Journalism and democracy


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Journalism and democracy

  1. 1. Journalism and democracy: thedebateMC404 Political CommunicationsDr. Carolina Matos
  2. 2. Overview• Democratic media functions - historical perspectives on news impact and agenda-setting• Walter Lippmann on Public Opinion• Journalism and democracy: the core political functions of the media (Norris, 2000)• James Curran on liberal media theory• Robert Hackett on the conservative, public sphere liberalism and radical democratic critiques of the media• Objectivity and professionalism (Matos, 2008; Hallin, 2000)• You Tube videos: Outfoxed Rupert Murdoch (1-9) and CNN shows the mainstream media’s bias
  3. 3. The media, journalism and politics
  4. 4. Public Opinion• Walter Lippmann(1922) argued that people spent little time informing themselves and that most people had confused ideas in relation to politics and interests beyond small circle of friends.• Lippmann (1922) has been, according to critics like Schudson (1978), one of the most forceful spokesmen for the ideal of objectivity. “As our minds become more deeply aware of their own subjectivism, we find zest in objective method that is not otherwise there.”• Lippmann (1922, 126) also pointed out how one tends to belief in the absolutism of ones own views. “For while men are willing to admit that there are two sides to a “question’’, they do not believe that there are two sides to what they regard as a “fact’’’’.• Chomksy’s propaganda model also assigns an “agenda-setting” role for the mainstream US media (“the manufacture of consent”)
  5. 5. Walter Lippmann and the news that is fit to print• “For the real environment is altogether too big, too complex…for direct acquaintance. We are not equipped to deal with too much….we have to reconstruct it on a simpler model…All reporters in the world working all hours of the day could not witness all the happenings in the world. But the facts are not simple...but subject to choice and opinion, it is natural that everyone should wish to make his own choice of facts for the newspaper to print…” (1922).
  6. 6. Agenda-setting function of the media• Weaver, McCombs and Shaw (1972) conducted the 1st empirical study of the agenda-setting process• Chapel Hill Study was done with 100 undecided voters during the 1968 presidential elections• Assumption is that audiences learn what issues are important from the news media and adopts similar views• McCombs and Shaw found a high degree of agreement between the rank order of the 4 or 5 issues on the media agenda and those on the public agenda• McCombs and Shaw argued that, in choosing and displaying news, editors and newsroom staff play an important part in shaping political reality
  7. 7. The media as agenda-setters in the 1997 UK campaign• “Agenda-setting research is viewed as important....because it has established that the media do have an indirect effect, public agenda-setting.” (Rogers and Dearing, 1988 in Graber, 2007, 95)• Key question here is: does news matter? What is the impact of news...on moulding public opinion on certain issues?• Blumler and Gurevitch (2001) argued how “TV journalism also injected a more independent voice into the 1997 campaign….moving toward the more mediated style of US election news (Hallin, 1992).• “This development was striking at the BBC, where hesitations about claiming any agenda-setting role had long prevailed among its news executives and reporters” (Gurevitch and Blumler, 1993, in Bennett and Entman, 2001).
  8. 8. Information processing theories - on priming and political evaluations• According to Iyengar and Kinder (1987; 63), priming “refers to changes in the standards that people use to make political evaluations.”• Iyengar and Kinder (1987; 86-87) note that priming depends not only on the amount of coverage given to an issue, but also on the nature of such a coverage.• Priming, especially in its broader definition by Fiske and Taylor (1984), addresses the importance of both the mass media agenda and mass media semantic content in affecting public attitudes (Rogers and Dearing, 1988, in Graber, 2007).
