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Typology of Media Systemsfree

Typology of Media Systemsfree

  • Daniel C. HallinDaniel C. HallinDepartment of Communication, University of California, San Diego


Typologies are a central tool of comparative analysis in the social sciences. Typologies function to identify common patterns in the relationships among elements of a media system and wider social system, and to generate research questions about why particular patterns occur in particular systems, why particular cases may deviate from common patterns, and what the consequences of these patterns may be. They are important for specifying the context within which particular processes operate, and therefore for identifying possible system-level causes, for specifying the scope of applicability of particular theories and for assessing the validity of measurements across systems. Typologies of media systems date to the publication of Four Theories of the Press, which proposed a typology of authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility, and Soviet Communist media systems. Hallin and Mancini’s typology of media systems in Western Europe and North America has influenced recent work in comparative analysis of media systems. Hallin and Mancini proposed three models differentiated on the basis of four clusters of variables: the development of media markets; the degree and forms of political parallelism; journalistic professionalism; and the role of the state. Much recent research has been devoted to operationalizing these dimensions of comparison, and a number of revisions of Hallin and Mancini’s model and proposals for alternative approaches have been proposed. Researchers have also begun efforts to develop typologies including media systems outside of Western Europe and North America.


  • Political Communication
  • Political Institutions

Updated in this version

Added new section, “New Media and Media System Typologies.” Added new material to section “Revisiting Hallin and Mancini's Analysis of Western Media Systems” and more extensive new material to “Typologies of Media Systems Beyond the Western World.”

Introduction: The Function of Media System Typologies

Typologies of media systems have been fundamental to comparative analysis in media studies since the publication of Four Theories of the Press (Siebert et al., 1984 [originally published 1956]). Systematic research developing and employing such typologies has expanded greatly since the late 1990s.

Typologies, in general, have been a central tool of comparative social analysis since Aristotle distinguished between democratic and oligarchic constitutions as well as five varieties of kingship. A type concept, in general, involves a cluster of characteristics—or as Stinchcombe (1968, pp. 43–47) puts it, a combination of values on different variables—that we conceive of as of co-occurring in a regular and patterned way. Type concepts and typologies are used widely in the sciences; for example, elements in chemistry and diseases in medicine. Type concepts and typologies in social theory identify patterns in social interaction and facilitate theorizing about why particular patterns occur and what their consequences are.

A system, in the most basic definition, is a set of interrelated elements. There are various forms of systems theory, but a basic element of the “systems perspective” is the idea that the elements of a system are defined by their relationships with one another and therefore cannot be understood without reference to the whole pattern of relationships. A media system is thus a set of media institutions and practices understood as interacting with and shaping one another (see Hallin, 2015; Hardy, 2008, pp. 5–8). Media systems are embedded within wider social, political, economic, and cultural systems. Indeed in many systems they may not be clearly differentiated: Media may be a part of the state, for example, or of the internal structure of an ethnic group. Analysis of types of media systems is therefore often centrally focused on understanding their relationships with other social subsystems. In practice, most comparative analysis of media systems has focused not on media systems in their totality but on sets of elements related to news media, political communication, and media policy and governance, which are seen as particularly closely interrelated, and has excluded less closely-related elements such as cultural industries like the film, music, and video game industries, for which other sets of concepts might be relevant. This focus on the media–politics nexus is related to a tendency to assume that the correct unit of analysis for developing typologies of media systems is the nation-state, though other units of analysis are sometimes employed.

History of Research on Media Systems

The first typology of media systems was proposed by Fred S. Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm in Four Theories of the Press. The authors argued that a communication system reflects the structure of the society in which it operates, and that this relationship is determined by philosophical assumptions about human nature, state and society, knowledge, and truth. They elaborated four “concepts of what the press should be and do”: the authoritarian, libertarian, social responsibility and Soviet Communist theories.

