Professor Denis McQuail with Profs. Kent Middleton and Hugh Martin.

Prof. Denis McQuail Outlines Theoretical Distinctions Relevant in Developing Idea of Media Accountability

Discussions of media accountability should not be confused with discussions about media control, Denis McQuail, emeritus professor of Mass Communication in the Department of Communication Science of the University of Amsterdam, told graduate students and faculty of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia in November.

"The fundamental key issue is the relationship between freedom and accountability, which is often confused with control," Prof. McQuail said. "I will argue against this view and also that a fuller and better understanding of accountability shows the two ideas to be independent, although they converge at some points. I believe that accountability has at least as much to do with freedom as with its opposite."

Dr. McQuail made his comments in a lecture on November 13 sponsored by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College, in collaboration with the Graduate Caucus, the graduate student organization in the College, and the College's Office of Research and Graduate Studies.

Following the lecture in the Fine Arts Building, Prof. McQuail, one of the most distinguished scholars in the field of mass communication, met with graduate students and faculty informally in a reception in the College of Journalism and Mass Communication.

McQuail argued during his lecture that the media are increasingly being criticized and held accountable for "an alleged retreat from a traditional informative role," for "lower journalistic standards," for reporting about politics "in ways that undermine rather than promote civic culture and democratic politics," and for increased violence and sex. He said critics also say the media fail to meet the needs of children and minorities.

Media accountability, in McQuail's view, includes the notion that media organizations should be expected to "render an account of their activities to their constituents."

McQuail said many modern tendencies of the media are "inimical to accountability." He included among these tendencies the creation of global conglomerates and the focus on profits. Increasing competitiveness among the media, however, does have the possibility for increasing accountability.

Prof. McQuail has written or edited 13 books, including Television and the Political Image (1961), Toward a Sociology of Mass Communication (1969), Communication Models (1982), Media Performance: Mass Communication and the Public Interest, and Audience Analysis (1997).

He is author of the highly regarded and widely used text, Mass Communication Theory: An Introduction, first published in 1984 and now in its fourth edition under the title McQuail's Mass Communication Theory. The book has been published in Swedish, Italian, Spanish, Greed, Turkish, Estonian, Korean, Czech, Romanian and Japanese.

Prof. McQuail is working on another book on media accountability.

After retiring from the University of Amsterdam, Prof. McQuail assumed the position of visiting professor at the University of Southampton in the UK, where he remains. Prior to taking the position at the University of Amsterdam he held faculty positions at the University of Leeds and the University of Southampton. He also has been a visiting professor at the Annenberg School of Communications of the University of Pennsylvania.

"It truly was an honor to have Dr. McQuail visit here," Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker said. "Just to be able to say you met and talked with Denis McQuail is something special. To see our graduate students interacting with him and talking with him about their research following the lecture was very exciting."

The Cox Center has brought to the Grady College in recent years distinguished scholars Dr. Klaus Schoenbach from the University of Amsterdam, Prof. Youichi Ito from Keio University in Japan, and Drs. Marjan de Bruin from the University of the West Indies to Jamaica. Each has given a lecture organized in collaboration with the Graduate Caucus.