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Political Parallelism

Summary and Keywords

Political parallelism refers to a pattern or relationship where the structure of the political parties is somewhat reflected by the media organizations. A concept introduced by Seymour-Ure and Blumler and Gurevitch in the 1970s, political parallelism became widespread after Hallin and Mancini made it one of the four basic analytical categories of their masterpiece Comparing Media Systems, three decades later. Since then, political parallelism has been often taken as a category with a potentially universal applicability. There are some reasons for cautiousness in this respect, however, as the premise that the political parties are the core organizers of the dynamics of politics makes sense in circumstances existing in Western Europe, especially from the 1950s until very recently, but not at every moment or even everywhere. Otherwise, it is possible to think about political parallelism as one specific pattern of media/politics relations among several others either already existing or possible. The fact that this model in particular receives so much attention does not result necessarily from its intrinsic value, but it may be related to asymmetries existing in the international landscape of the academic research in journalism and political communication, which privileges Western-based standpoints over others. Arguably, taking political parallelism from a broader outlook, considering both Western and non-Western views may provide a richer perspective about it.

Keywords: political parallelism, journalism, political communication, political parties, media/politics relations, Western Europe, journalism studies

Introduction

In a general manner, political parallelism refers to a pattern of relationship in which given media organizations systematically echo the views and agenda of particular political groups. Initially formulated by Seymour-Ure (1974) and Blumler and Gurevitch (1995; originally published in 1975), the concept of political parallelism gained popularity in the 2000s, after Hallin and Mancini (2004) made it one of the four analytical variables of their comparative media systems framework. As it happened with much of the research on political parties, the debate on political parallelism has been largely coined in reference to the example of Western European societies. Nonetheless, a growing body of researchers has sustained that political parallelism provides a universal variable for comparing political communication systems around the world and contend that societies can be evaluated according to the degree of political parallelism existing in them. As Voltmer (2012) puts it, the question that arises is how far categories as political parallelism can travel?

Concretely, the term “political parallelism” has been used to name different phenomena: (1) the existence of recognizable patterns of a relationship between media and politics in a given society; (2) stable patterns of convergence between certain media outlets and political parties, groups, or tendencies, with regard to their agendas, worldviews, and in some cases, organizational ties; (3) a specific circumstance in which a significant degree of connection between particular media and political groups is a feature common enough to define the political communication system as a whole. Although the two first definitions capture some essential requisites of political parallelism, only the last captures all of them. The first, more general definition may be satisfactorily described as media/politics relations, as it refers to the existence of an identifiable pattern of a relationship between media and politics, without further details. The second definition is more precise, as it refers to the existence of stable patterns of relationships between certain political parties and media and may be referred to as media/politics linkage (e.g., Lawson, 1988). However, political parallelism is above all a topological idea, which supposes that structural patterns of relationships existing in the political arena are reproduced by the media.

Political parallelism is a pattern chiefly associated with a certain group of societies in peculiar historical circumstances, namely Western European democracies through the last 19th and 20th centuries. However, the mainstream political communication literature has often taken this very specific pattern as the point of departure for discussing media/politics relations in general. From this view, the core question for the political communication literature is whether there is political parallelism in a society and to which degree? By doing this, mainstream literature blinds researchers with respect to alternative patterns of media/politics connections existing outside the Western world. Otherwise, it is argued that the relevance of the concept of political parallelism is much more limited than it is generally supposed and, in particular, it tends to be more relevant the closer societies under analysis are to Western European societies, those that provided a model for it.

Overview

The concept of political parallelism was introduced by Colin Seymour-Ure in 1974, as party-press parallelism. The choice of words is not without consequence. The author explicitly omits the broadcasting media and focuses exclusively on newspapers and how they relate to political parties. According to Seymour-Ure, given that “the functions of the parties are highly compatible with the capabilities of the newspapers,” it was reasonable to expect “a connection between individual papers and parties but also a correspondence, or parallelism, between the range of papers and the range of parties” (1974, p. 159).

Seymour-Ure proposes four criteria for measuring this correlation. Three refer to parties and papers’ linkage: Organization evaluates the degree of control that a given party exerts on a specific newspaper, ranging from full control, when the newspaper is controlled by a party, to the programmatic independence of a newspaper with reference to political parties. Party goals refer to the degree of convergence between the political views and agendas of political parties and newspapers, which can vary from extreme loyalty to extreme independence. Party supporters refer to how much the readership of a newspaper coincides with the basis of supporters of a given political party. The fourth criterion refers to the press and parties taken as aggregates or, as the author puts it, systems. It is only when this criterion is considered that the notion of parallelism may be properly introduced.

