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This landmark collection brings together many of the leading scholars in the field of political communication to reflect upon a key question of our age: Can the media serve democracy?



Introduction: Can the Media Serve Democracy?

1. Introduction: Can the Media Serve Democracy?

Something seems to be wrong. Talk of decline, disengagement and disenchantment dominates the debate about the state of contemporary democracy. All too often, such talk leads on to expressions of ill-concealed frustration about ‘apathetic’ citizens who have forgotten their civic ‘duty’ and ‘irresponsible’ media failing to serve the public interest. Avoiding these well-rehearsed lamentations, the aim of this book is to reflect upon the ways in which one of the key institutional actors in the public domain — the media in their various forms — both serve and undermine democratic objectives. Let us take the Leveson Report’s call for the media: ‘to give a powerful voice in the public domain to those unable to do so effectively for themselves’ and to provide ‘a public forum, where information, ideas and entertainment are both circulated and held up to scrutiny’ as a normative benchmark. To what extent do the media in developed political democracies reach that benchmark? How realistic is it to expect them to do so?

Stephen Coleman, Giles Moss, Katy Parry

Media Systems and Comparative Research


2. The Idea of ‘Systems’ in Media Studies: Criticisms, Risks, Advantages

Criticisms against the use of the notion of ‘systems’ in media studies are common (Norris, 2009; Roudakova, 2011; Hardy, 2012). In this chapter, I discuss the use of the concept of systems and its criticisms. Despite its wide use, the term ‘media system’ has never been clearly defined by media scholars (Bastiansen, 2008). There are different reasons for this lack of a definition. Indeed, the term ‘media system’ is very often used today, but it arrived at the forefront of media scholarship only recently. I also examine the manner in which ‘sister’ sciences and, in particular, political science, have used and still use this notion. Finally, I propose justifications for the use of the systems concept in comparative political communication research.

Paolo Mancini

3. The Fine Art of Comparing Media Systems: Opportunities, Pitfalls and Challenges

It must have been sometime in the 1990s. The Hans Bredow Institut, a very respectable and independent research organization set up by the German public broadcaster NWDR and the University of Hamburg, was convening a roundtable discussion about media policy in Europe. Or it might well have been about the state and future of media systems or public service broadcasting in the EU member states. Senior moments these days erase the clarity and exactness of memories; they tend to fade into a blurred picture of the past. I am also not sure how many people participated, but I do know that it was a group of learned scholars, all experts from different countries who had published extensively about the topic under discussion. I was replacing my then Amsterdam colleague Denis McQuail.

Kees Brants

4. Comparative Political Communication Research: The Undiminished Relevance of the Beginnings

Jay Blumler deserves credit for introducing the comparative approach to the communication discipline. He and his long-time colleague, Michael Gurevitch, described comparative communication research as ‘an extending frontier of the field that deserves yet more intensive cultivation’ (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1995, p. 73). Their early pleadings have borne fruit, and the comparative approach has now extended to many subfields of the communication discipline, as the recent publication of the ICA Handbook of Comparative Research demonstrates (Esser and Hanitzsch, 2012a). Originally labelled as being in its ‘infancy’ (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1975), the state of comparative analysis has now reached ‘late adolescence’ (Gurevitch and Blumler, 2004). Although it has not yet attained mature adulthood (Mancini and Hallin, 2012), one may agree with Hardy’s assessment that comparative communication research has advanced significantly, and is producing ‘a common body of knowledge, theories and concepts’ (2012, p. 202). Uninformed comparison by convenience is becoming less and less defendable. Although comparative research has made more progress in some subject areas than in others (see Esser and Hanitzsch, 2012a), we are observing the gradual emergence of comparative communications as a recognized subdiscipline, comparable to comparative politics in political science.

