Hallin's spheres

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Hallin's spheres refer to a theory of media coverage developed by political scientist Daniel C. Hallin in his book The Uncensored War.[1] It posits three areas of media coverage into which a topic may fall. Journalists cover each area with different rules of objectivity. The areas are diagrammed as concentric circles referred to as spheres. From innermost to outer most they are: the Sphere of Consensus, the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy, and the Sphere of Deviance.


Sphere of Consensus[edit]

This Sphere contains those topics on which there is widespread agreement, or at least the perception thereof. Within the Sphere of Consensus, 'journalists feel free to invoke a generalized “we” and to take for granted shared values and shared assumptions' [2] Example include such things as free speech, the abolition of slavery, or human rights. For topic in this sphere "journalists do not feel compelled to present an opposing view point or to remain disinterested observers."[1]

Sphere of Legitimate Controversy[edit]

For topics in this sphere rational and informed people hold differing views. These topics are therefore the most important to cover, and also ones upon which journalists are obliged to remain disinterested reporters, rather than advocating for or against a particular view.[3] Schudson notes that Hallin, in his influential study of the US media during the Vietnam War, argues that journalism’s commitment to objectivity has always been compartmentalized. That is, within a certain sphere—the sphere of legitimate controversy—journalists seek conscientiously to be balanced and objective.[4]

Sphere of Deviance[edit]

Topics in this sphere are rejected by journalists as being unworthy of general consideration. Such views are perceived as being either unfounded, taboo, or of such minor consequence that they are not news worthy. Hallin argues that in the sphere of deviance, 'journalists also depart from standard norms of objective reporting and feel authorized to treat as marginal, laughable, dangerous, or ridiculous individuals and groups who fall far outside a range of variation taken as legitimate'[5] For example, a person claiming that aliens are manipulating college basketball scores might have difficulty finding media coverage for such a claim [6]

Uses of the terms[edit]

Craig Watkins (2001, pp. 92–4) makes user of the Hallin's spheres in a paper examining ABC, CBS, and NBC television network television news coverage of the "Million Man March," a demonstration that took place in Washington, DC on October 16, 1995. Watkins analyzes the dominant framing practices-problem definition, rhetorical devices, use of sources, and images-employed by journalists to make sense of this particular expression of political protest. He argues that Hallins three spheres are a way for media framing practices to develop specific reportorial contexts, each sphere develops its own distinct style of news reporting resources by different rhetorical tropes and discourses.[7]

Piers Robinson (2001, p. 536) uses the concept in relation to debate that have emerged over the extent to which the mass media serves elite interests or, alternatively, plays a powerful role in shaping political outcomes. His articles reviews Hallin’s spheres as an example of media-state relations, that highlights theoretical and empirical shortcomings in the ‘manufacturing consent’ thesis (Chomsky McChesney).[8] Robinson argues that a more nuanced and bi-directional understanding is needed of the direction of influence between media and the state that builds upon, rather than rejecting, existing theoretical accounts.[9]


In recent years the internet may have given exposure to more diverse opinions than those that were widely circulated in 1986. This may have expanded the Sphere of Legitimate Controversy. There has also been a fuller recognition that different audiences may place topics in different spheres. Hallin's theory assumed that most media share a homogenized media consumer. A more fractured media landscape can challenge this assumption.[10]


  1. ^ a b Hallin, Daniel (1986). The Uncensored War: The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University press. pp. 116–118. ISBN 978-0-19-503814-9. 
  2. ^ Schudson 2002, p. 40
  3. ^ Hallin, 1986, p. 116;
  4. ^ Schudson, M (2002) 'What’s unusual about covering politics as usual', in Zelizer, B., & Allan, S. (Eds.). Journalism after September 11. London: Routledge, p. 40
  5. ^ Schudson 2002, 40
  6. ^ Hallin, 1986, p. 117
  7. ^ Watkins, S. C. (2001). Framing protest: News media frames of the Million Man March. Critical Studies in Media Communication, 18(1), 83-101.
  8. ^ Herman, E. S., & Chomsky, N. (2010). Manufacturing consent: The political economy of the mass media. Random House.
  9. ^ Robinson, P. (2001). Theorizing the Influence of Media on World Politics Models of Media Influence on Foreign Policy. European Journal of Communication, 16(4), 523-544.
  10. ^ "Does NPR Have A Liberal Bias?". On The Media from NPR. WNYC. Retrieved 11 February 2013. 

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