Beyond both Hallin & Mancini and Freedom House

What Mapping Media Freedom is all about

Written by Michael Meyen

Following Hallin and Mancini’s seminal works on comparing mass media systems (2004, 2012), Mapping Media Freedom asks for major principles that could explain different mass media structures around the globe. To put it another way: What or who actually decides on national media structures and, therefore, on journalists’ working conditions and the quality of media content in a certain society? Why has the Turkish government, to take an obvious example, the sufficient basis for targeting opposition journalists, banning particular topics from the public agenda and repressing protests against those measures? Why would Uganda’s president, in a similar situation, have no reason to fear any public outcry, and why are journalists in Singapore not even aware that their rulers might pursue any aim other than the greater good?

Researching Media Freedom
On this website, the way to the target is twofold. On the one hand, besides a literature review summarizing the state of the art, Mapping Media Freedom delivers country reports based on expert interviews and document analysis. The list of experts includes leading local journalists, foreign correspondents, academics, NGO workers, politicians, unionists, and media entrepreneurs. Documents are, for example, constitutions, media laws, media regulations, press freedom indices, academic reports, and historical accounts. On the other hand, the tool to identify major factors of influence is a mass media system typology based on two dimensions: formal expectations and the gateways to mass media used by the state.


As already indicated in the first two paragraphs, Mapping Media Freedom argues for maintaining the nation state as the analytical unit in mass media system research even in the age of the internet and despite both technological convergence and the increasing importance of transnational TV and radio offers (Flew & Waisbord, 2015). Key argument is the natural interest of states in steering the public information and opinion-forming stage.
How people in charge can serve that interest in different world regions, however, is quite varied. Looking beyond the “tiny handful of countries” evidence in communication research is usually based on (Curran & Park, 2000: 3) and portraying mass media systems both inside and outside the prosperous Western world, Mapping Media Freedom aims, first, at sharpening the perception of how ruling powers exercise a controlling influence over the media. In doing so, second, Mapping Media Freedom calls for approaches leaving the close association with political system research behind to look at societal structures in a more general way. Media freedom, that is the website’s main message, depends not only on the particular governmental system, media laws, journalism education or the existence of commercial media but also, to a significant extent, on economic realities, press freedom tradition, and various other factors, partly historical, religious or geographic.

Predecessors and Models

Comparative research on media systems and journalism cultures is currently very much the trend. Besides the landmark book Comparing Media Systems (Hallin & Mancini, 2004), the project Worlds of Journalism initiated by Thomas Hanitzsch (2011) and focusing on journalism cultures is particularly worthy of mention in this regard. Hallin and Mancini (2004) triggered a flood of follow-up studies and publications which underpinned or differentiated the original typology (cf. Engesser & Franzetti, 2011; Brüggemann et al., 2014), transferred it to other countries (cf. Hallin & Mancini, 2012) or criticized it fundamentally (cf. Norris, 2009; Hardy, 2012). Furthermore, there are competing approaches such as the works of Kathrin Voltmer (2013) on transitional democracies and path dependencies or Roger Blum’s typology including 23 countries from all over the world (2014). All these publications have radically expanded our knowledge on mass media systems. The very same is true for the media freedom rankings from applied and interest based research playing a crucial role in policy consultations (Freedom House, Reporters without Borders, IREX, African and Asian Media Barometer).


If there is any weakness in literature on analyzing media freedom and journalists’ autonomy, then it’s the lack of theoretical approaches that go beyond mass media and political system phenomena and would, therefore, allow distinguishing between cause and effect, explaining change and stability and generating general insights into the interaction between agency and structure. Apart from exceptions such as the work of Benson (2010) that is grounded in Bourdieu’s sociology, it could even be argued that many comparative mass media system studies just use the categories, factors and indicators that can be found in the literature on mass media systems. That’s why they are, as a rule, not more than empirical saturated descriptions and more or less plausible interpretations. This applies also and above all to attempts of measuring, quantifying and, ultimately, comparing and classifying the current state of mass media systems.