The authoritarian theory, they argued, grew out of the absolutist states that prevailed in most of Europe when the printing press was introduced. It was based on the premise that the maintenance of social order depended on centralized state authority and required state control or guidance of communications media. Historically, they argued, this has been the most common model of communication system. The libertarian theory developed in the United States and Britain was based on the liberal philosophy expressed by writers such as John Milton and J. S. Mill. It was based on the premise that truth should be determined in the “marketplace of ideas,” and that the state should stand aside to allow individuals to freely exchange ideas. The social responsibility theory was a modification of the libertarian theory, articulated in the United States and Britain in the years just before the publication of Four Theories. It was based on critiques of the libertarian theory that stressed inequality of access to media in the age of large-scale media industries and the possibility that propaganda could overwhelm the rationality on which enlightenment philosophy was based. The social responsibility theory advocated correcting the deficiencies of libertarianism through professionalism, self-regulation, and limited state intervention. The Soviet Communist theory was understood as a variation of the authoritarian theory, in which the state—which incorporated media directly rather than leaving them in private hands—used the media as a tool of social transformation, rather than merely restricting it to prevent disruption of social order. Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm considered the Nazi media system to be similar to the Soviet system in many ways.

Four Theories of the Press has justifiably been subject to intense criticism over the years. It was based on limited empirical analysis and a small range of cases, and its applicability to systems other than the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union was very limited. It was heavily influenced by the dichotomous thinking of the Cold War, and its focus on the contrast between the Soviet system and “our own” (Siebert et al., 1984, p. 144) liberal system left little room for the actual variation of media systems across the world. It also left considerable ambiguity about whether the typology was really a typology of theories of the press—that is, of philosophical or ideological systems—or of actual media systems as institutional structures and patterns of interaction. While it announced that “to see the differences between press systems in full perspective . . . one must look at the social systems within which the press functions,” it quickly narrowed that question, proclaiming that “in the last analysis the difference between press systems is one of philosophy” (p. 2). The latter perspective resulted in the Four Theories of the Press presenting media systems as homogeneous and static, since a single philosophic orientation was assumed to guide every element of the system at all times.

For a long time Four Theories of the Press dominated the limited body of comparative research on media systems, though efforts were made from time to time to revise its typology or propose alternatives, as for example by Altschull (1984) and Picard (1985). Curran (1999) proposed a typology of European media systems based on the way they combined collectivist and market-based approaches, distinguishing among centrally regulated media markets (Britain), mandated markets (Netherlands), regulated markets (Sweden) and mixed systems that would combine public, civic, and market sectors, which were being discussed in Eastern Europe early in the transition from Communism. Sustained research on types of media systems began to take off in the 2000s. Curran and Park’s (2000) anthology, for example, brought together empirically based studies of a wide range of media systems and used a common technique to produce a rudimentary typology, distinguishing between democratic and nondemocratic and neoliberal and regulated systems to produce a fourfold classification.

Hallin and Mancini’s (2004) Comparing Media Systems set the tone for most post-Four Theories research on types of media systems. Hallin and Mancini (2004) analyzed 18 liberal democracies in Western Europe and North America and argued that three distinct patterns could be identified in the development of Western media systems. The differentiation of these models was organized around four main dimensions or domains of comparison:


The development of media markets;


The degree and forms of political parallelism, that is, the extent to which the structure of the media system parallels the divisions of the political party and interest group system;


Journalistic professionalism; and


The role of the state.

