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Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical
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Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical

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Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical …

Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands; Why Dutch voters are less cynical

Mark Boukes
markboukes@hotmail.com

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  1. Explaining political coverage in the Netherlands Why Dutch voters are less cynical Literature synthesis Mark Boukes 5616298 1st semester 2010/2011 Journalism and the Media Lecturers: dr. S.K. Lecheler en dr. R.J.W. van der Wurff November 25, 2010 Communication Science (Research MSc) Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences University of Amsterdam
  2. Table of contentsINTRODUCTION.............................................................................................................................................1METHOD........................................................................................................................................................1FINDINGS.......................................................................................................................................................2 ECONOMIZATION.......................................................................................................................................................2 RATIONALIZATION.......................................................................................................................................................3CONCLUSION.................................................................................................................................................5REFERENCES..................................................................................................................................................5
  3. IntroductionMany communication scientists seem to be convinced of the importance and impact of mediain causing political cynicism, which can be defined as “… a lack of faith or trust in politics,governmental institutions, or politicians”. (Agger, Goldstein & Pearl, 1961, in: Schenk-Hamlin, Procter & Rumsey, 2000, p. 55) Cappella and Jamieson (1996) present several causesof political cynicism. One of those is disappointment in offered policy alternatives ordissatisfaction with current leaders. However, because a large part of what most people knowabout politics is learned via media coverage, they paid much attention to communicationstudies. Two possible causes were found in the media: a rise of negative reporting and a shiftin framing from mainly issue-oriented coverage, to more strategic and game framed coverage. Remarkable is that an increase of political cynicism seems to be assumed in manystudies, while the evidence for it is not presented. This is especially strange when studiesconducted in the United States are interpreted in an European context. Trust in support forpolitical institutions was found to decrease in the United States for a period over 40 years byDalton (2004), while Van der Burg and Van Praag (2007) found an overall increase insatisfaction with the way democracy works in the Netherlands and a rather stable trust indemocratic institutions. Voter turnout is also rather stable in the Netherlands; both in theseventies and in the 2000’s this was about 80% (Andeweg & Irwin, 2009). Why politicalcynicism seems less the case in the Netherlands than in the American context might beexplained by differences in political news coverage. The research question for this literaturesynthesis is therefore: What characterizes modern news coverage of politics in theNetherlands compared to coverage in the United States? With answering this question I hopeto get more insight in Dutch journalistic culture and other factors that influence coverage.Next to this, I hope to make clear results from media research should not be so easilygeneralized to other countries.MethodI conducted this research by means of a literature review. In the first place I searched forscientific articles about coverage of politics and election campaigns in the Netherlands.However, as there was not very much literature on this country, and many focused on effectsonly, I broadened my search to countries that are comparable to the Dutch case according toHallin and Mancini (2004). 1
  4. The articles were found via the Digital Library of the University of Amsterdam and inGoogle Scholar with diverse combinations of the following keywords: coverage, journalists,elections, politics, election campaigns, Netherlands and political cynicism. The selection ofarticles was based on titles and abstracts, also their references were looked through to see ifthe authors used some more interesting articles.FindingsBlumler and Kavanagh (1999) described various trends in the societal environment thatpotentially change media coverage about politics. At least two of those seem important tounderstand the differences between political coverage in the Netherlands and coverage in theUnited States: economization and rationalization.EconomizationThe trend of economization is seen in the increasing importance of economic factors ondecisions (Blumler & Kavanagh, 1999). This mainly stems from the drive to attract biggeraudiences to make (more) profit. Making profit became more difficult due to declines innewspapers circulations (Lewis, Williams & Franklin, 2008) or fragmentation of the publiccaused by an increasing number of broadcasters. Brants and Van Praag (2006) studied if thereis also a trend in news coverage about the Dutch elections towards more economic decisions,a media logic. This was done by content analyses of newspapers in 1956 and television newsbetween 1986 and 2003. Tone and substantiveness of coverage were used as indicators ofcommercial interest, moreover these are often related to causing political cynicism (Cappella& Jamieson, 