One year after, Jay G. Blumler and Michael Gurevitch (1995) presented a set of concepts alike to Seymour-Ure’s, as a part of their effort for building a comparative framework for cross-national, political communication research. Basically, they focused on two aspects of this problem: media regulation and linkages between media and political organizations; and they proposed four analytical variables for discussing them. The first one, degree of state control over mass media organizations, refers to media regulation. The other three—degree of mass media partisanship, degree of media-political élite integration, the nature of the legitimizing creed of media institutions—refer to the problem of media/politics linkage, and therefore they are directly pertinent for our discussion on political parallelism. Degree of mass media partisanship corresponds to the bulk of the problem, as it focuses on two of the three criteria proposed by Seymour-Ure for defining party-press parallelism: the role that political parties play in the ownership and management of mass media and the editorial line of newspapers.

Writing three decades after Seymour-Ure and Blumler and Gurevitch, Daniel C. Hallin and Paolo Mancini (2004) presented the most influent version of political parallelism, in their ambitious book Comparing Media Systems, which provides a framework for analyzing media systems from 18 countries in Western Europe and North America. At that time, political communication was already a consolidated field of research, allowing the authors to present a rich repertory of examples that illustrate their argument. Political parallelism is one of the four core dimensions of Hallin and Mancini’s comparative model, besides the development of media markets, the development of journalistic professionalism, and the nature and degree of state intervention in the media system. Hallin and Mancini argue that “even if the political tendencies of European newspapers are fuzzier today than they were a generation ago, distinct political tendencies persist, more in some countries than in others” (2004, p. 27), and this applies not only for the print media, but, in many cases, to the electronic media too. The authors propose five variables for analyzing political parallelism: (1) media content, (2) organizational connections, (3) tendency for media personnel to be active in political life, (4) partisanship of media audiences, and (5) journalistic role orientations and practices.

In their book, Hallin and Mancini propose that the countries they investigate can be described in three media models. The North Atlantic or Liberal model includes Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom, and the United States; the North/Central European or Democratic Corporativist model includes Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, and Switzerland; and the Polarized Pluralist model includes France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, and Spain. According to the authors, the Polarized Pluralist group presents the highest level of political parallelism, the Liberal group presents the lowest level (with exception to the United Kingdom), and the Democratic Corporativism is in the middle.

It is interesting examining the similarities and differences existing between these three formulations of political parallelism. To start with, their analytical statuses differ, while Seymour-Ure considers it his core theoretical problem, and the other authors take it as a part of a broader comparative effort. A second aspect refers to the kind of media they investigate: Seymour-Ure limited his analysis to the press, while the other authors also considered the broadcast media—it should be noted that, writing in the 2000s, Hallin and Mancini have been sometimes criticized for disregarding the digital media (Benson, Blach-Ørsten, Willig, & Zambrano, 2012; Norris, 2009). A final aspect refers to the range of applicability of the categories proposed by these authors. Seymour-Ure, Blumler, and Gurevitch share the premise that their categories are universally applicable, but the examples they use for illustrating their arguments overwhelmingly refer to Western Europe. Otherwise, Hallin and Mancini explicitly coined their categories for describing a limited group of Western countries with a basis on the “most similar systems” design but, at the same time, they propose that these categories may have a broader use, as “the models that prevail in Western Europe and North America tend to be the dominant models globally” (2004, p. 6). Accordingly, they co-edited a book for discussing the applicability of Comparing Media Systems beyond the limits of the Western world (2011).

Further Developments

Political parallelism became the focus of considerable attention in the last decade. In nearly every case, Hallin and Mancini’s conceptual framework provides the point of departure for distinct types of analyses. Some of them criticize aspects of Hallin and Mancini’s definition of political parallelism. Norris (2009) contends that political parallelism is difficult to measure precisely in contrast with other indicators that can be measured by existing datasets provided by UNESCO, Freedom House, Reporters without Borders, and other organizations. Sparks argues that the concept of political parallelism ignores the possibility that “large movements or bodies of opinion within a country find themselves opposed by all or most of the ‘official’ political parties and either all or the majority of the media” (2017, p. 48). Some scholars have suggested that the concept of political parallelism is closely associated with Western European history (Albuquerque, 2011, 2013; Kiriya, 2017; McCargo, 2011; Zhao, 2011). Hallin and Mancini (2011) and themselves have recognized there are limits in applying the concept of political parallelism beyond the Western world. However, other scholars have found the concept of political parallelism useful for discussing aspects of media/politics relations in Turkey (Çarkoğlu, Baruh, & Yildirim, 2014), India (Mushtaq & Baig, 2016), and Francophone Africa (Frère, 2015), among others.