Using these dimensions, Hallin and Mancini identified three patterns in the development of Western media systems, which they referred to as the North Atlantic or Liberal model, the North-Central European or Democratic Corporatist model, and the Mediterranean or Polarized Pluralist model. The Liberal model is characterized by a dominant role of commercial media; limited state involvement, consistent with the general liberal tendency in political economy; lower (but varying) levels of political parallelism; and a relatively high level of journalistic professionalism. The Democratic Corporatist model is characterized by strong development of mass circulation newspapers, rooted in both commercial and party newspapers; a history of high political parallelism associated with the role of media connected to parties and organized social groups; a positive role of the state in promoting a pluralistic media system, parallel to the strong welfare states in these systems; and a strong development of journalistic professionalism. The Polarized Pluralist model is characterized by a media system that is more closely tied to the political world than to the market, with high political parallelism; a press that addresses politically active elites more than the mass public; a relatively interventionist role of the state; and a lower level of journalistic professionalism.

Hallin and Mancini’s models are similar to what Max Weber (1904/1949) called “ideal types,” in the sense that individual cases—particular national media systems—are seen as corresponding with them only imperfectly. Weber described an ideal type as a concept formed by “the one-sided accentuation of one or more points of view and by the synthesis of a great many diffuse, discrete, more or less present and sometimes absent concrete individual phenomena” (p. 90). He went on to add that “it has the significance of a purely ideal limiting concept with which the real situation or action is compared and surveyed for the explication of certain of its significant components” (p. 93). Models of this type, then, are conceptual tools for comparative analysis of concrete media systems. They are not conceived as the actual phenomena under study nor as the final product of comparative analysis. They serve to highlight both common and divergent patterns between media systems and to raise questions about why particular groups of systems may be similar in certain ways or why a particular case may resemble others in many ways but deviate from a common pattern in one respect or another. Hallin and Mancini thus conceived of some systems as mixed with respect to their models. They see the United Kingdom, most notably, as a mixed case sharing important characteristics of both the Liberal and Democratic Corporatist models and France as sharing characteristics of the Polarized Pluralist and Democratic Corporatist models.

Hallin and Mancini also made the argument, in contrast to Siebert, Peterson and Schramm, that media systems are not homogeneous and that different institutions or segments of a media system may operate according to different logics, depending on factors such as their market structure or the particular history of their formation. It is common in Europe, for example, for the print press to be characterized by both commercialism and political parallelism, while television is characterized by a large public service sector and a norm of neutrality and internal pluralism.

Hallin and Mancini’s analysis built on typologies employed in earlier research on Western political and economic systems—distinctions, for example, between moderate and polarized pluralist party systems (Sartori, 1976); between consensus and majoritarian political systems (Lijphart, 1999); and between liberal and democratic corporatist patterns in policy making (Katzenstein, 1985). Much of their analysis was concerned with showing how the historical contexts and political structures analyzed in political science and sociology are related to the development of media systems.

Another approach to developing typologies was represented by Downey et al. (2012), who, rather than developing a typology out of the empirical analysis of particular cases, derived a typology from normative theories of the public sphere, distinguishing among liberal representative or liberal elite, participatory liberal or republican, and discursive or deliberative models of the public sphere. They then developed measures to operationalize the key distinguishing characteristics of these models and assessed the degree to which particular media systems reflect the ideal types. They found that systems are generally mixed and not homogeneous, with tabloid and “quality” newspapers, for example, fitting different models.

Most typologies assume that media systems can be analyzed at the national level. This level of analysis usually makes sense, particularly in the analysis of news media and media policy, which are typically closely tied to national political institutions (it would be less applicable to the analysis of cultural industries). Media systems are composed of subnational units, however, which may vary considerably, and they are also located within transnational structures that may have considerable influence. Other units of analysis are therefore possible, as in the case of Chakravartty and Roy’s (2013) comparison of media systems at the state level in India.

Revisiting Hallin and Mancini’s Analysis of Western Media Systems

As many critics have noted (e.g., Norris, 2009), Hallin and Mancini’s (2004) Comparing Media Systems did not present much in the way of empirical verification for the proposed typology, particularly quantitative verification based on standardized measures across the different cases. Since the publication of Hallin and Mancini’s work, a considerable amount of research has been devoted to operationalizing their analysis and, more generally, to developing measures that would permit the systematic analysis of patterns of difference among media systems and their consequences. Some of these analyses involve proposed revisions of their typology or proposals for alternative typologies.

