Political economy of communications

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The Political Economy of Communications, news, or media, is a particular branch in Communication studies or media studies which studies the power relations (political economy) that shape the communication of information from the mass media to its publics.[1] This concept has been developed by media and political economy scholars such as Dallas Walker Smythe,[2] Herbert Schiller, Graham Murdock, Peter Golding, Vincent Mosco,[3] Dan Schiller, and Robert W. McChesney.[4] PEC analyzes the power relations between the mass media system, information and communications technologies (ICTs) and the wider socioeconomic structure in which these operate, with a focus on understanding the historical and current state of technological developments.[5][6]


One of the most early modern works in the political economy of communications are from Harold Innis', which were compiled in the book Empire and Communications. This directly inspired Marshall McLuhan, a colleague of Innis at the University of Toronto, who would later be made famous for the dictum "the medium is the message". Subsequent PEC approaches have been heavily influenced by Marxist thought and democratic politics, as it questions the powers residing within communications and the state necessary for democracy to be realized.[7]

Central Characteristics and Main Topics of Study[edit]

Logo of News Corp, a mass media conglomerate and a subject of concentrated ownership.

There are four central characteristics that are integral in expanding the definition of political economy of communication. They provide the means to analyze an issue, technology or way of life when doing so through a political economic perspective.[9] The characteristics are as follows:

  • History and Social Change: It is necessary to analyze the history of an issue or technology and compare it to the present day in order to find out who or what is responsible for the social change. Through this, one is able to attain a deeper understanding and identify patterns that will provide guidance and clarity for future transformations and social change. [9]
  • Social Totality: This characteristic discusses the "big picture". It is necessary to look at a circumstance through various point of views and approaches such as economic, social and cultural. [9]
  • Moral Philosophy: This characteristic serves to articulate morals that reside within economic and political economic perspectives. When employing this characteristic in analysis, it is necessary to assess the moral implications of a situation, and how it impacts society as a whole. [9]
  • Praxis: This characteristic discusses the importance of action and intervention. By combining the knowledge attained from the three previous characteristics, there is enough power to apply this knowledge to reality and take action where change is necessary for the betterment of society, and human civilization.  [9]

The political economy of communications looks at a range of issues that affect society. Below are the main topics of study that political economists often discuss.

  • Capitalism: There are two main tenets that define a capitalist economy; Wage Labour and Production for Profit. Wage labour is when a person is hired to work for a company or business in exchange for a wage, or annual salary. Privately owned companies that manufacture and sell their own services or goods, and expect a profit in return are engaging in Production for Profit. Political economists are interested in capitalism as it is shapes production and distribution, and reveals power relations embedded in society. [10]

Journalism/News Media[edit]

Because journalism/news media is the core to a functioning democratic society,[11] PEC works towards the goal of "healthy journalism." Healthy journalism can be defined through four characteristics, outlined by Robert W. McChesney. The first characteristic is ensuring that journalists are thorough and exhaustive in reports of the elite. The second is ensuring that the news being produced keeps the needs of the larger public in mind, as their power resides in knowledge and not property, such as the elite. Thirdly, it must remain truthful, and has systems in place to guarantee this truth. Lastly, a range of opinions on a wide array of topics is required as to provide insight and depth on what is happening, what is to happen and what to do about it.[12] Unfortunately for democracy, the current state of news media around the world and especially that of the United States, falls short of the general consensus among media scholars and democratic theory on what is considered to be healthy journalism. This is due in part to the overwhelming amount of public relations material being posed as news.[13][12]

It is in the interest of PEC that journalism instead provide a "rigorous account" of those in power, meet the information needs of all classes and people, be truthful, and act as an early warning system that provides a "wide range of informed opinions on the most important issues of our time."[12]

New Media[edit]

