Monday, February 22, 2010

North Central European Countries

by Caroline Waters

In the sixth chapter of Hallin and Mancini’s Comparing Media Systems Hallin and Mancini categorize the northern and central countries of Europe as the democratic corporatist model, and they characterize the elements of this particular model. These countries include Austria, Switzerland, Germany, the low countries (Belgium, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), and the Scandinavian countries (Denmark, Norway, Sweden, Finland, and Iceland) (143). Hallin and Mancini build their argument from three coexistences, or “three sets of media system elements that in other systems do not appear together,” found in North and Central Europe (144).

Most theorists separate Central Europe and Scandinavia in part because of limited cultural understanding however Central Europe and Scandinavia share the transformation of the Protestant Revolution.

The first coexistence combines a high degree of political parallelism with a strong mass-circulation media. The book explains that with the Protestant Reformation came a heavy print culture; this encouraged the spread of literacy, particularly within the middle class (151). Also contributing to the spread of mass-circulation press were “the beginning of industrialization and the growth of market institutions” (149). There was thus an increased need for the spread of information and voicing opinions. The importance of political parallelism can be seen through local patriotism. Citizens had a “high level of civic involvement in local communities” and “wanted to have their own local newspapers” (150). Related to the concept of local patriotism, Hallin and Mancini describe the presence of segmented pluralism in Northern and Central Europe. This was a tendency for there to be a “strong division into political and cultural subcommunities” (151). Secularization weakened the relationship between media and national political systems, but this led to an increase in independent newspapers coming from a more concentrated newspaper market (178-9). Mass-circulation of news in Northern and Central Europe also comes in the form of tabloids. Less sensationalist than the tabloids of Britain, these tabloids are read by more of the middle class and often read in addition to quality papers (159). Yet another contributing factor to the mass-circulation of media is the rise of the omnibus commercial paper. To appeal to readers of other papers, some newspapers would diversify their content (159). Often, the omnibus paper would “become the market leader,” while the weaker paper “strengthened its political affiliation to hold on to its remaining market share” (159). Thus, there is a dual existence of political parallelism and strong mass-circulation media.

German Martin Luther in early 1500’s on the left and French theologian John Calvin in Switzerland in the mid to late 1500’s on the right. The early development of literacy in Northern Europe was a result of the principle that “every person should learn to read and see with their own own eyes what God bids and commands in his Holy Word.” The result was overall higher education in the northern countries. Guttenberg is also a factor here as “Protestants and printers had more in common than Catholics and printers.” The protestants used religious propaganda and debates of reason that created segmented pluralism.

The second coexistence involves the presence of political parallelism and journalistic professionalism. Along with the political parallelism described above, there is also a high level of journalistic professionalism in Northern and Central European countries. With the mass appeal of newspapers, organizations could afford to hire journalists as full-time employees (170). Soon came the custom for a formal education in journalism (174). The first unions of journalists appeared in Scandinavia in 1883, and they are still very influential today (171). There came to be a high level of journalistic autonomy from political interference, but journalists clearly have political orientations. However, there is a general understanding that “political orientations are manifested more in patterns of selection and emphasis in news reporting than in explicit commentary” (183).

The North Central countries are balancing both value and language differences. In Germany for example each party is given equal media representation. After elections, the losing party often supports the winning party.

Germany's Christian Democratic Party

The segmented pluralism of Northern countries resulted in subcultures. Those subcultures may be faith based or language based. Both Switzerland and Belgium have sub-communities under one nation. The press was essential to unite these subcultures.

Switzerland balances 4 official languages

2007 Miss Belgium speaks several languages — French, English and Czech — but it seems that doesn't count for much when she doesn't speak Dutch. At a media event in Antwerp, she failed to answer a question in elementary Dutch and was booed by an audience of 3,000 people.

Finally, the third coexistence Hallin and Mancini describe is that of liberal press freedom and a strong state intervention. The status of the liberal state involvement is brought forth through moderate pluralism. In other words, there are political differences within political cooperation (191). The Dutch system is based on external pluralism, “with separate broadcasting companies representing different social groups; other Democratic Corporatist countries prefer internal pluralism, in which “an attempt is made to represent the different organized voices of the society within a single organization” (166). Strong state intervention is manifested by granting direct state subsidies to some press organizations, bargaining among social interests to expand the welfare state, and by spending relatively large amounts of money on social causes (160-1). Most importantly, however, state intervention is found through its funding of public broadcasting. However, with the allowance of the self regulation of the press, press councils, and the “general attitude that the media are social institutions for which the state has a responsibility, and not purely private businesses,” there is a coexistence (191).

After detailing the three coexistences, Hallin and Mancini provide reasons for the birth of democratic corporatism. These were that there was a weak and divided political right, the existence of independent peasantry due to a lack of a feudal system, and the lesser degree of an urban-rural split (186-7).

The North Central countries rank high in press freedom.

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