Brüggemann et al. (2014), for example, developed or identified a set of empirical measures to operationalize important components of Hallin and Mancini’s four dimensions, gathered data on 17 of their original 18 cases (excluding Canada) and did a cluster analysis to identify empirical patterns of similarity and difference among the cases. On the basis of this analysis, they argued that three of Hallin and Mancini’s four dimensions—political parallelism, journalistic professionalism, and the structure of media markets, which they operationalized in terms of the inclusiveness of the press market—can be described as unidimensional but that the role of the state involves three distinct dimensions: the strength of public broadcasting, ownership regulation, and press subsidies. Their analysis produced four clusters. These include a Southern cluster, including Spain, France, Greece, and Italy, which corresponds closely to Hallin and Mancini’s Polarized Pluralist model; a Northern model, which includes the Nordic countries Hallin and Mancini identified as close to the ideal type Democratic Corporatist model. Three other cases that Hallin and Mancini discussed as examples of the Democratic Corporatist model—Germany, Austria, and Switzerland—formed part of a separate cluster Brüggemann et al. referred to as the Central cluster, and the United Kingdom was clustered with them. Finally, their analysis produced what they called a Western cluster, including the United States, Ireland, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Portugal.

Brüggemann et al. (2014) attributed the splitting of Hallin and Mancini’s Democratic Corporatist model to differences in the role of the state: The Northern systems have strong press subsidies but little ownership regulation and the Central countries have the reverse. The Western countries are characterized by a smaller role of the state across all three dimensions. The divergence from Hallin and Mancini’s original analysis may well reflect change over time and raises important questions about how to account for it (see Hallin & Mancini, 2017, for their response to the study). Portugal, for example, clearly fit the Polarized Pluralist model in the 1970s, and the Netherlands fit the Democratic Corporatist model in that period. Both have clearly moved in the direction of the Liberal model since then. One of the functions of typologies, as Sartori (1976) pointed out, is to permit the mapping of those kinds of changes, and the next task clearly is to explain them. Brüggemann et al. described their four groups of countries sometimes as “empirical types” and sometimes as “clusters,” and there is some question about how to interpret their conceptual status. They gave them only geographical names, and did not make the kind of historical analysis of the reasons for their particular pattern of development that Hallin and Mancini did. It is not entirely clear whether they should be interpreted as distinct types in the sense that Weber or Sartori, for example, used the term, or if they should be seen as clusters of what might be mixed cases. There also might be a question with this kind of methodology about whether these clusterings would prove stable over variations in methodology; that is, whether the same clusters would result with different measures of the variables or the inclusion of other variables or cases. The authors of the Brüggemann et al. study carried out a similar analysis using the technique of qualitative comparative analysis (Büchel et al., 2016), which involves set-theoretic methods and fits well with the logic of typological approaches. This method reproduced many of the findings of the original study using cluster analysis with some differences.

Esser and Umbricht (2013) looked at the content of political journalism in six of the countries analyzed by Hallin and Mancini, coding newspaper stories for measures of opinion orientation: objectivity—that is, a hard-facts style and an adherence to norms of balance—and negativity in the representation of political actors. They used correspondence analysis, a statistical technique that represents the similarity or difference of the cases in spatial terms. Their analysis produced a triangle fairly similar to the graphic representation in Hallin and Mancini’s analysis, with the U.S. press in one corner, representing what they called a “rational analysis” style of news, with critical, but fact-based reporting and opposing viewpoints; the Italian press in another corner, representing a negative, conflict-oriented and opinionated style; and Germany and Switzerland, two countries from Hallin and Mancini’s Democratic Corporatist model or the Brüggemann et al. Central cluster, with a journalistic style that includes both news and opinion but separates them and is less negativistic than the Italian. As in Hallin and Mancini’s analysis, Britain and France appear as mixed cases, but their positions shift, with France lying between Italy and the United States, and Britain between the German-speaking countries and Italy.

