In this essay, we assume—perhaps too broadly—that research is useful for policy formations and ask, rather, why engage in comparative research? And because of our own work, we focus on comparative research concerning media law and policy. Comparisons can lead to fresh, exciting insights and a deeper understanding of issues that are of central concern in different countries. They can identify gaps in knowledge and policies and may point to possible directions that could be followed, directions that previously may have been unknown to observers or, in the case of media law, legal reformers.

Comparisons may also help to sharpen the focus of analysis of the subject under study by suggesting new perspectives.

Comparative media law research can give us a better understanding of how one country, or even medium, borrows from the traditions and conventions of another (such as the links between film and broadcasting, the PSB models within Europe, free speech notions in Latin American countries); how intellectual property migrates across various media over time; and where best practices exist in the world for the regulation of new communications technologies. Moreover, comparative research can give us an improved knowledge as to whether specific media patterns and structures are causally conditioned by social, political, economic, historical and geographic circumstances. Without a conscious effort, however, comparisons can be mangled, inadequate, often a disservice. (…)

The full essay online:

IJoC – International Journal of Communication 2 (2008)

Stefaan G. Verhulst, Markle Foundation & Monroe E. Price, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania