Denis McQuail

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Denis McQuail (born 12 April 1935, London)[1] is a communication theorist, Emeritus Professor at the University of Amsterdam, who is considered one of the most influential scholars in the field of mass communication studies.[2] He has published extensively in the field of political communication and communication theory. Best known is his contribution to the education of the public, concerning communication theory. His work has centered on explaining communication theories and their applications. He is adamant about informing the public on the benefits and dangers of mass communication. The Amsterdam School of Communication Research (ASCoR) established the Denis McQuail Award in his honor which is awarded each year to the best article advancing communication theory since 2006.[3]

McQuail is Emeritus Professor at the University of Amsterdam and Visiting Professor in the Department of Politics at the University of Southampton.[4] In the early 1980s he and Dr. Sven Windahl published a book Communication Models. The book details basic communication models (Lasswell model, Shannon and Weaver's model, Gerbner's model), theories of media, audience-centered models, and mass media systems in general. In textbook style, the book outlines each topic: it is a compilation of existing communication theories with the author's own thoughts. He and co-author Sven Windahl spent a great deal of time on it but at the time it was nothing more than a book of theories.

McQuail's next book, Mass Communication Theory, discusses in greater detail the mass communication concept. Specifically, it talks about the significance of mass media and how it affects the individual and society rather than focusing on the definitions of the models in general. "The three primary objectives: to update and take account of recent theory and research; enlargement, to reflect the continuing expansion of the field; clarification and improved presentation (pg. 13)." In Chapter 10, McQuail discusses the future of mass communication and states that it is either socially fragmenting or unifying. He makes several points on how the media needs to be socially responsible in order to be effective.

The sequel was Media Performance (1992). In it, previous theories are taken more for granted, and applied. He discusses at length the importance of an informed public. He states that the more aware a public is, the less likely it will be affected by media.


Freedom versus Control

Denis McQuail believes the relations between media and society both have political and social-cultural aspects. Vital to the political aspect is the question of freedom and control.

The newspaper press establishes its claim to freedom entirely on its political purpose of conveying opinions and spreading political and financial information. The television and radio uses political purposes of the newspaper and provides information based on a general public interest. As the television industry increases, market controls replaces political power. New media networks as Denis McQuail believes is still awaiting classifications of their amount of political freedom on the basis of privacy or content being distributed to individual users opposed to mass distribution. Denis McQuail also believes new media needs regulations to avoid misuse of monopoly power. The degree of control in the views of Denis McQuail’s suggests control of media by state or society relies on the likelihood of utilizing it. Denis McQuail also believes as new media broadens freedom of communication, the controls of continual organizations alongside the market, in regards to flow, and reception should not be underestimated.

The use and reception of media

McQuail makes special mention in Mass Communication Theory of the difficulty that surrounds identifying specific uses of media, as well as the difficulty of understanding the reception that any specific medium may have. McQuail uses the medium of the television as an example and notes that despite the many changes and extensions that the occurred, the television is still primarily seen as a medium of family entertainment.

The topic of interactivity is also breached in the book, with McQuail suggesting that the degree of interactivity is yet another defining feature that confuses the useful purpose and reception of mass media forms.

Major publications[edit]

  • Mcquail, Denis (2010), McQuails's Mass Communication Theory (sixth edition)
  • McQuail, Denis (ed.) (2002), McQuail's reader in mass communication theory Sage, London.
  • McQuail, Denis and Karen Siune for the Euromedia Research Group (eds.) (1998), Media policy: convergence, concentration and commerce. Sage, London.
  • McQuail, Denis 1992, Media performance: Mass communication and the public interest. Sage, London.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Prof. dr. D. McQuail, 1935 - at the University of Amsterdam Album Academicum website.
  2. ^ Peter Golding (2011): Denis McQuail: A Tribute and a Thank You, in: Manuel Pinto & Helena Sousa, eds. Communication and Citizenship. Rethinking crisis and change. Coimbra: Grácio Editor, pp. 123-128
  3. ^ ASCoR McQuail Award
  4. ^ Biography Denis McQuail at the Wayback Machine (archived January 20, 2012)

External links[edit]