Considerable new research has also focused on assessing whether, as Hallin and Mancini argued, there was a tendency of convergence of media systems toward the Liberal model, with increased commercialization and the adoption of common professional norms. This research has shown a complex combination of tendencies, but in general has documented that differences among media systems remain persistent. Partisan media, for example, remain persistent in Southern Europe (Albaek et al., 2014; Van Kempen, 2007), while many Northern European countries, as Aalberg et al. (2010) put it in a study of the supply of news and current affairs programming on television, remain “strongly resistant . . . to subordinating the needs of democracy to profit-making” (p. 267).

New Media and Media System Typologies

The first generation in the recent wave of comparative research on media systems began just as the internet and interactive digital media were beginning to emerge, and for the most part did not take them into account. Recent scholarship is beginning to address new media from a comparative point of view and to think through their implications for our understanding of media system typology, though this research trend is still in a very early phase of development. One set of issues has to do with what kinds of variables we would need to incorporate in order to integrate new media into comparative analysis. Hölig et al. (2016) and Perusko et al. (2015), for example, explored cross-national differences in the way audiences access and use news in different media systems. In Hallin and Mancini’s analysis, the Structure of Media Markets domain is focused primarily on differences in newspaper markets, between systems with inclusive mass newspaper markets and those with elite-oriented newspaper markets. In the digital age, a much wider range of market and audience-related variables is likely to be relevant, even among Western media systems.

A key question about the development digital media is whether they are likely to follow existing patterns of difference among media systems or to disrupt them. As Hallin and Mancini (2017) pointed out, there are three possibilities. New media might be shaped by existing media system contexts, developing in ways that reproduce the prevailing relationships that characterize those systems. They might develop according to technological or institutional logics independent of existing media systems, and in that case would likely be a force disrupting the prevailing pattens and perhaps reducing differences among media systems. They also might develop differently in different media system contexts, but in ways discontinuous with the existing patterns, if for example new media develop to fill market niches not filled by existing media in a particular system. As research accumulates, it increasingly appears that all those patterns can be found, and that the reality is likely to be a complex combination of them. Nechushtai (2018), for example, argued that the U.S. media system has changed substantially from the pattern described by Hallin and Mancini, most importantly due to an increase in political parallelism; she coins the term “polarized liberal” to characterize the new pattern. The increase of political parallelism in the United States is likely due to multiple causes, including changes in the party system and political culture. But Nechushtai argues that the “disruptive new logic of a digital news environment” is a key factor, fragmenting audiences and undermining the local character of media markets, which was connected with lower political parallelism in the United States, and producing national markets more similar to European patterns. Christin (2020), however, found that journalists in France and the United States have very different ways of integrating technology for generating audience metrics into the news production process, and these differences reflect diverse patterns of journalistic professionalism in the two systems. Fletcher et al. (2020) measured political polarization of news audiences in online and offline media across 12 countries in Western and Eastern Europe, the United States, and Australia—a manifestation of political parallelism—and found that it varies significantly between systems. It is higher in the United States, which is consistent with Nechushtai’s argument and in the polarized pluralist countries of Hallin and Mancini’s model but lower in the democratic corporatist countries of their model where, among other factors, the role of public service broadcasting is central.

Typologies of Media Systems Beyond the Western World

Four Theories of the Press purported to offer a universal typology, but its empirical basis lay almost exclusively in three cases, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union. Hallin and Mancini’s Comparing Media Systems confines itself to Western Europe and North America. Efforts to theorize about types of media system beyond the “Western” world are still in their initial phase, but important contributions have been made in recent years.

