Colin Seymour-Ure (1974) was the first scholar to speak of a “parallelism” between parties and newspapers. In his view this refers to three main features: the ownership of the mass media by political parties, the editorial choices of the news organizations, and the party affiliation of the readers. Jay Blumler and Michael Gurevitch (1995) further developed this concept, slightly changing it. In their view, party parallelism – or partisanship – includes “any organizational connections to political parties, the stability and intensity of editorial commitments and presence or absence of legal restraints on the rights of the media to back individual parties” (Blumler & Gurevitch 1995, 65). Even in the absence of organizational links, party parallelism in Blumler and Gurevitch’s view may include also all those situations in which a news organization backs in a more or less stable condition a political party, either because of a historical tradition or because of contingent decisions.
While in Seymour-Ure’s definition, the main feature of party parallelism was essentially the ownership of the news organization by the political parties determining a media content marked by a strong advocacy slant, Blumler and Gurevitch see party parallelism as a somewhat more general framework of links and connections between mass media and political parties, not necessarily descending from direct party ownership.
It is from this last interpretation that the definition of political parallelism descends. It refers to “media content – the extent to which the different media reflect distinct political orientations in their news and current affairs reporting, and sometimes also their entertainment content” (Hallin & Mancini 2004, 28).
Beyond content, political parallelism is reflected also in the organizational connections that, as in Seymour-Ure’s and Blumler and Gurevitch’s definitions, may exist between political organizations, parties, unions, social movements, and the like on the one side, and media organizations on the other. These links may involve the property of the media but also just the fact that mass media and news organizations are linked through a common ground of organizational connections and symbolic affiliations. Political parallelism exists when media personnel show a tendency to be active in political life: reporters take sides not just in their professional work but also by being active in party organizations and political life. Thus, political parallelism exists also when the careers of journalists and politicians overlap, when the shift from one position to another is easy and frequent.
The move from the notion of party parallelism toward political parallelism highlights a very important, and, in some countries, very recent change of the political system. Political parallelism tends to substitute party parallelism as political parties are losing the importance they had in previous years. Their role as agents of socialization is losing ground. Party membership is going down while political participation is no longer limited to involvement with political parties, but can be related to a number of different political organizations, such as social movements, cause-related groups, environmentalist groups, feminist groups, and the like.
The weakening of political parties has determined the disappearance of many party newspapers in the Scandinavian countries, France, Italy and many other western democracies. However, it has not meant the disappearance of either political/ideological links existing between political organizations and mass media, or the political orientation of many newspapers and broadcasting organizations. In other words, even in a more secularized social life in which the commercialization of the media has undermined their role as agents of political socialization, the concept of political parallelism indicates that the framework of organizational and symbolic links still exists between the mass media system and different social organizations, and is still reflected in the content of mass media. The fact that these links may be of some stable nature differentiates the concept of political parallelism from that of advocacy, which may indicate a temporary “taking sides” for a cause by the mass media, and a less structured and stable framework of connections with different organizations of society.
- Blumler, J. G., & Gurevitch, M. (1995). Towards a comparative framework for political communication research. In J. Blumler & M. Gurevitch (eds.), The crisis of public communication. London: Routledge. (Original work published 1975).
- Hallin, D., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing media systems: Three models of media and politics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Seymour-Ure, C. (1974). The political impact of mass media. London: Constable.