The mass media are undoubtedly experiencing considerable changes in platform, technology, and economic structure (e.g., crowdfunding, social media) as the digital era continues to shift people toward new media.[1] Traditional financial configurations and business models have been destabilized by this transformation. However, new mechanisms of power have emerged from this more open system of information and news creation. The availability of information can now be skewed or influenced through "search, aggregation, and digital distribution infrastructures" (p. 493).[13] Vincent Mosco's definition of political economic studies, where the "production, distribution, and consumption of resources, including communication resources” are essential, remains relevant in times of new media since a new network economy or society forms its own power relations.[14][15][13][16]


  1. ^ a b c Flew, Terry; Smith, Richard (2014). New Media. Don Mills, ON: Oxford University Press. pp. 1–26, 57–75, 275. ISBN 978-0-19-900550-5.
  2. ^ Melody, B. (1994). "Dallas Smythe: Pioneer in the political economy of communications". In T. Guback (ed.). Counterclockwise: Perspectives on communication. Boulder, CO: Westview Press. pp. 1–6.
  3. ^ Vincent, Mosco (1998-01-01). The political economy of communication rethinking and renewal. Sage Publications. ISBN 978-0803985605. OCLC 490137496.
  4. ^ 1952-, McChesney, Robert Waterman (2008-01-01). The political economy of media : enduring issues, emerging dilemmas. Monthly Review Press. ISBN 9781583671610. OCLC 245202825.
  5. ^ a b c d Havens, Timothy; Lotz, Amanda D. (2012). Understanding Media Industries. New York, N. Y.: Oxford University Press. pp. 2–9. ISBN 978-0-19-539767-3.
  6. ^ a b Dal, Yong Jin (2011-01-01). The Political Economies of Media. Bloomsbury Academic. ISBN 9781849664264. OCLC 798294461.
  7. ^ Hardy, Jonathan (2014-06-01). "Critical political economy of communications: A mid-term review" (PDF). International Journal of Media & Cultural Politics. 10 (2): 189–202. doi:10.1386/macp.10.2.189_1.
  8. ^ Fuchs, Christan (2014). "WikiLeaks and the Critique of the Political Economy". International Journal of Communication. 8 (1932–8036/2014FEA0002): 2718–2732.
  9. ^ a b c d e Mosco, Vincent (2009), "What is Political Economy? Definitions and Characteristics", The Political Economy of Communication (2 ed.), SAGE Publications Ltd, pp. 21–36, doi:10.4135/9781446279946.n2, retrieved 2020-03-29
  10. ^ Stanford, Jim (2015). Economics for Everyone a Short Guide to the Economics of Capitalism. Pluto Press. ISBN 978-1-78371-326-4. OCLC 934665793.
  11. ^ Christians, Clifford G.; Glasser, Theodore L.; McQuail, Denis; Nordenstreng, Kaarle; White, Robert A. (2009-01-01). Normative Theories of the Media: Journalism in Democratic Societies. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 9780252034237. JSTOR 10.5406/j.ctt1xcjws.
  12. ^ a b c McChesney, Robert W. (2012-10-01). "Farewell to Journalism?". Journalism Practice. 6 (5–6): 614–626. doi:10.1080/17512786.2012.683273. ISSN 1751-2786.
  13. ^ a b c Picard, Robert G. (2014-09-03). "Twilight or New Dawn of Journalism?". Journalism Studies. 15 (5): 500–510. doi:10.1080/1461670X.2014.895530. ISSN 1461-670X.
  14. ^ Manuel., Castells (2008-01-01). The rise of the network society. Blackwell. ISBN 9780631221401. OCLC 254487176.
  15. ^ 1949-, Donsbach, Wolfgang; Association., International Communication; (Firm), Wiley-Blackwell (2008-01-01). International encyclopedia of communication online. Wiley/Blackwell. ISBN 9781405131995. OCLC 271856987.
  16. ^ Boyd-Barrett, Oliver (1995). "The political economy approach" (PDF). Approaches to Media. Oxford University Press. pp. 186–192.