A second group of studies review Comparing Media Systems’ categories. Mancini (2012) presented a revised version of political parallelism by distinguishing it from media instrumentalization. According to him, political parallelism requires “more or less rooted articulations structured along the lines of general interpretations of society and its problems,” but media instrumentalization, which occurs when parties are weak and volatile, prevents this from happening. Brüggemann, Engesser, Büchel, Humprecht, and Castro (2014) submitted the categories proposed by Hallin and Mancini to standardized measurement analysis in 17 countries (all the original ones but Canada) and proposed to rearrange the countries investigated in four empirical groups: Northern, Central, Southern, and Western. Other authors discuss the reconfiguration of the political parallelism logic in Western European countries, focusing on the relation between public service broadcasting and politics (Ciaglia, 2013) and the building of media coalitions around mainstream political parties (Artero, 2015).

A third group includes studies that take political parallelism as a relevant variable for discussing other political phenomena. Van Kempen (2007) and Baek (2009) argued that political parallelism has a positive impact on electoral participation, especially among people who are not interested in politics. Horwitz and Nir (2015) associate political parallelism and party attachment, and they sustain it contributes in narrowing the gaps between people with low education to those with higher education. Lelkes (2016) argues that political parallelism contributes to exacerbate the legitimacy gapbetween winners and losers of elections. Kaiser and Kleinen-von Königslöw (2017) take political parallelism as a key dimension for understanding the differences existing between Germany and Spain in the coverage of the Euro Crisis. Taking as subject the relationship between media and politics in The Netherlands, Van der Pas, Van der Brug, and Vliegenthart (2017) argue that political parallelism impacts on media organizations’ agenda setting. Having in mind two cases in Italy, Vaccari (2011) investigates how personalities and news organizations used digital media for mobilizing supportive audiences, similarly to what traditional political actors have done in the past, and describes this as a contemporary form of political parallelism.

General Requirements for Political Parallelism

The basic idea beneath the concept of political parallelism is symmetry. Roughly speaking, symmetry is a pattern of ordered complexity, in such a manner that the distribution and characteristics of the elements integrating system A find some equivalence with those from system B. It follows that two variables are crucial here: (1) the degree of competitivity of both political and media systems and (2) the degree of stability in media/politics relations. It is only when there are competing alternatives both in the political and the media sides of the equation that talking about symmetry, and therefore parallelism, makes sense. In its more basic form, political parallelism refers to a dichotomy of opposing forces pro and against a given policy—for instance, “pro-life” versus “pro-choice” positions with respect to abortion rights, although more complex forms may also exist, as in multiparty systems (Allern & Blach-Ørsten, 2011; Hallin & Mancini, 2004). Added to this, the correspondence between political forces and media outlets must be stable enough to allow observers to anticipate, with a considerable degree of success, the political alignment of distinct media outlets (Albuquerque, 2013; Mancini, 2012). It is worth noting that in political parallelism, correspondence occurs always in a unidirectional manner: Media outlets echo and make visible agendas and viewpoints raised by the political forces, but the opposite never happens.

Two additional requirements result from the demand for symmetry associated with political parallelism. The first one refers to a certain level of balance, which means that competing political groups or causes must be at least comparable in their strength and influence, although not necessarily equivalent—a problem that has been largely discussed in political science such as the number of effective parties (Laakso & Taagepera, 1979)—and, arguably, something similar goes for media outlets. The idea of political parallelism only makes sense when, both in the political and the media spheres, there are adversaries who can be adequately described as opponents competing for power. Accordingly, the number of relevant forces—both in the political and the media arenas—must be limited to a certain extent; otherwise the system risks losing coherence. Anxieties about the risks that excessive fractionalization presents for democracy has been raised both by political scientists (Duverger, 1954; Mainwaring, 1993; Sartori, 1976), referring to party systems; and media scholars, which recently have explored the political consequences associated to the evolution of a low-choice to a high-choice media environment (Van Aelst et al., 2017; Bimber, 1998; Prior, 2007; Stroud, 2011).

All in all, political parallelism is not the regular condition in media/politics relations, but, on the contrary, it is the product of a very particular type of arrangement, which only might occur when a series of requirements are satisfied: It is a product of history. For this motive, it is senseless to consider it as a general parameter for examining societies on a worldwide scale. Rather, a more productive manner to proceed is investigating the circumstances allowing political parallelism to exist, how historical changes affect political parallelism, and alternative patterns of media/politics connections existing in other circumstances.

