Monday, February 14, 2011

The North Atlantic or Liberal Model

by Sofya Gladysheva

The North Atlantic Model includes the UK, Ireland, USA, and Canada. Known as the Liberal countries, they are, those in which the social role of the state is relatively limited and the role of the market and private sector relatively large. –p. 228.

In all four countries: commercial newspapers developed relatively early, and expanded with relatively little state involvement; informational style of journalism is typical; political neutrality is preferred, except in the British press; and journalistic professionalism is developed.

Important Terms:
1.Commercialization: the transformation of the press from small-scale enterprises requiring subsidies from wealthy individuals, political parties or the state into highly capitalized and highly profitable business. –p. 203
2.Political parallelism: when newspapers give voice to those who support their own position leading to a connection between the ruling parties and the media.
3.Professionalization: in regards to journalism having a strict set of ethical standards, rooted in an ideology of public service, and with significant autonomy –p. 217


Protestantism played an important role in the early expansion of literacy. This almost universal literacy paired with the expansion of the market and of the social classes was central to the development o the press.

The repeal of the Licensing Act in 1695 gave way to an explosion of print in Britain because there was no longer a threat of pre-publication censorship or arrest due to offensive writing about the government. However, political leaders were uncomfortable with “unchecked expansion of the press.” So they instated the Stamp Act of 1712, which made it more expensive to print, and thus newspaper circulation plummeted. The government was fearful that expansion of press would inspire political rebellion; thus they instated such Acts, known as “the taxes on knowledge.” However, these limitations only inspired more radical, unstamped press, but did successfully delay the development of the commercial mass-circulation press in Britain until midway through the 19th century.

In the American colonies, the stamp duties were repealed even before the American Declaration of Independence was signed. Freedom of the press is the cornerstone of the American press, and in many ways, culture in general


Commercial press began earliest in the U.S. with the penny press of the 1830s.

Advertising played a crucial role in establishing this standard: “the increasing value of newspaper as advertising mediums allowed them gradually to shake off government or party control and to become independent voice of public sentiment.” (altick 1957: 322) –p. 203

Commercial media drove out a variety of forms of noncommercial media.
In Democracy in America, Tocqueville writes:

“A newspaper can survive only if it gives publicity to the feelings or principles common to a large number of men. A newspaper therefore always represents an association whose members are its regular readers.” Once commercial press came about, the radical newspapers of Britain, which often pioneered for working-class movements, died. The same thing happened with American newspapers that were connected to reform, particularly abolitionist movements. Why is this important? Because the Liberal countries do not have the diversity of different kinds of newspapers that characterizes the Democratic Corporatist system.

Political parallelism

“Fact-centered discourse” emphasized news and had little commentary, unlike the earlier papers or those found in the Polarized Pluralist Mode. British and American papers had more information, more accurately and more recently reported. In three out of the four countries political neutrality has come to be typical and expected. In Britain, however, there is still a high degree of political parallelism. -p. 207

However, just because the papers are not differentiated in the political orientations does not necessarily mean they do not have an orientation. Their political orientation is a centrist one, oriented towards the views of the white middle-class readers who are the main target for advertisers, and thus newspapers. –p 210

Also, since Britain has an unusually high case of political parallelism while the U.S. does not, this suggests that the development of commercial media markets does not automatically eliminate political parallelism. – p. 214.

In broadcasting however all four countries exhibit political neutrality.


In the U.S. “yellow journalism” led to reform of journalism because journalists were taking bribes to print loaded information. Columbia opened up a School of Journalism in 1903, and The American Society of Newspaper Editors was founded in 1923, and soon passed the first national code of ethics. This led journalists to shift their orientation to their peers and sources, rather than their employers. Also, professionalization of journalism was centered around the notion of objectivity. It worked! Instrumentalization of the press declined substantially in North America during the 1900’s.

In Britain, professionalism did mean journalists having their own set of criteria, but it did not necessarily mean an objective point of view. Rupert Murdoch still uses his newspaper market to control his paper politically. This causes a rift. Americans would say that Europeans journalists are unprofessional because they are too politicized, while the English would claim we are not “honest witnesses” –p. 226.

Professionalism has begun to erode in the past 20 years. The shift towards corporate ownership in the 70’s and 80’s made profit and competition the first priority. Circulation was also going down with the introduction of digital media. Thus, more sensationalist news emerged.

Role of the State:

The state built the initial communication infrastructure, in the form of the postal system, but then let it take flight mostly on its own.

The Fairness Doctrine encouraged early development of a neutral, balanced style of news. It was repealed because it was seen as too controlling.

In Britain, freedom of press is a cultural tradition rather than a legal privilege like in the states.

The famous BBC is commercial broadcasting that has retained a strong public-service orientation.

However, the state and media is not solely a matter of regulation and ownership. It also plays into the flow of information. In this sense, it is not clear that the media and the state are more separate than in other models. “News organization are structured to a large extent around the ‘beat’ system that connects reporters to their sources in the state, and state agencies are organized to a large extent around the needs of the media” –p. 233.


Newspapers were developed relatively early because of high literacy rates, and quickly took on the commercial model. This eventually led to neutral, objective (with the exception of British news) news that would cater to the general interest of society, and the target of advertisers. Although journalists have a set of ethics they follow, they are strained by the competitive, for-profit aspect of media, causing many to sensationalize stories in order to increase circulation. Does this serve the public interest?

Random, but relevant points: the Liberal Model is considered the normative ideal, yet the four countries are not leaders in newspaper circulation.

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