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.

{ 41 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.

ellie May 21, 2015 at 11:03 pm

During the cause of time that I had began to take communication theory as a course i got to know that its broad and entails a lot. Theory is defined and means different things to different people, Theory is said to be a plan formulated in the mind. it can also be system of rules, procedures and assumption used to produce a result. With theory comes hypothesis, a theory cannot be said to be a theory without been tested. Hypothesis is an assumption that hasn’t been confirmed. Hypothesis enables one to get the right and proper result, whatever it may be theory the facts remains that theories are crucial analytical tools for understanding explaining and making prediction about a giving subject or subject matter.
However, there are different types and categories that make up theory.
*Post-positivism theory
*Hermeneutic theory
*Critical theory
*Normative theory
These theories take or make communication theory as a whole. Katherine miller a communication theorist argues that the theories share a commitment and they are;
Goals and objectives,Ontology, Epistemology, Axiology. Goals and objective are the aims that the theory strive to attain. Ontology deals more with reality and how the theory perceives reality. Epistemology seeks to gain more knowledge from the theory. Axiology then lay more emphasis on value and the value the theorist places on his theorist.
Moreover it is Normative we are to dwell upon, Normative theory deals more on ideal standard of or model or being based on what is considered to be the normal or correct way of doing things. Normative perceives that things as to be normal, human being and even the things of the world should be normal. Therefore Normative theory is all about normality.

Asekere o.f July 26, 2015 at 9:23 pm

It is easy to understand

shreshtha verma September 2, 2015 at 12:02 pm

This explanation of normative theories is ot much enough.

Shehu Muhammad February 21, 2016 at 7:54 pm

How colud the Nomative theory be apply to nigeria?

Bismarck March 1, 2016 at 8:44 pm

Which of the normative theory of the press should be advocate for a country like nigeria?

samuel Johnny Moore March 9, 2016 at 2:51 pm

what are the relationships that exist among the four theories of the press

salem May 7, 2016 at 7:56 pm

what are the relationships

Praveen June 26, 2016 at 1:08 pm

Please explain the Limited effect theory

Blessing John Akawu September 5, 2016 at 11:27 am

I suggest that the social responsibility theory should be advocated for country like Nigeria because from the study of Theodore,Semmah and Wilbur Schramm in d book titled “Four Thoeries of the Press” u will understand that the theory advocated for the obligation to the society from the press and there should be a high standard of professionalism and a combination of state regulation and self regulation

SHARIF October 5, 2016 at 4:41 pm

very easy

obaidullah sahil November 3, 2016 at 9:12 pm

thanks for such godd lines, do you see the implementation of normative theories in current media? if yes. plz elaborate it.

Abubakar Usman Chinedu November 12, 2016 at 1:46 pm

Normative theories.

Benson Mabel December 3, 2016 at 3:49 pm

Communication and Society, a course I am taking this school year has exposed me to this topic. I am informed that normative theories are to explain press operations in relation to the society they are in. Normative theories are proposed based on the widely accepted fact that media does not operate in isolation or without interaction with a social world. Mass media is affected and influenced by the social and political actions of the society it operates in. A normative theory describes the ideal way for a media system to be controlled and operated (their functions) defined by the government, authority, leader and public. They focus on the relationship between the press and the government, ownership of the media and who controls press or media in the country. I have also been to understand that according to authoritarian theory, the media is controlled and censored by the elites and ruling class in the country but libertarian is fully free without any intervention of any authority or government, Social responsibility theory advocates press freedom in one hand but on other hand there is self-regulation and the public controls the press by raising questions and in Soviet media theory, the whole control of the media is under the leader of the nation.
I am very grateful for your expository take on the topic.

Benson Mabel
Caleb University, Lagos.

Niño mayono June 29, 2017 at 5:09 pm

Thank you for all information you’ve given to us as a student,thank you very much to all of you.

Emmanuel chirwa August 19, 2017 at 1:33 pm

Nice insight by you all on the normative theories of the press. But all in all, the libertarian theory is impractical because there is power and influence in the media hence politicians will never compromise to grant the media total freedom but would rather use the media to their gain. Moreover,giving the media total freedom will result in violation of other peoples rights since journalists will by pass ethical values in the name of freedom.
Emmanuel Chirwa
University of Malawi, the polytechnic, department of journalism and media studies.

Laysaaaa August 29, 2017 at 8:07 am

Now I get it

DujanahAdil August 29, 2017 at 8:09 am

A big help in my assignment 🙂 thanks

mary September 8, 2017 at 4:16 pm

very helpful thank you so much.I did not understand anything in my module but your detailed precise information has helped me so much.

Tilly October 4, 2017 at 10:57 pm

Does siebert, Peterson and schramms theories still exist??

Humaira Yousaf October 23, 2017 at 10:54 pm

Thnx alot.. it’s very helpful for media students.

Diang Tut N October 30, 2017 at 2:17 pm

Its enhance a bit of my understanding and how will these theories be applied to undeveloped states?

Alpha January 11, 2018 at 8:58 am

It’s very interest to us to know that theories

Rafiu Olalekan Hassan January 14, 2018 at 1:32 pm

Normative Theory Are To Explain Press Operation To The Society

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