Political Parallelism in Western Europe

The prototypical model of political parallelism originated in Western European countries in the late 19th century, but it was only in the second half of the 20th century that it became a widespread phenomenon and reached its mature form. Several aspects combined allowed this to occur. Political factors include (1) the birth of competitive representative democracies; (2) the rise of mass political parties, which became the pivotal referential of collective political identities; (3) the parliamentary system of government, which attributes to the political parties a leading role as organizers of the representative government; and (4) a period characterized by an exceptional political stability in most Western European countries, which began in the 1950s and lasted for decades. Media factors include (5) a high literacy rate among the population of these countries; (6) the rise of a mass print media; (7) the organizational and ideological ties uniting some of these media and political parties; and (8) the relative underdevelopment of the broadcasting media (especially television) in these countries with reference to the print media, particularly in comparison to what happened in the United States, but also in Latin America. However, despite being characteristic of a very particular sociohistorical context, assumptions emanating from the Western European sociohistorical context were often considered as endowed with a universal value and therefore used as the natural point of departure for worldwide political analysis.

Mass Democracies, Party Politics, and Political Parallelism

Compared to the United States, representative government and mass democracy experienced a long and rugged pathway in Western Europe, beginning in the 19th century and ending only in the mid-1970s, when Greece, Portugal, and Spain experienced a democratic turn, giving birth to the so-called Third Wave of Democratization (Huntington, 1991; Mainwaring & Torcal, 2006). As mass democracies consolidated, the political parties assumed a crucial importance regarding the organization of political life (Duverger, 1954; Manin, 1997). Indeed, Western European parties assumed a much more prominent political role than in the United States, which can be explained at least in function of the differences existing between Western European parliamentary regimes and the United States’ presidentialism: Whereas in the parliamentary system, political parties have a direct responsibility in the constitution of government, in the presidential system the separate election of the executive and legislative branches reduces the parties’ influence on the government (Samuels, 2002; Samuels & Shugart, 2010). In the presidential system, the attention given to the president overshadows the political parties as political agents (Hallin & Mancini, 1984). In the absence of these constrains, Western European parties assumed a much more prominent role than in the United States.

Since the 1950s—with the partial exception of Greece, Portugal, and Spain—Western European countries experienced a remarkable period of political stability, not only with reference to the continuity of the democratic order in general, but also in terms of the institutionalization of patterns of behavior and expectation (Mainwaring & Torcal, 2006; Przeworski, 1975). The political parties performed a core role in this regard, as they provided the basis for stable cleavages in the electorate, usually based on a class-division logic (Duverger, 1954; Manin, 1997), or religious, ethnic, and linguistic cleavages. In some countries, political parties became reference guides for building collective identities and the everyday social life, often in association with other key social institutions, as for instance labor unions, churches, and business associations. As Lijphart observes, in some of these countries, “religious and ideological groups have organized themselves in more or less separate subsocieties, with their own political, socioeconomic, cultural, educational, and recreational associations” (199, p. 36). By doing this, political parties accomplish the function of creating linkages, which aggregate individual citizens and, ultimately, connect them to the state (Dalton, Farrell, & McAllister, 2011; Lawson, 1988).

Mass Circulation Press, Public Broadcasting, and Political Parallelism

The other group of factors is related to the specificities of media development in Western Europe. A first factor refers to the historically high rates of literacy existing in the region in the Modern Era. Widespread literacy developed early in Northern Europe, in connection to the Protestant Reform. At the end of the 19th century, the literacy rate in most Western European countries was about 90%, although not in its southern region, which remained associated to the Roman Catholic culture (Eisenstein, 1979; Hallin & Mancini, 2004).

Literacy rose hand in hand with print capitalism, which, by stimulating the development of vernacular literature (instead of Latin), provided the basis for the growth of linguistic diversity and, later, distinct stable national identities (Anderson, 1991). Freedom of the press developed early in countries like Sweden (1766), Norway (1814), and The Netherlands (1815), but even in countries where the aristocratic and absolutist order remained strong, as Germany and the Austro-Hungarian empire, the development of a solid commercial and industrial middle class provided a fertile ground for the development of a strong, mass-circulation press (Hallin & Mancini, 2004; Hardy, 2008; Humphreys, 1996). Taken together, the close relationship existing between capitalism, Protestant ethos, and the reinforcing of national identities contributed to the development of a market-based partisan press in Western Europe (Eisenstein, 1979; Hallin & Mancini, 2004; Seymour-Ure, 1974).