Frank Esser

5. Mediatization of the Modern Publicity Process

Political communication research during its history of more than 100 years has been highly fixated on mass media influences on politics.1 More specifically, the dominant paradigm has centred on: (1) causal explanations of media-politics relationships; (2) micro-level phenomena; (3) isolated media and personality variables; and (4) single-country studies (Blumler, forthcoming). Jay Blumler has been passionately committed to exposing these deficits and to call for broadening the research perspective. With his own research activities, he has inspired many colleagues to pursue new directions, in particular to look at political communication in a systems perspective and to design cross-national comparative research.

Winfried Schulz

Journalism, Democracy and the Public Interest


6. Public Service Broadcasting: Markets and ‘Vulnerable Values’ in Broadcast and Print Journalism

Broadcasting began life in competition with newspapers, first with radio in the 1920s and then again with television in the late 1940s/early 1950s. Its ability to reach mass audiences, however, prompted the state to make broadcasting comply with certain licence conditions deemed inappropriate for newspapers, where a free market was judged a precondition for an independent press. These regulatory obligations have long since been designated ‘public service values’ and acknowledged as profound influences on the past, present and future of the UK’s broadcast ecology and wider media culture. According to Blumler (1992a), however, the values of public service broadcasting have become increasingly ‘vulnerable’ in the face of market forces and commercial competition.

Stephen Cushion, Bob Franklin

7. Political Communication Research in the Public Interest

This chapter is guided by indications of a direction for research and policy that may be derived from the large and diverse corpus of Jay Blumler’s work. Before setting out, some opening words are called for on the founder of this feast of ideas. It cannot help also being a somewhat personal account, given a close early collaboration at what was a formative moment for me as well as for him, on his journey from political theorist to virtual doyen of empirical political communication research.

Denis McQuail

8. Journalists, Journalism and Research: What Do We Know and Why Should We Care?

This chapter draws on nearly 40 years of journalism and media research that I have conducted at Indiana University with many colleagues and students. This includes four major national surveys of US journalists; studies of media and voter learning in five US presidential elections; studies of media agenda setting in elections; and other research on newspaper readership, foreign news coverage, foreign correspondents, and press freedom in various countries.

David H. Weaver

9. Democratic Political Communication Systems and the Transformative Power of Scandals: Phone Hacking at the News of the World as a Critical Juncture in the Regulation of the British Press

On 4 July 2011, an ongoing British police investigation into the hacking of phones of prominent celebrities and politicians by the press revealed that a Sunday tabloid newspaper, the News of the World, had illegally accessed the voicemail on the mobile phone of a murdered London school girl, Milly Dowler. In the following days, public outrage grew as more revelations emerged that journalists at the News of the World had been listening to the voice messages of other members of the public, including the parents of missing child Madeleine McCann, the parents of murdered Soham school girls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman, and some of the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London. The resulting opprobrium not only led Rupert Murdoch to close the News of the World, but also to the announcement of an inquiry into ‘the culture, practices and the ethics of the British Press’ led by Lord Justice Leveson. The inquiry lasted over a year, reporting in November 2012 with a range of significant recommendations for regulatory oversight of the press, which are currently in the process of being implemented.

James Stanyer

10. Morals and Methods: A Note on the Value of Survey Research

Nicholas Jankowski and Fred Wester, in their overview of qualitative research and its contribution to mass communications research, note that during the last years of the 19th century and the first decades of the 20th century ‘as social issues became topics of academic study, virtually all research was of a qualitative nature’ (1991, p. 46). Indeed, Paul Lazarsfeld, the seminal figure in the development of academic survey research, saw fit to remind that Weber was ‘periodically enthusiastic about quantification making many computations himself’ and that Tönnies invented ‘a correlation coefficient of his own’ before adding that it was nevertheless the case that before 1933, empirical research had failed to acquire sufficient prestige to find a home in European universities (Lazarsfeld, 1972, p. 328). True, the development of modern empirical techniques is of European origin. Sampling techniques derived from Booth’s massive London surveys and factor analysis from the Englishman Charles Spearman, while family research emphasizing quantification owes itself to the Frenchman Frederic Le Play. Gabriel Tarde stressed the necessity of attitude measurement along with communications research, and earlier, during the French Revolution, the notion of applying mathematical models to voting was carefully worked out by the Marquis de Condorcet.

