Sex, Church & Siebert

BESIDES Messrs Frederick Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm, there’s another group responsible for the popularity of the Social Responsibility Theory, did you know?

Of Canadian vintage, let me tell you. By the names of Baron, Pelletier, Verreault, Beaudoin, and Gallant.

Like many people out there I had largely associated SRT with ‘Siebert’s’ classic Four Theories of the Press (1956, University of Illinois Press). As a matter of fact, it was the 1942-formed Hutchins Commission that came up with it, though it was Peterson’s chapter in Four Theories that gave it a new respectability and, indeed, its undying fame. With Libertarian, Authoritarian, and Marxist ‘theories’, SRT wrote in a new – and possibly the most debated – chapter in media-society relation.

Now it turns out Jessy Baron, Rick Pelletier, Remy Verreault, Mike Beaudoin, and Claude Gallant have added their names to SRT. They belong to the Quebecer rock band Government Fury Kills, and the name of their first album is – yes, that’s correct – Social Responsibility Theory.

All this I came to know from the excellent Wikipedia. A search for Social Responsibility Theory threw up just one ‘stub’. On GFK. Nothing on Siebert et al. I tried a direct search, with their names. No, so far as Wikipedia is concerned they do not exist (except for Schramm, who gets a brief mention unconnected to the Four Theories). This allows me to put forward a credible theory of my own: SRT belongs to GFK in today’s world.

Which is a shame really. Because the original trio helped shape the thoughts of a few generations of bright-eyed journalists, forcing many to dig deeper into the philosophical issues surrounding their profession, filling many with a righteous desire to serve the ‘society’ (something most journalists eagerly – and blindly, may I suggest – spout as a core responsibility even today), it is a pity they don’t get a mention with Jo Public.

Not that I am a fan of SRT, mind. I am only happy to hop on to the bandwagon of its critics. Forget everything else, including the criticism SRT is not one step above Libertarianism but just one step away from Authoritarianism, applying SRT to an intractable conflict is the worst you could do: it feeds nationalistic and ‘patriotiotic’ sentiments, which in turn feed the conflict itself.

But this post is not to critique SRT, but to trade trivia on it. So here’re a few things you might not have known, complete courtesy The Four Theories of the Press Four and a Half Decades Later: in retrospective, in Journalism Studies, volume 3, number 1, 2002, p 133-136…

Did you know Four Theories still remains, with six-figure sales, the all-time non-fiction best-seller for its publishers?

Because Siebert is the first author, we get the impression he was the initiator. Actually, it was Wilbur Schramm. Does he not remind you of a certain prodigy who makes his entrance on a broomstick at the Qudditch World Cup in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Anyway, Schramm ran into Peterson at the water-cooler of Greg Hall, University of Illinois. They talked a bit, and decided to ask Siebert to come aboard, and that was that.

We owe a lot to the Church for the Four Theories. But for a grant from the National Council of Churches, the book may not have come into being. When Schramm stopped to talk to Peterson, he had some money left over from an NCC grant, which went on to finance the Four Theories. Amen.

The book was literally cobbled together from the authors’ earlier projects. Siebert “cribbed together his two chapters from his recently-finished Freedom of the Press in England, 1476-1776”, Schramm’s sketch of “Soviet communist theory came from his work on psychological warfare in Korea”, and “Peterson’s chapter on Social Responsibility came from his teaching and engagement with the Hutchins Commission”. Schramm and Peterson walked to Siebert’s office after their water-cooler discussion and there and then divided up the chapters. They never met till the book was drafted.

Schramm’s work in Korea, we are told, was “for a branch of the federal government”. Now allow me to leap to a conclusion, but which is the most likely branch of the US government interested in psychological warfare in foreign nations? Are we in the CIA’s debt too – as we are in the Church’s – for the Four Theories, I wonder.

Since we are trading trivia, here’s one final tidbit: Wikipedia tells us one of proponents of Social Responsibility Theory had sex with a 13-year-old girl – here I am talking about the latter bunch, of course. It was the bassist, it was in a bathroom, and it was in Alberta.

Shh, did you hear that? I think it was Siebert sitting up in his grave.

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1 Comment

  1. kurye · September 12, 2009

    Sex, Church & Siebert | Indian in England great article thank you.

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