A last aspect to consider refers to the manner in which broadcast media developed in the region. Although different from each other, Western European countries adopted a public service model of broadcasting, which put a considerable emphasis on regulation to the detriment of competitiveness (Curran, 2011; Hardy, 2008). With the exception of the United Kingdom, Western European countries have experienced a far less impressive development of broadcasting media than other parts of the world, especially in comparison with the print media. This situation only began to change in the 1980s–1990s, in face of the challenges posed by the advent of new communication technologies (e.g., cable, satellite) and the process of media globalization and commercialization of national broadcasting systems (Dyson & Humphreys, 1988; Humphreys, 1996). This prevented for decades the development of a television-centered media culture in most Western European countries, which, in turn, contributed to preserve the relevance of the print media as the most important political communication vehicle in these countries (Hallin & Mancini, 2004).

Normalizing Western European Specificities

Given that political parallelism is the product of very specific historical circumstances, the centrality that this concept enjoys in international political communication research needs further explanation. Arguably, it results from the disproportional attention that literature pays to the Western European countries in comparison with the rest of the world—with the exception of the United States (So, 2017). This has happened for different reasons. To begin with, there is the quantitative factor: The number of countries existing in Western Europe is significant enough to allow researchers to generalize based solely on them. In other words, there is sufficient diversity in the region to justify comparative research in the region.

At the same time, the diversity existing in the region is not so extreme to the point to make the comparative research excessively complex. Western European countries are similar in many aspects: They share a common legacy associated to Christian culture (Negrine & Papathanassopoulos, 2011), comparable levels of economic development, and analogous political institutions (Hallin & Mancini, 2004)—they not only have had democratic regimes for decades, but also, with the partial exception of France, a parliamentary type of government (Samuels, 2002)—and a strong tradition in public service broadcasting. These similarities provide the adequate conditions to build solid and consistent theoretical models. Besides, the foundation of the European Union, in 1992, including almost all Western European countries provided a political impulse for comparative research within the region (Örnebring, 2012; Semetko, de Vreese, & Peter, 2000).

Furthermore, the influence exerted by Western European countries around the world is also a factor to be considered. Since the 1600s, largely as a consequence of the global scale colonization process, many institutions—social, political, economic, and cultural—have been exported to the rest of the world. As the colonization presented itself as a civilizing project, there were not many incentives to perceive institutions existing in other parts of the world as relevant, except in the manner in which they provided obstacles for the civilizing process (Chakrabarty, 2000; Ekeh, 1990). In the long term, this stimulated researchers to think about European institutions as having potentially a universal character, and it allowed them to speak in terms of the presence or absence of those institutions.

Finally, the long-standing political stability experienced by Western European countries since the 1950s helps to explain why theoretical models developed by political science and communication scholars of these countries have privileged permanence and structure over contingence and history. This is an important reason why concepts as “models” or “systems” became so influent in Western political and communication research (Hardy, 2008; Roudakova, 2011).

“American Exceptionalism” and Political Parallelism

As influent as the concept of political parallelism may be, it is not supposed to correspond to a phenomenon existing everywhere. Rather, political parallelism can be located in a continuum between two ideal situations: 0 corresponds to the situation in which there is no political parallelism, and 1 corresponds to a perfect correlation between the political and the media sides of the education (Brüggemann et al., 2014). The situation of Scandinavian countries in the 1960s and 1970s provides a solid example of political parallelism, as the share of party dailies corresponded to 92% of the total press in Denmark in 1968 and 87% in Norway in 1973 (Allern & Blach-Ørsten, 2011; Mancini, 2015). The United States’ independent journalism model is regarded as the most important counterexample, in which political parallelism is closer to 0 (Hallin & Mancini, 2004; Van Kempen, 2007).

The United States shares important characteristics with Western European countries. A former British colony, the United States shared much of its colonizer’s culture and political institutions, which was easier due to the settler characteristics of its colonization, which provided the basis for the development of a very Europeanized society outside Europe. Different from what happened to most other colonies, the United States evolved to become a superpower and the de facto leader of the Western world—or, according to Curran (2011), an “imperial state.” The United States has been even more stable in its political and media institutions than Western Europe. The United States’ political regime remained unchanged at its core since it became an independent nation, in 1776, and the same can be said about its commitment with the principle of the freedom of the press.

At the same time, the United States developed several political and media institutions entirely different from those prevailing in Western Europe, which allowed many authors to use the term “American Exceptionalism” to describe the peculiar status of the country in the universe of Western democracies (Hadenius, 2015; Lipset, 1988; Rae, 2006). Here, a key factor refers to the manner in which the United States’ presidential system of government affects political parties. As the president occupies the center of the political stage (Albuquerque, 2011; Hallin & Mancini, 1984), political parties face challenges with respect to their proficiency in carrying out “the tasks that political theorists assign to them as vehicles of democratic representation, such as aggregating and articulating interests and transforming those interests into policy proposals and output” (Samuels, 2002, p. 480).