David E. Morrison

Public Culture and Mediated Publics


11. The Dream Machine? — Television as Public Culture

In this chapter, I want to pursue some questions about television’s character as public culture, questions which turn on matters both of cultural form and of content as well as on broader questions of the television economy and the institutions and structures which affect policy and practice. I want to do this by taking as my principal reference point a 50-year-old television programme, directed by the distinguished documentarist, Denis Mitchell, which took the social identity of television as its subject. It was called The Dream Machine, made by ATV and broadcast on the British ITV channel on Wednesday, 11 November 1964. I want to look at the questions it raised about the nature of television and the kind of tentative answers it offered. Not only the programme’s treatment of its topic but also its own design and delivery as a piece of television are clearly of interest, since it is an example of the very phenomenon it sets out to investigate. My approach will require quite extensive citation from the programme, but I hope this will prove readable and illuminating.

John Corner

12. Audiences and Publics: Reflections on the Growing Importance of Mediated Participation

As part of the task of understanding how our world has become increasingly media saturated lies a conceptual uncertainty regarding ordinary people. Through much of the 20th century, they were called ‘audiences’ — in academia and in everyday discourse. In relation to specific media, they were — and still are — referred to as ‘readers’, ‘listeners’ or ‘viewers’. In the jargon of contemporary regimes of governance, they are called ‘consumers’ or ‘citizens’. As the media environment diversifies to encompass interactive and networked media, the language of ‘users’ has gained prominence. But although the notion of audience remains the most commonly accepted collective term for people’s relations (now pluralized) to the media in all their forms, this does not bring consensus. Most importantly, audiences are still commonly distinguished from the main collective term for ordinary people in a modern democratic society, that of ‘the public’.

Sonia Livingstone

13. On Seeing Both Sides: Notes on the 2012 Presidential Debates

The term ‘media events’ refers to those live broadcasts of ‘historic’ occasions, whether ceremonial or disruptive, that mobilize an entire nation or the whole world. Normatively, the genre tells us that there is nothing more important to do than go home and watch television! The first such broadcast was the coronation of Elizabeth in 1953, when television was introduced (Dayan and Katz, 1994, pp. 31–2). Not long after, in 1960, there followed an equally compelling broadcast, the pre-election presidential debates between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon that were viewed simultaneously by almost two-thirds of Americans and have served as a model for subsequent debates in the United States and throughout the democratic world (Katz and Feldman, 1962 pp. 130–5).1

Elihu Katz, Menahem Blondheim

Changing Media, New Democratic Opportunities


14. Changing Societies, Changing Media Systems: Challenges for Communication Theory, Research and Education

The current era of economic crisis and political turmoil comes in the aftermath of 40 years of social and economic change, commonly lumped together under the heading ‘globalization’. Critics of this era typically refer to its guiding ethos as neo-liberalism, which broadly refers to an ideology of market deregulation that was typically sold politically with the promise that individuals would experience great freedom of choice in an enhanced consumer marketplace. The political marketing slogan for this broad transformation of public and private life is typically a variation on ‘free markets, free people’. The global trend to deregulate markets even touched many once protected public goods and services such as health care, education, public broadcasting funding and public utilities. As these policy reforms swept through various societies, they were accompanied by a number of secondary (and often unimagined) consequences, including the fragmentation of social institutions, the individuation or separation of people from those social institutions, and the gradual replacement of modern social structures based on groups, class, and common memberships and status with more fluid social relations, ushering in an era that has been described variously as ‘liquid modernity’ (Bauman, 2000) and the ‘networked society’ (Castells, 2010). Noting that these networked forms of social, economic and political relations are often made stable and effective through innovative communication technologies, Bimber (2003) has termed the emerging era a ‘post bureaucratic society’.