1996). An interesting pattern was found; whereas the proportion horse race newsincreased in news of the commercial broadcaster RTL4, this stays stable in news of publicbroadcasters NOS. Possibly commercial pressures caused this as that will be larger incommercial than in public organizations. However, tone of the news did not change between1986 and 2003 for both NOS and RTL news. Another difference they found was the average time politicians were quoted; on theNOS this was 29 seconds, while in RTL news this was only 13 seconds. Their commercialdrive might also have caused this, for making news more attractive by shortening andsimplifying. When the shorter length of sound bites was caused by commercial pressures, itwould be likely to find similar results in the United States where all large broadcasters arecommercial organizations. Hallin (1992) indeed found a decrease in the length of sound bitesbetween 1968 and 1988, possibly caused by increased commercial interests. Bucy and Grabe(2007) found more recently, that sound bites are still getting shorter in the US. 2
  5. Coming back to the proportion of substantive news, Strömback and Dimitrova (2006)compared election news coverage in Sweden (2002) with the United States (2004) withcontent analyses of front-page news. Sweden is similar to the Netherlands on many areas; astrong public broadcasting system, a proportional voting system that is party centred and highvoter turnout (80%). By contrast, the American voting system is based on majorities inelectoral districts, candidate centred and turnout is lower (61%), furthermore the US mediahave a higher degree of commercialization than in Sweden with public service broadcastingand subsidized newspapers. Those differences in political and media systems are related todifferences in election coverage, which are largely in line with Brants and Van Praag’sfindings (2006). US coverage contained much less issue-focused reporting and more horserace and strategy framing. Those differences can, just as differences in sound bites length, beexplained by commercial pressures. Swedish newspapers, as they are subsidized, have lessnecessity to write thrilling and entertaining stories, but can focus more on substantive issues.Curran, Iyengar, Brink Lund and Salovaara-Moring (2009) found in a comparative researchthat in countries belonging to the democratic corporatist model (Denmark and Finland) newsbroadcasts paid more attention to public affairs and international news than media in marketmodel countries (the US). Furthermore, next to the differences in content, commercialpressures also led American media to broadcast news only in early and late evenings, while incountries with a public broadcaster news is being broadcast several times during prime time,just as is in the Netherlands. The relative lack of commercial pressure in the Netherlands or similar countries, thusled to more substantive coverage, by having less horse race coverage and longer soundbites,which is being broadcast on times that it is likely to reach larger audiences.RationalizationIt seems that all kinds of organizations are more elaborating on their actions; in politics forexample by advertising and public relations with as goal letting journalists report on the issuesthey would like the electorate to think about (Blumler & Kavanagh, 1999). Howeverjournalists are nowadays not as cooperative as they were fifty years ago (Brants & Van Praag,2006). An effect called the spiral of cynicism was described by Brants, De Vreese, Möller,and Van Praag (2010). Journalists became more cynical as they felt that politicians doeverything to get in the news. Journalists therefore will write in more strategic terms aboutpolitics, due to this growing media salacity and the feeling that politicians attempt to managethem. Although this journalist-politician relationship might seem bad, it seems relatively good 3
  6. compared it to other countries. Van Dalen and Van Aelst (n.d.) show that Dutch journalistshave lunch more often with politicians than journalists in most other countries, and give themmore often advice on their job. Though this relationship seems to be relatively good, in theUnited Kingdom, which is on many areas comparable to the United States, this relation seemseven better. Less negative and strategically framed coverage in The Netherlands seems thusnot to be caused by the quality of the journalist-politician relation. However, because Britishjournalists have such extraordinary good relationships with politicians, this might explainmore negatively and strategically writing about opponents of politicians they like. This mightalso explain the higher proportion of metacoverage (writing about the interaction betweenpolitical PR and journalism) in the United States and the United Kingdom compared toGermany (Esser, Reinemann & Fan, 2001), which is relatively similar to the Netherlands.However, De Vreese (2001) found in interviews with people of the NOS that they also wantedto report more “about the campaign, rather than reporting the campaign” (p. 166) during theelection of 1998, probably leading to an increase in metacoverage. The findings of Brants etal. (2010) and De Vreese (2001) make clear that the relationship between journalists andpoliticians in the Netherlands also became one of mutual distrust, which predicts an increasein strategically framed news. Acknowledging an increase in strategically framed articles, it is remarkable that Brantsand Van Praag (2006) did not find an increase in negative coverage, while this could beexpected in times of increased economic interests. Walter and Vliegenthart (2010) focused onthis last element in relation to Dutch election campaigns in 2006, by content analyzing threeoutlets. In public election broadcasts, Zendtijd voor Politieke Partijen, few negative appealstowards other parties are found compared to debates and newspapers. However it seemsreasonable that public election broadcasts determine the tone for other outlets; this explainsthe limited amount of negative coverage. The main reason for the relatively low proportion ofnegative campaigning (p. 16) is the multiparty context of the Netherlands, which forcespolitical parties to cooperate with other parties when they want to govern the country, and thisbecomes difficult when potential partners are offended too much in campaigns. Anotherreason to avoid getting too negative is potential backfire, by creating a weak and desperateimage (Lau & Rovner, 2009). Nevertheless, Walter (2009) found a steep increase in negativecampaigning in the Netherlands; in public election broadcasts and debates the proportiondoubled between 2002 and 2006. Rationalization thus might have a two-way effect on political coverage. On the onehand, increased use of public relations and spin doctors can cause cynicism of journalists, 4
