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This book offers new and compelling insight into the orientations that shape the cultures of political communication in nine Western democracies. It is a truly comparative account of the views of 2500 political elites and media elites between Helsinki and Madrid on their relationship and their exchanges.



Blind Spots in the Analysis of the Media-Politics Relationship in Europe

1. Blind Spots in the Analysis of the Media-Politics Relationship in Europe

This volume tackles the underlying cultural foundations of the relationship between the media and politics in European democracies. We use the concept of political communication culture to relate to the attitudes of key actors in political communication, such as high-ranking journalists in the national media, political elites and their spokespersons. Our study moves beyond and compliments the manifest actions and outcomes of political communication and their correlates, such as individual news media reports and single campaigns, which can be observed as products or in terms of their effects. We tend to lose out on accounting for the beliefs that inspire the daily routines of journalists meeting with politicians and spokespersons, and the results of these encounters. When we are left to speculate about actors’ political attitudes and interpretations of their professional roles, we miss important features of the production and communication of political messages. Therefore, one claim driving this study has been to take a closer look at the media-politics relationship, and to understand the orientations that undergird the interactions. By researching attitudinal underpinnings, we aim to identify the normative basis of an “emergent shared culture” (Blumler and Gurevitch, 1995, p. 36), which binds politicians and journalists together in the mutual exchange of messages and in ongoing negotiations about what is to be published.
Barbara Pfetsch

Part I


2. The Idea of Political Communication Cultures and its Empirical Correlates

During the last decade, scholars from several Western countries1 have observed that the relationship between politicians and journalists has reached a new quality with respect to their institutional and organizational framework and their cultural roots. For instance, Davis (2009) found for the UK that the interaction has become more reflexive over time and now includes much more than the basic exchange of information for publicity. The new quality has been attributed to the fact that, in addition to functional exchange relations with the media, politicians seem to use encounters with journalists for their own information purposes, and they also draw on journalists’ policy and media expertise and their judgment about ongoing politics. Journalists are perceived to play an active role, for instance, in political agenda-setting (Walgrave, 2008), and as mediators of information and power brokers within the political system (Davis, 2010). At the same time, they seem also to have become more cynical with regard to their feeling of being instrumental to politics (Van Dalen et al., 2011). Politicians on the other side of the table, however, are found to increasingly adapt their behaviors and strategies to media requirements (Kepplinger, 2009a), and they seem to have become quite comfortable with their media dealings (Ross, 2010; Elmelund-Praestekaer et al., 2011).
Barbara Pfetsch

3. Contexts of the Media-Politics Relationship: Country Selection and Grouping

The comparative study of political communication culture rests on the assumption that national milieus of the media-politics relationship are in one way or another related to the structure of media and political systems. In our comparative study we do not expect possible differences in the attitudinal patterns across countries to occur because the actors are, for example, Danish, Spanish or German nationals. More specifically, individuals have been socialized by their historically conditioned political and media institutions and therefore act and interact under different systemic constraints. Therefore, national contexts consisting of media and political system features are related to the orientations of actors of political communication. Moreover, we can also assume that the broader political culture of a country—that is, the way people relate to politics and democracy—influences the conduct of public communication and therefore may constrain political communication culture. For instance, less support for political institutions may strengthen the polarization of mediated political communication because of sharper political conflicts and ideological confrontation.
Barbara Pfetsch, Peter Maurer, Eva Mayerhöffer, Tom Moring, Stephanie Schwab Cammarano

4. Methods and Challenges of Comparative Surveys of Political Communication Elites

Comparing similar phenomena in different cultural settings has always been a “tricky problem” in social science as questions of identity and equivalence are at the core of cross-national research (van Deth, 1998, p. 3). Our comparative study of political communication cultures in Western Europe is based on a survey of 2,500 high-ranking journalists, politicians and political spokespersons. Conducting interviews with this group in nine countries under different circumstances was a challenging task. In this chapter we tackle the methodological aspects and the difficulties that arose with the empirical study, and we discuss the solutions of the country teams. First, we addressed equivalence in terms of populations, samples and measurement (Wirth and Kolb, 2004; Van de Vijver and Leung, 1997). We were confronted with the task of defining functional equivalent populations and recruiting the relevant political communication actors. In the first section of this chapter, we discuss the sampling strategy across the nine countries. Related to sampling are issues of interview modes and response rates. We therefore describe the approach to data collection and the national variation in response rates. These questions refer to the validity of the data, which is an important prerequisite of the analyses. The second section of this chapter addresses the potential influences of culture and interview mode on the response behavior of the respondents.
Peter Maurer, Miika Vähämaa