W. Lance Bennett

15. The Internet’s Gift to Democratic Governance: The Fifth Estate

Many administrations have launched major initiatives to put public information and services online. Increasingly, citizens and businesses can go online for many public digital government services. Similar initiatives have been tied to digital democracy, such as efforts to support democratic institutions and processes, policy consultations, and improved access to government documents and data. Nevertheless, many continue to view the Internet as a marginal, if not irrelevant, tool in political campaigns, elections and other democratic engagements. To many, it is more of a risk than an opportunity, such as in promoting direct forms of political participation — so-called point-and-click democracy — that lack adequate information and public deliberation. Nevertheless, most of these digital democracy initiatives are driven by an effort to maintain and enhance existing democratic institutions.

William H. Dutton

16. Towards an Inclusive Digital Public Sphere

An interesting question worthy of address by political communication research is whether we are witnessing the reappearance of the ‘romantic’ features of the early Habermasian (1962/1989) idea of the ‘public sphere’ in today’s global media ecosystem. In the theorist’s imagination, it was late 18th century Europe’s coffee shop environment that provided a locale where the public (mostly bourgeois) met informally to discuss issues of public interest, wherefrom eventually emerged public opinion. In the cafés, and other casual meeting places, later to become — when not disbanded by despotic regimes of the time — crowded squares and town halls, public opinion grew to become a critical force, both cultural (capable of questioning the foundations of the existing power systems) and political (able to challenge the power of the dominant classes).

Gianpietro Mazzoleni

17. Beyond the Po-Faced Public Sphere

Willie Whitelaw, who served as deputy prime minister under Margaret Thatcher, once accused his political opponents of ‘stirring up apathy’. This was, to be sure, an infelicitous construction: apathy — from the Greek a-pathos; without feeling — implies that something is absent — and to stir up an absence of feeling would seem to be an absurd enterprise. But there is a second sense in which Whitelaw’s accusation should interest us, for it belongs to that tradition of thought which regards emotions as smouldering liabilities, constantly in danger of being kindled, inflamed, stirred up. Just as you ‘stir up apathy’, you ignite pathos — which then disrupts and disables its Aristotelian antithesis, logos. Politics, according to this discourse, entails quiet appeals to reason. The political becomes a project to protect logos from contamination by pathos.

Stephen Coleman

The Past, Present and Future of Political Communication


18. Jay Blumler: A Founding Father of British Media Studies

Jay Blumler was a pioneer researcher into the media before media studies became part of the British university repertoire. He was an institution builder, as the director of the Leeds University Centre for Television Research — the progenitor of the University of Leeds’ celebrated Institute of Communications Studies — and as a co-founder of the influential European Journal of Communication, established in 1984. However, his principal claim to fame is that his publications, spanning half a century, have influenced the development of media studies both in Britain and internationally.

James Curran

19. ‘Values Are Always at Stake’: An Interview with Jay G. Blumler

One of the questions you often raise in research seminars is about the normative position of the speaker. Is it essential for media and communications researchers to have a clear normative stance? Why is it so important in your view?

I’m not sure whether it’s essential, but I certainly think it is desirable and important. And that’s because values are at stake in our subfield of the communication discipline. I think one can see that at four different levels. First of all, there is the civic level itself. On the one hand, there is the Schumpeterian view that democracy should pivot on competition between two teams of would-be political leaders for the votes of citizens. Now, that was not just an observation of how democratic politics was being conducted on the part of Schumpeter and others who followed him (often described as a ‘realist’ view of democracy), but it was also normative for him. At one point, Schumpeter even maintained that for politics to work well, there should be restraint on the part of citizens from trying to do more than choose between competing leaders (Schumpeter, 1942). Well, of course, that stands in opposition to the participatory view of democracy, especially as outlined by Carole Pateman (1970), who argued that a worthwhile democratic process should encourage, enable and involve more wide-ranging forms of citizen participation.

Katy Parry, Giles Moss


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