  7. who as a consequence write more in strategically frames about politics. On the other hand,negative coverage about politics seems to be limited as parties would decrease their chancesto govern by being too negative about other parties. This rational consideration, howeverseem to become less important recently as an increase in negative appeals is found.ConclusionWhen news coverage of politics in the Netherlands is compared to that in the United Statesthe literature indicate that coverage is more substantive with longer soundbites and lessnegatively framed. Though the increasing commercial pressures in the Netherlands and amore cynical attitude of journalists are also found in the Netherlands, the effects of it on newscoverage are partly limited for two reasons. The first is the strong public broadcasting systemin the Netherlands, which is largely financed by the state and therefore feel journalistsprobably less pressure to produce commercially attractive news. Another moderatinginfluence seems to be the absence of a majoritarian political system, which makes itunattractive to treat opponents (but also potential partners) too negative. More substantive andless negative coverage might be an explanation for the relative absence of political cynicismin the Dutch context. One gap in the literature that can be filled with future research is the question whyjournalists, who normally seem resistant to change (Ryfe, 2009), did and still seem topainlessly cooperate with the trend towards commercialization and with this in the eyes of atleast some the devaluation of their job. However, for now seems it clear that the relativeabsence of negatively and strategically framed news has to do with the importance of publicbroadcasting and the respective environment of Dutch politics.ReferencesAndeweg, R. B., & Irwin, G. A. (2009). Governance and Politics of the Netherlands. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire (UK): Palgrave Macmillan.Blumler, J. G., & Kavanagh, D. (1999). The third age of political communication: Influences and features. Political Communication, 16(3), 209-230.Brants, K., De Vreese, C., Möller, J., & Van Praag, P. (2010). The real spiral of cynicism? Symbiosis and mistrust between politicians and journalists. The International Journal of Press/Politics, 15(1), 25-40. 5
  8. Brants, K., & Van Praag, P. (2006). Signs of media logic. Half a century of political communication in the Netherlands. Javnost/the Public, 13(1), 25-40.Bucy, E. P., & Grabe, M. E. (2007). Taking television seriously: A sound and image bite analysis of presidential campaign coverage, 1992–2004. Journal of Communication, 57(4), 652-675.Cappella, J. N., & Jamieson, K. H. (1996). News frames, political cynicism, and media cynicism. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 546(1), 71-84.Curran, J., Iyengar, S., Brink Lund, A., & Salovaara-Moring, I. (2009). Media System, Public Knowledge and Democracy. European Journal of Communication, 24(1), 5-26.Dalton, R. J. (2004). Democratic Challenges, Democratic Choices; The Erosion of Political Support in Advanced Industrial Democracies. Oxford: Oxford University Press.De Vreese, C. H. (2001). Election coverage: New directions for public broadcasting. European Journal of Communication, 16(2), 155-180.Esser, F., Reinemann, C., & Fan, D. (2001). Metacommunication about media manipulation: Spin doctors in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 6(1), 16-45.Hallin, D.C. (1992). Sound bite news. Television coverage of elections, 1968-1988. Journal of Communication, 42(2), 5-24.Hallin, D. C. & Mancini, P. (2004). Americanization, Globalization and Secularization: Understanding the Convergence of Media Systems and Political Communication in the U.S. and Western Europe. In: F. Esser & B. Pfetsch (eds). Comparing Political Communication: Theories, Cases and Challenges (pp. 25-44). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Lau, R. R., & Rovner, B. I. (2009). Negative Campaigning. Annual Review of Political Science. 12(1), 285-306.Schenk-Hamlin, W. J., Procter, D. E., & Rumsey, D. J. (2000). The influence of negative advertising frames on political cynicism and politician accountability. Human communication research, 26(1), 53-74. 6
  9. Strömback, J. & Dimitrova, D. V. (2006). Political and media systems matter: A comparison of election news coverage in Sweden and the United States. Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics, 11(4), 131-147.Van Dalen, A. & Van Aelst, P. (n.d.). Political journalists. Covering politics in the corporatist media system. Unpublished manuscript.Van der Brug, W., & Van Praag, P. (2007). Erosion of political trust in the Netherlands: Structural or temporarily? A research note. Acta Politica, 42(4), 443-458.Walter, A. S. (2009). Met Bos bent u de klos: Negatieve campagnevoering tijdens de Tweede Kamerverkiezingen van 2002, 2003 en 2006. In: Jaarboek Documentatiecentrum Nederlandse Politieke Partijen 2007 (1st ed.), Ed. Gerrit Voerman. Groningen (NL): DNPP/Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.Walter, A. S., & Vliegenthart, R. (2010). Negative campaigning across different communication channels: Different ball games? The International Journal of Press/Politics, 1-21. 7

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