5. National or Professional? Types of Political Communication Culture across Europe

Which professional and political orientations of journalists and political actors shape the milieu of political communication in Western European democracy? Which are the typical features and clusters of the subjective basis of the media-politics relationship within and across nations? Do certain structures of the media and political system resonate with the attitudinal underpinnings of political communication? These questions are at the core of this chapter, which seeks to bring together all aspects of the empirical study of the political communication culture that we have introduced thus far. Now we determine and compare the attitudes and role perceptions of politicians, political spokespersons and journalists aiming to map out particular national cultures of political communication. We further develop a heuristic of the grouping of these milieus in the nine countries of our study and establish whether we can distinguish the milieu of political communication in Southern Europe from the approaches that are taken in the Northern part of the continent or in the German-speaking countries.
Barbara Pfetsch, Eva Mayerhöffer, Tom Moring

Part II


6. Public Opinion Polls as an Input Factor of Political Communication

Public opinion polls are an integral part of political communication as they serve as an input factor for both the messages of politicians and their spokespersons, as well as the political reporting of the media. For political actors, the information about the opinions of citizens transmitted by polling has become an important factor to be taken into account when making decisions and communicating with citizens, while for political journalists, polling results have become a newsworthy piece of information (Strömbäck, 2012a; Holtz-Bacha, 2012). Politicians, journalists, professional communicators and citizens live in a world in which polling results have de facto become the predominant representation of public opinion (Raupp, 2007).
Eva Mayerhöffer, Aleksander Sašo Slaček Brlek

7. Democratic Demands on the Media

Undoubtedly, democratic ideals are central to discussions of political communication culture. In democratic societies, these ideals are embedded in the professional norms of the media and political elites. Today there is greater consensus than ever regarding fundamental democratic ideals that pertain to the media, even on a global scale. We acknowledge the need for freedom of speech and of the press, the significance of transparent political processes and the value of an informed citizenry.
Nicklas Håkansson, Eva Mayerhöffer

8. Politicized Media? Partisanship and Collusion in the European Context

The main argument of this chapter is that the politicization of the media plays a vital part in the daily reality of political communication in Europe. Politicization may be said to occur whenever political values, motives and orientations affect editorial and/or journalistic practice. Although the idea of completely non-political media has probably always been more a normative theoretical construct than an empirical reality, the impact of political rationality and a political logic of action on the media is still a highly contested issue that touches the core of the current media-politics relationship in several ways.
Anders Esmark

9. Media Power in Politics

Investigations of media power in politics have become a core interest in communication and political science over recent decades. It has been widely reported that the media plays an influential role in modern politics. Thus the concept of media power is as widely addressed as it is vague. Although the term “media power” is explicitly used in the headings of recent political communication textbooks, the concept still lacks systematic theoretical and empirical reflection and remains rather implicit, which also points to its complexity and ambiguity (Curran, 2002; Curran and Seaton, 2003; Graber, 2006; Kaid and Holtz-Bacha, 2008; Lilleker, 2006; Rozell and Mayer, 2008).
Günther Lengauer, Patrick Donges, Fritz Plasser

10. Media Logics and Changes in News Reporting

While the previous chapter focused on the political power attributed to the media in political communication, this chapter attempts to describe how political communication actors perceive changes in news reporting and peculiarities of media logic. In discussions about political communication and its implications for the structures and cultures of political decision-making and democracy, changes in news reporting, such as personalization, commercialization, entertainment-orientation and negativism, are frequently mentioned as playing a vital role. Habermas, for instance, fears that “issues of political discourse become assimilated into and absorbed by the modes and contents of entertainment” and maintains that “besides personalization, the dramatization of events, the simplification of complex matters, and the vivid polarization of conflicts promote civic privatism and a mood of antipolitics” (Habermas, 2006, p. 422). According to Gurevitch, Coleman and Blumler (2009, pp. 172; 175), “politics is often projected as an arena of gamesmanship, failure, scandal and gaffes rather than the deliberative discussion of issues”, and “television’s emphasis upon political personalization continues unabated”. Furthermore, the empirical evidence of a general trend toward changes such as personalization is not as clear as it seems. Critics emphasize that content analyses of changes such as personalization are often unsystematic and ahistorical, and that in some cases there is evidence that personalization does not actually take place (Karvonen, 2010).
Patrick Donges, Nicklas Håkansson, Günther Lengauer