Efforts to develop typologies of media systems have, like Hallin and Mancini’s, most typically been regional in character. This makes sense in many ways, both practical and theoretical. Geographical regions are often marked by common patterns of historical development that make the cases easier to compare, in the sense that the range of concepts required is smaller than it might be with a more diverse set of cases, and it is often easier for researchers to achieve adequate familiarity with the cases within a region. But comparisons across regions are often extremely valuable. Voltmer’s (2013) discussion of different forms of authoritarianism cuts across regions. Stockmann (2013) closed an analysis of what could be called market authoritarianism in Chinese media with comparisons with similar patterns in a number of other regions. Cross-regional comparisons often require a higher level of theoretical groundwork to make possible the identification of comparable cases—media in one-party dominant regimes (South Africa, Turkey, Mexico, under the PRI) might be an example.

Communist media systems persist as a particularly sharp contrast to “Western” models. They are characterized, above all, by the leading role of the party-state in social, economic, and political life, and, as Zhao (2012) pointed out, Western models that assume a separation between state and media and then analyze forms of state “intervention” are inadequate to conceptualize the nature of such a system. While the party-state does play a leading role in Communist systems, however, these systems are complex and do not fit the purely top-down, unidimensional model presented in Four Theories of the Press, particularly with the introduction of market mechanisms in both media and social life more generally.

Post-Communist systems in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union are also clearly distinct from Western models, though with stronger parallels than exist in most other areas of the world, particularly in the case of Eastern Europe. Many scholars of Eastern European media begin by comparing Eastern European systems to Hallin and Mancini’s Polarized Pluralist model, often observing that they combine elements of the Polarized Pluralist model with a high degree of commercialization characteristic of the Liberal model (e.g., Dobeck-Ostrowska, 2012; Perusko, 2013). This comparison has limitations, however, and there have been a number of efforts to develop typologies intended to distinguish distinct patterns of development among the former Communist states. Mungiu-Pippidi (2013), for example, distinguished East European systems on the basis of different combinations of three paths of development following the liberalization of media systems: one toward independent media and open competition, one toward media “capture” by political and economic actors who would use them as instruments in pursuit of their interests, and one involving a regression to state censorship. Herrero et al. (2017) did a cluster analysis of media systems in Eastern Europe using a methodology similar to that of Brüggemann et al. (2014), adding variables related to press freedom and foreign ownership of media. They found three distinct clusters among those countries, differing primarily in the level of political parallelism and the strength of public service broadcasting. Mihelj and Huxtable (2018) did a comparative analysis of socialist television in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, looking at many institutional variables of the sort commonly considered in comparative analysis of media systems and, more broadly, at the content of television and its role in everyday life, proposing a typology of “media cultures” within the socialist world.

Latin American media systems can also be seen as combining elements of Hallin and Mancini’s Polarized Pluralist and Liberal systems, reflecting historical influences of the Iberian colonial powers and (in the sphere of culture) of France on the one hand, and of U.S. cultural industries on the other. They are also distinct in important ways from any of the countries in Hallin and Mancini’s analysis. Albuquerque (2012) analyzed some of the limits of Hallin and Mancini’s models for conceptualizing Latin American media systems. Latin American political party systems, for example, do not for the most part fit European patterns. Europe has a particular history of “mass parties” with deep social roots, strong organizational structures, and distinct ideological identities that led to particular forms of “party-press parallelism” first identified by the British scholar Colin Seymour-Ure (1974). Latin American political parties have been, with a few exceptions, more ephemeral, with shallower roots, indistinct ideological identities, and more personalized political competition. This point no doubt applies to many other parts of the world, including Eastern Europe, and suggests the need for different conceptualizations of the relation between media and politics.