The United States’ presidential system is also considered exceptional in reference to others existing elsewhere, as a considerable number of authors have contended that the presidential system establishes a complicated, even hostile, relationship with democracy (Linz & Valenzuela, 1994; Mainwaring, 1993; O’Donnell, 1994), although other authors suggest that presidential institutions are not to be blamed for instability in presidential democracies, because they occur mostly “in countries where democracy of any type would be unstable” (Cheibub, 2007, p. 7). Anyway, given that democracies have received the bulk of the attention of comparative political and media research, the United States presidential system tends to be presented as an exception to a rule, rather than an analytical variable in its own right, despite the fact that, according to Samuels and Shugart (2010), pure presidential and semi-presidential systems corresponded to almost two-thirds of the existing democracies in 2005.

A second trait peculiar to the United States refers to the impact of the reforms carried out by the Progressive movement in the 1890s–1920s, intending to promote the “good government” ideal, by curbing the power of party bosses, promoting direct participation of the electorate in the political processes—as for instance in the institution of the primaries as a means for choosing party candidates—and, no less important, an administrative view of politics (Gans, 1979; Schudson, 1978). This hampered the development of the political parallelism logic in the country for two motives. On the one hand, it provided a further obstacle for the development of mass political parties as it happened in Western Europe; on the other hand, it fostered the development of a distinctive independent journalism model, structured upon the objectivity norm (Kaplan, 2002; Schudson, 2001); a shared sense of professional identity (Soloski, 1989); and the commitment with enduring values (Gans, 1979), allowing journalism to build itself not only as an institution but, still more importantly, as a political institution, whose political influence “may emerge not in spite of, but because of their principled adherence to norms of objectivity, deference to factuality and authority” (Cook, 1998, p. 85).

Beyond Political Parallelism

As natural as it may appear from a Western advantage point, political, social and technological stability should not be taken for granted. This means that these circumstances do not apply everywhere, and where they do, they are not supposed to last forever. Indeed, it is possible to hypothesize that political parallelism is unlikely to exist if the peculiar circumstances that allowed it to occur in Western Europe are absent. It follows that political parallelism should be discussed in reference to a broader analytical framework considering other patterns of media/politics relations, already existing in other societies, and a constellation of factors that can potentially undermine it where it exists as a significant phenomenon.

Media/Politics Relations Beyond Western World

As many scholars (Curran & Park, 2000; Nordenstreng & Thussu, 2015; Wang, 2011) have noted, much of the research in journalism, and media in general, is consistently based on Western-centered premises and focuses preferentially on Western societies or takes them as privileged terms of comparison when studying other societies. Not rarely do these authors emphasize the problems resulting from this approach. As Esser and Pfetsch observe, “the categories developed for Western European contexts capture only one segment out of a much larger picture that remains in the dark” (2016, p. 14). Blumler and Gurevitch have gone further, and they have contended that the development of theories with wider global usage supposes not only applying Western-based theories to discuss non-Western societies but also “the formulation of theories based on experiences and issues in non-Western societies, which in turn could be tested for their applicability to Western societies” (1995, p. 80).

In practical terms, the presence of non-Western theories in international journalism studies has been limited at best, and the use of these theories to shed light on Western societies is almost nonexistent. Recently, an argument has been raised about the convenience of exploring a “provincializing” (Chakrabarty, 2000; Zhao, 2011) approach on the analysis of political parallelism (Albuquerque, 2013), which takes it as being exceptional in comparison to the rest of the world (McCargo, 2011). Given that political parallelism is the product of a specific combination between a certain degree of competitivity both in media and politics, and stable patterns of relationship between media and political institutions, an adequate manner to proceed would be considering other possible combinations between competitivity and stability, existing in other societies. Three possible ideal-typic patterns emerge here: (1) Stable/Noncompetitive media/politics environments; (2) Unstable/Competitive environments; (3) Unstable/Noncompetitive environments (Albuquerque, 2013).