11. Public Agenda-Setting between Media Logic and Political Logic

The fact that political parties and to some extent also the various parts of the executive and the legislative branch have more or less consistently tried to increase their strategic capacity to influence the public agenda is largely undisputed (Norris, 2000; Louw, 2005; Negrine, 2008). This development is seen to have taken off in the 1990s (Norris, 2000) as part of the adaptation to the “imperatives of the professionalization” of political advocacy and publicity, which constitutes one of the most prominent dynamics of the politics-media relationship in the current “age” of political communication (Blumler and Kavanagh, 1999, p. 214). Other aspects of the professionalization trend notwithstanding, the accelerated pursuit of agenda-setting through the management of communication content (issue selection, priming, framing, simplification, personal focus, negative campaigning, etc.) and media relations (network-building, selective liaising with journalists, leaking, event creation, damage control, etc.) can be said to constitute the core of current communication strategies employed by political actors.
Anders Esmark, Eva Mayerhöffer

12. Political Communication Roles Inside Out

A well-established sociological insight states that roles constitute a key component of social systems, regardless of their size and type (Linton, 1936; Parsons, 1951; Morris, 1971). The importance of roles lies in their ability to establish the crucial link between the functional orientation of a given system and the social identity of the actors operating within the system. This is not meant to suggest that the social identity offered by roles simply corresponds to the experienced identity and actual behavior of individual actors. However, roles stand out among the various components of systemic culture due to their intrinsic expectations toward individual behavior that provides actors with a social identity or “self-image” within a given system: “A role may be understood as a set of norms and expectations applied to the incumbent of a particular position” (Banton, 1965, p. 29).
Anders Esmark, Mark Blach-Ørsten

13. Distant North-Conflictive South: Patterns of Interaction and Conflict

The quality of the interaction between politicians and journalists is of tremendous importance to the effective functioning of democracy. Studies indicate that these interactions influence both the political and the media agenda (Davis, 2007b; Tresch, 2008). The people typically learn what they know about the politics of the day from the mass media. Although events and news values drive political media content, it is also the product of the exchange between journalists and politicians. This chapter focuses on the personal dimension of political communication cultures: the self and mutual perception of the exchange between politicians and journalists. It examines the character of their relationship across Europe. How do politicians and journalists perceive the interaction? How often do the two interact and how conflictive or how friendly is their relationship? Finally, how can one explain the mode of interaction? To answer these questions we look at the similarities and differences in the national patterns of exchange. This chapter attempts to reveal whether there is an association between journalist-politician interaction cultures and the media and political structure of opportunities (see Chapter 3). In particular, we investigate whether the conditions inherent in the models of media systems depicted by Hallin and Mancini (2004) and the culturally driven family of nation clusters outlined by Castles (1993a) are useful in understanding the interaction cultures between journalists and politicians.
Stephanie Schwab Cammarano, Juan Díez Medrano

14. European Political Communication Cultures and Democracy

The changes in political communication during the last half-century have been intense. The emergence of television offered direct access to the living room, giving rise to new opportunities for politicians and journalists to perform and to criticize. New techniques for campaigning were developed, occasionally placing spin-doctors in the driver’s seat and offering new platforms for spokespersons and pundits. Living-room politics (Morley, 1986) became a battleground for not only politicians but also the media. Among the responses by printing houses to the new competition from electronic media were the tabloidization of the press, followed by efforts toward media convergence to reconquer parts of the expanding mediascape. These measures dramatically influenced the conditions for production and content of political messages. The speed of the dissemination increased immensely, as did the reach of news and political information, while at the same time the new media landscape offered lacunas for diversification. Against this background the authors of this volume outlined a broad comparative study of political communication culture, covering nine European countries. We asked 2,500 key actors about their attitudes underlying political communication today.
Tom Moring, Barbara Pfetsch


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