Guerrero and Márquez-Ramírez (2014) proposed a “captured liberal” model as a starting point for the analysis of Latin American media systems. Their analysis pointed to the fact that Latin American media systems are characterized by the prevalence of private ownership and commercialization but at the same time tend to be instrumentalized by political and economic actors. Rather than evolving toward autonomous, professionalized media, as many had predicted in the 1980s and 1990s when most Latin American countries shifted from autocratic to competitive democratic systems and adopted neoliberal economic policies, Guerrero and Márquez-Ramírez argue that commercial media were captured by particular actors who often fused political and economic power. Many media outlets, for example, remain heavily dependent on government advertising, which is allocated at the discretion of political authorities and used as a means of control. Broadcast licenses are often handed out as political patronage, and political actors are often involved in maneuvers to engineer takeovers of privately owned media to shift their political alignments. These mechanisms, in various forms, are employed in much of the world, and as suggested by Mungiu-Pippidi’s (2013) analysis of East European systems on the basis of variations in the degree of “capture.” The captured-liberal model may thus be relevant to the analysis of other parts of the world as well.

The idea of a “captured liberal model,” however, is probably too general to be a fully adequate framework for thinking about Latin American media systems. All Latin American media systems combine a wide range of different types of media, some more or less fully captured and others more independent or professionalized. There is also an important distinction to be made between dependent and powerful media. Media organizations that have few readers and little advertising base and survive by selling publicity to politicians or other actors are a common phenomenon in Latin America, as in much of the world, and clearly fit the concept of capture. Latin American media systems are also characterized, however, by powerful, often transnational media conglomerates centered around lucrative television markets, which often have the power to intervene in politics, influencing both elections and policy making. These media might be described as “captured” in the sense that they often serve the interests of their owners rather than of a broader public, but the concept does not apply in the same way to them as to media with weak market positions, and the distinction between media controlled by politics and politics controlled by media is obviously extremely important.

Latin America is diverse, and probably, as with Western Europe, a full analysis of its media systems would require identifying a number of distinct patterns. Chile and Uruguay, for example, have highly concentrated private media ownership, as in other Latin American countries. But clientelism is less present than in other countries, journalistic professionalization is higher, and the mechanisms of power are based less on instrumentalization by particular actors and more on the kinds of impersonal mechanisms familiar in “Western systems.” These include journalistic routines that result in “indexing” of political debate to the views of the major political parties, as well as “ideological hegemony” that privileges the points of view of wealthier social groups who are the target audiences of media and the social groups from which journalists and media mangers are recruited. A number of countries (Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia, Venezuela, and in a more subtle way Brazil after the election of the Workers Party leader “Lula”) reflect a distinctive pattern of confrontation between populist political leaders and commercial media linked to traditional elites, with state power often being mobilized by populist leaders, with varying degrees of success, to undermine the power of commercial media. This pattern involves capture or efforts at capture, but also contestation and often popular mobilization. In other Latin American countries—Mexico and Honduras, for example—violence against journalists is a central force shaping the media systems. This represents a different mechanism of control from those involved in capture: If the actors involved had captured media, they would not need to exercise violence.

Chakravartty and Roy (2013) did a comparison of media systems at the subnational level, comparing states within India’s federal system, which have both different political party systems and different patterns of media ownership. They presented a typology of three types of media system: partisan systems, with open alignments between media and political parties; indirect partisan systems, where partisan control over media is exercised behind the scenes through various forms of patronage and pressure, similar to the forms of capture analyzed in Latin America by Guerrero and Márquez-Ramírez; and “network” systems, which are marked by a pattern of opaque, shifting alliances between media and particular political and economic actors. The “network” model resembles a pattern of “partisan polyvalence” that McCargo (2012) identified in many Southeast Asian media systems.