In addition, and in line with the classic Four theories of the Press (Siebert et al., 1956), there is still a narrow focus on mass media’s role in facilitating democratic decision-making. Originally trained in political science and analyzing media systems in Western Europe and Northern America, Hallin and Mancini (2004), for example, use political and media dimensions exclusively (media market structures, political parallelism, professionalization of journalism, and the role of the state). Their typology based on all four dimensions actually just shows how politics and media fit together and allows countries to find their places. To sum up this line of reasoning, there is no explanation going beyond the mass media and the political system.


Using Giddens’ structuration theory (Giddens, 1988) and, therefore, getting its analytical categories directly from social theory, Mapping Media Freedom breaks down the strong focus on political and occupational dimensions of mass media systems. In doing so, we propose both a theoretical framework for empirical research on mass media systems and a proposition how this framework can be used. Like every single country portrait, the approach as well as its empirical implementation are open to comments and criticism.

Research Team

This principle was already applied in creating this website. To be more concrete, before publication, every entry was read by at least three researchers. In addition, we could use the know-how and the experience of IAMCR’s Post Socialist and Post Authoritarian Communication working group. Finally, and it is very important to me to make this point here, Mapping Media Freedom would never have been launched without the incredible commitment of eight master students at LMU Munich who took part in the one-year class media freedom from April 2016 to February 2017. These are, in alphabetical order, Natalie Berner, Katharina Dorn, Daria Gordeeva, Antonia Paal, Hannah Schädlich, Moritz Schweiger, Julia Traunspurger, and Nadine Wallnöfer.


Benson, R. (2010). Comparative news media systems: New Directions in Research. In S. Allan (ed.), The Routledge companion to news and journalism (pp. 614-626). London, New York: Routledge.


Blum, R. (2014). Lautsprecher und Widersprecher. Ein Ansatz zum Vergleich der Mediensysteme. Köln: Halem.


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, 64, 1037-1065.


Curran, J., & Park, M. (2000). Beyond Globalization Theory. In J. Curran & M. Park (eds.), De-Westernizing Media Studies (pp. 3-18). London, New York: Routledge.


Engesser, S., & Franzetti, A. (2011). Media Systems and Political Systems: Dimensions of Comparison. International Communication Gazette, 73, 273-301.


Flew, T., & Waisbord, S. (2015). The ongoing significance of national media systems in the context of globalization. Media, Culture & Society, 37, 1-17.


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


Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (eds.) (2012). Comparing media systems beyond the western world. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


Hanitzsch, T., Hanusch, F., Mellado, C., Anikina, M., Berganza, R., Cangoz, I., Coman, M., Hamada, B., Hernandez, M. E., Karadjov, C. D., Moreira, S. V., Mwesige, P. G., Plaisance, P. L., Reich, Z., Seethaler, J., Skewes, E. A., Vardiansyah Noor, D., & Yuen, K. W. (2011). Mapping Journalism Cultures across Nations: A Comparative Study of 18 Countries. Journalism Studies, 12, 273-293.


Hardy, J. (2012). Comparing media systems. In F. Esser & T. Hanitzsch (eds.), Handbook of comparative communication research (pp. 185–206). London: Routledge.


Norris, P. (2009). Comparative political communications: Common frameworks or Babelian confusion? Government and Opposition, 44(3), 321-340.


Voltmer, K. (2013). The media in transitional democracies. Cambridge: Polity.

Recommended citation form

Michael Meyen: Beyond both Hallin & Mancini and Freedom House. What Mapping Media Freedom is all about. In: Michael Meyen (ed.), Mapping Media Freedom. LMU Munich: Department of Communication Studies and Media Research 2017. (access date)

Team Media Freedom visiting Moscow

Team Media Freedom visiting Moscow in November 2016
Natalie Berner, Nadine Wallnöfer, Antonia Paal, Hannah Schädlich (front, left to right),
Michael Meyen, Kerem Schamberger, Julia Traunspurger, Moritz Schweiger, Katharina Dorn, Daria Gordeeva (back, left to right).