This article reviews the debates about the end of dictatorships that pre-occupied this journal in its early years. It is argued that the issues debated then remain of central importance for understanding the role of the media in contemporary societies. Two central arguments that remain extremely influential in the study of the media—that all societies are undergoing necessary evolution towards democracy and that marketisation is a key accompaniment to this process, in the media as much as anywhere else. This article demonstrates that the evidence does not support the claims of this “transitological” perspective. There is no evidence of a uniform development towards democracy and no evidence of a necessary link between political democracy and the market. The contradictory developments that have marked the last 30 years are better understood as various attempts by ruling classes to maintain their power and influence through a range of strategies from the embrace of political democracy through various degrees of authoritarian rule to the continuation of unquestioned Communist Party rule. The fate of the media is dependent upon these broader struggles, but it remains everywhere subservient either to political or economic power.
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