In writing Comparing Media Systems, we deliberately decided to focus on a limited number of similar cases: eighteen nations of Western Europe and North America that by global standards had relatively similar histories as advanced capitalist democracies. As we argued in that book, we wanted to avoid the kind of universalizing approach to comparative analysis in media studies – symbolized by Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm's Four Theories of the Press (1956) – that we believed had held back the field for many decades, producing superficial analyses not based in detailed research on particular media systems and often riddled with ethnocentric assumptions. We focused on Western systems not because we thought they were inherently more important than others, nor because we thought they were a natural reference point for comparative analysis, but simply because they were the systems we knew best, and because we knew that there was substantial research available on all of them in languages we could read, enough to make a comparative synthesis possible. Of course, both of these factors reflect the longstanding dominance of the West in global academia. We also believed that because these countries had long been the principal reference points for comparative analysis of media systems – and in general for public discourse about media systems – there would be a great deal of value in subjecting them to more concrete comparative analysis. One of the objectives that we hoped our analysis would accomplish was to demystify the notion of a “Western media model” to some degree, both by showing that there is not in fact a unitary “Western model,” because media systems in the Western world have developed according to several distinct patterns, and by treating these systems not as abstract ideals but as concrete social formations that developed under particular historical conditions.
As soon as the book came out, widespread discussion began about how our framework might apply to the rest of the world. Some criticized us for confining our analysis to a narrow range of countries; many asked us, “How does my country fit into your three models?” or “How does your framework apply to the part of the world that I am studying?” These questions were obviously gratifying, but they made us uncomfortable at the same time. We began to worry that instead of putting Four Theories of the Press to rest, our book might become the new Four Theories of the Press, with our three models turning into a kind of universal schema to be applied almost everywhere. We had many conversations with colleagues about these kinds of questions and eventually decided to confront the issues head-on by launching this book project. We began by inviting a group of scholars who studied media systems outside Western Europe and North America to a conference in Perugia in 2007; because the initial conversations seemed fruitful, we then organized another conference in San Diego in 2009, as well as three panels at meetings of the International Communication Association. We tried to enlarge the range of cases as much as we could and to make sure a wide range of world regions – Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, Asia, Africa, and Latin America – were represented. However, we did not attempt a systematic selection of cases. Instead, we recruited scholars we had met in a variety of academic settings, many of whom we knew had been reflecting in some way on how to think about the systems or processes they were studying in relation to Comparing Media Systems. Obviously the range of cases presented here does not represent an exhaustive or systematic typology of world media systems. For instance, it excludes the case of India, the world's biggest democracy and one of the few news media systems that has been growing in recent years; at the same time it deals mostly with large and relatively rich countries like China, Brazil, Russia, Poland, and South Africa. We emphasize that this volume should not be conceived of as a kind of “Handbook of World Models of Journalism.”