Scholars working on African media have stressed both the central role of the state in society (Hadland, 2012) and a “journalism of association, affiliation and belonging” (Shaw, 2009, p. 498) often manifested in partisan media affiliated simultaneously with ethnic groups and political parties. Theorizing about variations among African media systems has been limited. Nisbet and Moeller proposed a typology distinguishing among open democratic, liberalized democratic, liberalized autocratic, closed autocratic, and repressive autocratic systems,1 and Frere (2015) conceptualized a type of pluralist-authoritarian media system found in Francophone countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Voltmer (2013), in a work focusing on transitional democracies, proposed distinguishing among types of authoritarianism and the nature of media–state relations within them to analyze transitional media systems. She distinguished among military dictatorship, communist one-party rule, one-party rule in the context of statism, and personalized one-party rule in the context of weak state institutions, and argued that each tends to be associated with patterns in the role of media that shape subsequent development in a transition to democracy or to some intermediate political form. Military dictatorships, for example, because ideology and political mobilization are typically not central to their rule, often encourage the development of commercialized, apolitical media; in personalized rule in the context of weak state institutions, media often have limited reach beyond urban areas and elites. Voltmer et al. (2021) discussed distinctive characteristic of media systems in what are called in comparative politics “hybrid regimes,” combining democratic and authoritarian elements, in Tunisia and Lebanon. And El-Richani (2016) conceptualized the Lebanese media system as variant of Hallin and Mancini’s Polarized Pluralist model, modified by the weakness of the Lebanese state in the face of highly organized internal political groups and intervention by external actors.


Substantial progress has been made in recent years in developing typologies of media systems, and a large body of comparative research is beginning to develop in which such typologies play a central role. However, the scope of the research is still very uneven and mainly centered on Europe.

Typologies identify common patterns in the relationships among elements of a media system and wider social system and generate research questions about why particular patterns occur in particular systems, why particular cases may deviate from common patterns, and what the consequences of these patterns may be. They often guide the construction of measures for use in comparative analysis, focusing attention on particular phenomena that might be expected to vary between systems and guiding the construction of measures of these phenomena that would be valid across contexts—that is, helping researchers to think through what might reasonably be compared with what across systems. They are also often used for case selection, either to make a particular analysis more generalizable, by including cases belonging to different media system types, or to ensure variation on key system-level variables. Sometimes types are used as an independent variable in a causal analysis; that is, it is hypothesized that some variable of interest will be affected by which type a particular media system fits (e.g., Esser et al., 2012). This makes sense in some cases, when the classification of a media system by type is used to summarize a pattern of interactions among a number of different media system variables. For the most part, however, it is preferable to specify which particular characteristics of media systems fitting a type actually account for the effect in question. Media system typologies are also used to specify the scope conditions of social theories, that is, to specify the range of systems to which a particular theory might be expected to apply or within which a particular concept might be considered relevant.

One important general function of typologies is that they provide a means of conceptualizing context. This can be important to the development of quantitative measures or other kinds of operationalizations of important variables, as the significance of indicators of some constructs may vary across systems. It can also be important to the development of hypotheses about relationships. Albaek et al. (2014), for example, in a comparative study of political journalism in Europe, observed that “structural developments taking place in different media systems, though similar in nature vary in their impact on journalists working in these systems” (p. 174). They found that while commercialization of media seemed to decrease partisanship and political pressures on journalism in some systems, it increased them in others, particularly in Polarized Pluralist systems.

Not all comparative research relies on media system typologies, and there is significant debate about the utility of typological approaches. Norris (2009) and Humphreys (2012), for example, in critical commentaries on Hallin and Mancini, have made the argument that research should focus on relationships of particular variables across systems in preference to categorical approaches “suggesting that media systems can be classified into distinct types” (Norris, 2009, p. 334). The use of typologies tends to be associated with more holistic and sometimes historical approaches to comparative analysis; if we accept the perspective of systems theory that a system is not reducible to its parts, then there are limits to what we can understand looking exclusively at relationships among particular variables. The growing body of research on media systems over the past 10 years, much of which uses quantitative methods to assess hypotheses about media system types, suggests that the two approaches to comparative analysis are by no means opposed, and that a high degree of cross-fertilization between them is possible.


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  • 1. Unpublished research cited in D’Angelo et al. (2013).