Stable/Noncompetitive environments lack the basic prerequisites for allowing political parallelism to exist, given the patterns of relationship existing on them result from the scarcity of options either on the political or media sides of the equation, rather than from strategy or choice. Noncompetitiveness has been often associated to authoritarian regimes and sometimes depicted as a product of an “authoritarian model of the press” (Siebert, Peterson, & Schramm, 1963), but this is not necessarily the case. Japan provides a particularly example of a Stable/Noncompetitive democratic country, as, excepting for a few years, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has been the ruling party in the country since 1955, which led some scholars to describe it as a part of the “Ruling Triumvirate,” together with state bureaucracy and big business (Ikuo & Broadbent, 1986). In these circumstances, strong patterns of institutionalization of the relations between media and politics emerged around reporters’ clubs (Kisha Kura-bu). This system provides reporters with access to a large amount of information and regular contact with their sources, at the price of standardizing their views, and it therefore works as an efficient means of political control, even in the absence of formal mechanisms of censorship (Krauss, 2000; Taketoshi, 1989). Otherwise, researchers have offered evidence that, in countries usually classified as authoritarian as Poland (Curry, 1990) and China (Zhao, 2011) journalists have been able to develop a certain degree of autonomy and self-control regarding the ruling party.

Unstable/Noncompetitive environments also occur both in authoritarian and democratic regimes. In the classic authoritarian situation, journalists are expected to act as mouthpieces for the regime, which frequently recur to fear as a means for keeping journalists in line (Whitten-Woodring & James, 2012; VonDoepp & Young, 2013).

A softer approach includes coopting media owners and journalists and rewarding their loyalty through bribery, albeit recurring to occasional harassment (Lawson, 2002; Lodamo & Skjerdal, 2009). However, anti-press violence does not emanate necessarily from the government officials, but it may be perpetrated by other agents as, for instance, criminal organizations (Hughes & Márquez-Ramírez, 2017). South Africa offers an entirely different example of an Unstable/Noncompetitive environment: After decades of apartheid rule, the mostly Black African National Congress (ANC) became the dominant force in 1994, and it has remained until the present. Since then, relations between the government and the mainstream media have been tense, as the press has often accused the government of attempting to curb press freedom at the same time ANC officials accused the press of racism (Wasserman & de Beer, 2006).

As noncompetitiveness does not automatically result from authoritarianism, and competitiveness is not necessarily associated to democracy. Competitive political environments imply the existence of political groups effectively disputing power, but disputes are not necessarily fought by electoral means. In Unstable/Competitive environments the solidity of the democratic order shall not be taken for granted. Thailand provides a remarkable example on this respect, as it has experienced successive political changes in the last decades, either as a result of general elections or military coups (McCargo, 2011; Thompson, 2015). In such conditions, newspapers are stimulated to adopt a “chameleon-like identity” (McCargo, 2003, p. 9) in order to preserve their political influence, independent from who is ahead of the government. Latin America provides an entirely distinct example of the same rule. In a region where mainstream media is in hands of a few powerful families (Guerrero & Márquez-Ramírez, 2014; Sinclair, 2002), they often claimed the right to intervene in politics in the name of public opinion (Albuquerque, 2011, 2016). Since the 2000s, as many Latin American countries turned to the left, and the mainstream media has asserted their duty to work as a leading opposition force to leftist governments, in face of the incapacity of formal political opposition in accomplishing this task (Albuquerque, 2016; Kitzberger, 2012).

Political parallelism is not the only possible outcome in Stable/Competitive environments. To begin with, not all political dynamics are organized around political parties: Ethnic, linguistic, and religious cleavages have a role to play here. In many African countries, tribalism—a complex phenomenon resulting from the overlapping of European colonial administrations and native collective identities—is a core element behind social and political cleavages (Ekeh, 1990). Yusha’u (2010) presents the concept of regional parallelism for describing how historical, economical, and cultural differences between its Northern and Southern regions shape the relations between media and politics. In Lebanon, a small country with an extraordinarily diverse religious landscape, a very institutionalized confessional system became the basis of political and media systems (Dabbous, 2010; Kraidy, 1999). Additionally, political disputes in these societies have not necessarily a democratic character, but they sometimes involve the resource to violence in deeply divided societies, as for instance North Ireland (Rice & Sommerville, 2017) and Lebanon (Kraidy, 1999, 2011).

Finally, while some complexity is required for allowing political parallelism to exist, too much complexity may be detrimental to it because it makes it difficult for an ordered structure to exist. The case of India provides an interesting illustration of this principle. Since the privatization of Indian television, a patchwork-like media system emerged as a consequence of the country’s regional and language diversity and, no less important, a dramatic process of privatization starting from the 1990s. Taken together with the extraordinary complex feature of Indian politics, built upon a combination of political dualism—in which formal political institutions overlap with non-formal networks—and political regionalism renders it impossible to recognize patterns of political parallelism on a national level, and combine, in different degrees, networked and partisan media systems on a regional level (Chakravartty & Roy, 2013).

