Normative Theory – Four Theories of the Press

in Mass Communication,Political Communication


Normative theories were first proposed by Fred Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm in their book called “Four Theories of the Press”. At first the word “Normative Theory” was pronounced in USA during the height of ‘cold war’ with communism and soviet. Often it called as western theories of mass media.

A Normative theory describes an ideal way for a media system to be controlled and operated by the government, authority, leader and public. These theories are basically different from other communication theories because normative theories of press are not providing any scientific explanations or prediction.  At the same these “four theories of the press” were came from many sources rather than a single source.  Sometimes media practitioners, social critics and academics also involved to develop these normative theories.

Normative theories are more focused in the relationship between Press and the Government than press and the audience. These theories are more concern about the ownership of the media and who controls the press or media in the country.

The four theories of the Press/Media

Few questions will helps to understand the needs of the normative theories

  1. Is media can published or broadcast any type’s of content will earn more profits in a shortest time? (think about Yellow journalism / Talbots )
  2. Is media can provide any public service even if no immediate profits can be earned?
  3. Is media can participate in any issues and solving the social problems?
  4. Is it essential for media to protect the consumers from the culprits, business frauds and corrupt bureaucrats by serving as a watch dog?
  5. What people expect from media during the time of crisis?
  6. Is media should broadcast the highly rated content even if it has high level of violence?
  7. Is a news paper publishing the unethical business content to encourage the company for its higher advertisements pay?

These questions are linked and concerned about the media day-to-day activities.


  • In 1996, NBC news department accused an innocent man in Atlantic Olympic bombing.
  • In 1998, ABC radio falsely announced the death of the great comedian “Bob Hope” after receiving the error message from associated press.
  • Past few years how wiki leaks releasing the classified documents in online media and its effect.

{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

frankline March 21, 2012 at 7:07 am

this is where it ends, everything about the press

farouq gilani September 19, 2012 at 1:50 pm

nice work and appreciable work but the changes of social,political, cultural ,religious, laws, rules and regulation so on. many factors are involve to implement these in different societies

samira November 9, 2012 at 1:59 pm

please i want to know the features of normative theory of the press and scholars of the 5 sub theories under it

Wanan Jeremiah November 13, 2012 at 2:01 am

The normative theory as the first theory of mass media is characterized with alot of deformities such as government influence on the massmedia.Under this theory the mass media are the children as well as tools of government,the government is still responsible in deciding what should be the actions of the media thus enhancing the service of the media to the top personalities in government rather than the whole public.

Lionel November 22, 2012 at 6:06 am

Is there a difference between the normative theory of communication and the normative theory of the press. There seems to be a confusion because the first owes its formulation to McQuail while the former to Siebert. Are they the same?

Wanan Jeremiah April 14, 2013 at 8:36 pm

It is good to note that,these theries are almost thesame but having different scholars reshaping them to meet with modern demands.

Rigo Rashilda December 2, 2013 at 12:29 am

i would like to know the differences and similarities that exist between lasswells theory and that of george garbner

Felicitas March 27, 2014 at 10:56 pm

What is the diffrence between the normative theories of the press and communication theories?

IGE STEPHEN ADEYEMI March 28, 2014 at 1:51 pm

I just want to know the feature of normative theories.

Mercy Moyinoluwa June 2, 2014 at 11:11 pm

What are the application of these theories on the Nigeria policy

stella moyinoluwa June 17, 2014 at 12:34 pm

are these theories mutually inclusive or exclusive

peleps August 16, 2014 at 10:30 pm

Hw can u explain the libertarian theory?
And is there any correlation between this theory and Nigeria?
How can it be apply to our contemporary society?
Please i need answer to all these questions, thank you.

Akwaowo Offong August 30, 2014 at 9:54 am

Thanks, for the show of your intellectual brevity. To what benefits are the Normative theory of the press to the promotion of peace and justice in the society.

rana iftikhar October 4, 2014 at 6:10 pm

very helpful for all. thanx

mujaheed musa journalist October 19, 2014 at 3:28 am

Actually the matter isn’t that contradictory. The four theories of the press were originally developed by peterson, siebert and shramm: in their book “four theories of the phrase”. Which was later renamed by MC Quail as “normative media theoris”, this due to some features,attributes and concerns of the theory.
They are also called “classical theories”

jacqueline kabaki October 21, 2014 at 12:57 am

hey thanks for the good would you describe the historical development of normative theory

Aaqib Rangraze December 10, 2014 at 11:37 am

nice piece to get……

Ikulajolu Adesola April 19, 2015 at 12:11 am

This theory has given room to know where the various press is operating and how to apply in nation building and development.

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