politicians use media to attack their political rivalries. In as much as this situation helps to promote negative propaganda about certain politicians and party officials, it also helps to promote accountability. This helps to prevent the abuse of political powers (Liu & University of Michigan, 2000).

The media content can be used to assess the existent to which various media systems are politically oriented. Many countries that are less democratic tend to embrace the censorship of the media contents of their media companies. Strict censorship interferes with the right of expression and free speech (Stromback & Shehata, 2010). In China, the CCP controls most of the dominant media houses of the country. It controls whatever such companies include in their media content (Zhao, 2012). For instance, the party ensures that its achievements and development records form party of the companies’ media contents. It also ensures the media contents do not tarnish its image in any way. This helps to give the party a competitive advantage against its political competitors (Bastiansen, 2008).

Media personnel also help to reflect the level of political orientation in media systems. In most non-Western countries, media workers serve as agents of certain politicians or political parties. By doing so, the workers help to ensure that the agendas of the people or parties they represent are effectively promoted (Bastiansen, 2008). In China, many media workers are the agents of CCP. These include the owners, managers, directors, journalists and reporters of various media companies (Zhao, 2012). These people work for the interest of the party. Under such circumstance, media companies that try to promote the interest of the opposition parties have no room (). Such companies normally operate under strict censorship of the government. This shows how media personnel enhance political divisions in the society.

Professionalization of Media and Journalism

Hallin and Mancini (2004) also argue that professionalism is important in mass media. According to them, professionalism in media involves independence of the media, its political neutrality and the objectivity of journalists who are non-partisan. Independence in this case refers to the autonomy of the media companies. These companies should be given the freedom of producing media products without any form of interference. Governments should not censor their media contents. This kind of freedom helps to promote the freedom of expression (Woods, 2007). However, it is important to note that excessive freedom is sometimes dangerous. This is common in cases where media is used to taint the reputations of government officials and other prominent individuals (Liu & University of Michigan, 2000). These are some of the reasons that make it necessary for the Chinese government to censor the media contents of various companies.

Any good media should be politically neutral. It should not be controlled by politicians and political parties (Stromback & Shehata, 2010). A politically neutral media tends to be more appealing to the audience. Its media content is in most cases considered to be true and authentic. This is unlike in the case of media companies controlled by certain political parties. Such companies serve as tools that politicians use to control the citizens. They use them to spread their political ideologies and propaganda. In China, dominant media companies are affiliated to political party institutions (Zhao, 2012). The media content of these companies reflect the ideologies of CCP and its politics. Propaganda officials of the party serve as the managers of the dominant media companies. Journalists who serve in these companies work as the party’s propagandists.

Professionalization of journalism is an important consideration that helps to promote the autonomy of mass media. Journalists need to embrace professional norms in their work (Bastiansen, 2008). For instance, they should be objective. They should not be partisan advocates of whatever they report in the content of their media companies. They should report everything the way it easy without hiding the truth. Although the Chinese journalism is grounded in the social reform and advocacy traditions, the enforcement these traditions is a dream yet to be achieved (Zhao, 2012). Since the dominant Chinese media serve as the mouthpiece of the ruling class, the work of journalists is normally controlled. Whatever they report is thoroughly censored by the authority. This makes it difficult for the journalists to achieve their work of providing service to the members of the public.

State Intervention

Hallin and Mancini (2004) as well note that the state plays a significant role regarding to the media. Some of the ways though which it achieves this is through the state ownership of media, provision of media subsidies, and regulation of media. The ownership of media varies from one country to another. Most Western countries allow the private ownership of media. However, a good number of non-Western countries still embrace the old idea of state ownership of media. In China, the state owns most of the dominant media houses. This is out of the fear that private ownership can media can help to strengthen the opposition (Zhao, 2012). Despite this, it is important to note that the state ownership of media helps to promote national development (Zhao, 2012). The state uses media as its mouthpiece for the communication of political, social and economic development agenda and policies.

In some states, state subsidies play an important role in the economies of various media organizations. In such states, state-owned media companies tend to be allocated huge amounts of money. This is due to the fact that such companies are used to promote the interest of the states (Bastiansen, 2008). Since most of the Chinese media are owned by the state, they benefit a lot from the government funding. The Chinese government ensures that state media companies are well equipped. It also helps in the hiring and payment of those who work in such companies. The funding of state-owned media is important and necessary. It helps to give various types of state media a competitive advantage over the media companies that are owned by private investors (Zhao, 2012).

Most states find it necessary to regulate media systems. They achieve this through the state ownership of media and their power to license the broadcasting companies they wish. States also regulate media by preventing media companies from accessing crucial and sensitive information (Woods, 2007) The Chinese state uses various specialized government agencies to regulate media. These agencies pass media laws that help to promote the propaganda of the CCP. Since most Chinese media systems are controlled by the ruling class, the sate enjoys the power of appointing various media officials. This helps to ensure the ruling party achieves its political interests (Zhao, 2012). Although state regulation kills democracy, it helps to promote national security and the privacy of certain types of sensitive information. The regulation also helps to prevent the defamation of state officials and structures (Stromback & Shehata, 2010).


Hallin and Mancini’s model of analyzing media can be applied to countries that are in transition to democracy. The four variables in the model can be used to show how the media systems of such countries operate. In the analysis of the structure of the media market of such countries, it is important for the media analysts to look at the rate of circulation of the press, the audience and how media is used to mediate political elites and the citizens. In the analysis of political parallelism, analysts should use various media systems, media contents and media personnel in the assessment of the extent to which they are politically oriented. In the analysis of the professionalism of media and journalism, the analysts should look at the autonomy and political neutrality of media and the objectivity of journalists. Lastly, in the analysis of state intervention, media analysts should have a look at the state ownership of media, media subsidies, and how the state regulates media.




Bastiansen, H. G. (2008). Media History and the Study of Media Systems. Media History, 14 (1): 95-112.

Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge [u.a.: Cambridge University Press.

Liu, A. P. L., & University of Michigan. (2000). Communications and national integration in Communist China. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Stromback, J. & Shehata, A. (2010). Media malaise or a virtuous circle? Exploring the causal relationships between news media exposure, political news attention and political interest. European Journal of Political Research, 49 (5): 575–597.

Woods, J. (2007). Democracy and the press: A comparative analysis of pluralism in the international print media. The Social Science Journal, 44 (2): 213-230.

Zhao, Y.  (2012). Understanding China’s Media Systems in a World Historical Context. In Hallin, D. & Mancini, P. (2012). Comparing Media Systems Beyond the Western World. New York: Cambridge University Press.

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