Current Challenges to Political Parallelism

The persistence of political parallelism as a relevant feature of media/politics relations faces some challenges at the present, as the conditions allowing this to happen may be experiencing significant changes. A first element refers to the decline of party-system institutionalization in Western Europe, which, for a long time has been taken for granted, in contrast to what is happening in other regions such as Latin America, Central/Eastern Europe, or Third Wave democracies in general (Casal Bertoa, 2014; Chiaramonte & Emanuele, 2017; Mainwaring & Torcal, 2006). However, evidence of a growing instability suggests a general trend of de-institutionalization of their party systems in many Western European countries (Chiaramonte & Emanuele, 2017). As this happens, the ideal conditions for political parallelism to exist tend to fade out.

Changes in the media landscape are a complementary feature of the problem. Several authors have observed that the rise of the post-broadcast media (and Internet, in particular) had an impact on democracy, as it provides a high-choice media environment (Van Aelst et al., 2017; Prior, 2007). Such conditions led to an “acceleration of pluralism” (Bimber, 1998) and as a result, fragmentation of audiences in niches (Prior, 2007; Stroud, 2011). Although political polarization is positively associated with political parallelism, an increasingly complex media environment makes it difficult for them to establish regular patterns of relations with political forces.

Transnational and global structures and dynamics also undermine political parallelism because a basic (but often unspoken) requisite allowing it to exist is the spatial correspondence between the political and media institutions under analysis, and transnationalization of both media and political institutions challenge this. The rise of a transnational Arab media system from the Qatari channel Al Jazeera provides the most known example on this respect (Kraidy, 2011; El Oifi, 2005). Other cases include the control of a substantial part of the Central and Eastern European countries’ media by transnational media groups, mainly from Western and Northern Europe (Dobek-Ostrowska, 2011; Štětka, 2012) and the massive entrance of Angolan capital in the Portuguese media after the 2008 financial crisis, which has been presented as an example of reverse colonization (Figueira & Ribeiro, 2013). Otherwise the European Union provides the example of a transnational political entity whose existence presents new challenges for journalists, as they must conciliate Europeanized practices with routines associated to their national traditions (Cornia, 2010; Statham, 2008).

In synthesis, the concept of political parallelism derivates its importance from the fact it raised, for the first time, the question of the existence of identifiable patterns of relationships between media and political institutions. Originally, political parallelism had been conceived as corresponding to a universally applicable variable, allowing it to classify different countries to function to the relative degree in which it is present on each one of them. This concept has been coined in reference to circumstances existing in a particularly intense manner in Western Europe—for instance, the central role performed by the political parties in the organization of the political arena and the early and widespread development of the print press—but not necessarily elsewhere. Therefore, political parallelism describes a peculiar pattern of relationships between media and political institutions instead of an almost universally applicable analytical variable. For this motive, it is suitable to explore political parallelism from a broader angle, taking into account its particular characteristics in comparison with other, different models of media/politics relations.

Further Reading

de Albuquerque, A. (2013). Media/politics connections: Beyond political parallelism. Media, Culture & Society, 35(6), 742–758.Find this resource:

    de Albuquerque, A. (2016). Voters against public opinion: The press and democracy in Brazil and South Africa. International Journal of Democracy, 10, 3042–3061.Find this resource:

      Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1995). The crisis of public communication. London, UK: Routledge.Find this resource:

        Brüggemann, M., Engesser, S., Büchel, F., Humprecht, E., & Castro, L. (2014). Hallin and Mancini revisited: Four empirical types of Western media systems. Journal of Communication, 6(6), 1037–1065.Find this resource:

          Chakravartty, P., & Roy, S. (2013). Media pluralism redux: Towards new frameworks of comparative media studies “Beyond the West.” Political Communication, 30(3), 349–370.Find this resource:

            Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004) Comparing media systems. Three models of media and politics. Cambridge, NY: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

              Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (Eds.). (2011). Comparing media systems beyond the Western world. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

                Van Kempen, H. (2007). Media-party parallelism and its effects: A cross-national comparative study. Political Communication, 24(3), 303–320.Find this resource:

                  Mancini, P. (2012). Instrumentalization of the media vs political parallelism. Chinese Journal of Communication, 5(3), 262–280.Find this resource:

                    McCargo, D. (2011) Partisan polyvalence: Characterizing the political role of Asian media. In D. C. Hallin & P. Mancini (Eds.), Comparing media systems beyond the Western world (pp. 201–223). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University.Find this resource:

                      Samuels, D. J., & Shugart, M. S. (2010). Presidents, parties, and prime ministers. How the separation of powers affects party organization and behavior. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.Find this resource:

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                          Yusha’u, M. J. (2010) Regional parallelism and the reporting of corruption in the Nigerian press. Journal of African Media Studies, 2(3), 353–369.Find this resource:

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