  9. 9. On framing news stories (Entman, 1991, 2001)• Entman (1991) identifies five popular ways of framing news stories: 1) Conflict – this focuses on disagreement and division, often within political parties. Ex: the media in the UK constructed stories around Tony Blair and Gordon Brown in terms of conflict..; 2) Human Interest/Personalisation - provide a story with a human face, such as individual victims of natural disasters and wars. Here the personalization of politics can occur; personality is promoted; 3) Consequences – Pursing a policy may be unwise in terms of unity within a party or coalition or in terms of the status of a nation globally; 4) Morality – Media coverage can often moralize. Stories can take on a moral tone (i.e. the treatment of prisoners in Guantanamo Bay) or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; 5) Responsibility - I.e. Asian tsunami (in Lilleker, 2006; 84-85).
  10. 10. Audience framing• It is not only the journalist who can have a role in framing news stories (Tuchman, 1978), audiences can also be seen as framing (or perhaps reframing) the news that comes to their attention.• “The origins of audience frames are thus likely to be some combination of the news media “packages” (Gamson and Modigliani, 1989), the person’s structural location and values, political beliefs and knowledge, and the political norms and discourse of social groups” (McLeod, Kosicki and McLeod, 1994, 141).
  11. 11. Global Political Communications - Good governance, human development and communications (Norris, 2004)• Norris suggests that “media systems strengthen good governance and promote positive development...under two conditions: 1) where there is an independent press...; 2) where there is widespread access to the media...• Studies confirm that media systems that meet these conditions are more closely associated with indicators of good governance and human development - “Nations which have these systems experience less corruption, greater administrative efficiency, higher political well as better development outcomes, such as higher per capita income, greater literacy, less economic inequality, lower infant mortality rates and greater public spending on health...”• Mass media can have positive impact if it “functions as a watchdog holding the powerful to account and as a civic forum facilitating diversity....”
  12. 12. Three core political functions of the media (Norris, 2000, 27-34)• Norris also identified three core political functions of the news media system during election campaigns, based on the concepts of pluralistic competition, public participation and civil and political rights as developed by Joseph Schumpeter and Robert Dahl• 1) pluralistic competition among parties and individuals for all positions of government power;• 2) participation by citizens in the selection of parties and representatives through free, fair and periodic elections• 3) civil and political liberties to speak, publish, assemble and organize… ensure effective competition and participation.• In order to facilitate pluralistic competition, we assume that the news media should act as a civic forum for debate; to promote conditions for public participation, we assume that the news media…should act as a mobilizing agent…(34)
  13. 13. Core political functions of the media continued• Blumler and Gurevitch (in Jack McLeod, Gerald M. Kosicki and Douglas McLeod, 126) argued for 8 normative standards for media systems in democratic societies, including agenda-setting, providing platforms for advocacy and holding officials to account (in Norris, 2000, 33)• 1) surveillance of contemporary events…that will impinge upon the welfare of citizens;• 2) identification of key sociopolitical issues including their origins and possibilities for resolution;• 3) provision of platforms for advocacy by spoke-persons for causes.;• 4) transmission of diverse contents across various dimensions and factions of political discourse….• 5) scrutiny of government officials, their institutions and other agencies of power….;• 6) incentives and information to allow citizens to become active informed participants..;
  14. 14. The media as civic forum and the public sphere• The news media as civic forum has in its ideal the Habermasian conception of the public sphere; the ideal of the press as a civic forum for pluralist debate….has remained influential (Norris, 2000)• “Liberal theorists from Milton through Locke and Madison to John Stuart Mill have argued that a free and independent press within each nation can play a vital role in the process of democratization by contributing toward the right of freedom of expression, thought and conscience, strengthening the responsiveness of governments to all citizens, and providing a pluralist platform of political expression for a multiplicity of groups” (Sen, 1999).
  15. 15. The media and democracy: a critique to the watchdog function (Curran, 2007, 2000)• Principal democratic role of the media is to act as a check on the state and expose abuses of power, with the watchdog role seen as the most important democratic role of the media by market liberals• Problems with this approach – admits that it is important, but has its roots in the 18th century and struggles over state power• Needs to be re-defined in the 21st century in the light of increasing deregulation trends and expansion of media commercialisation• Curran argues that a revised vision needs to take into account the role of the media as checking on both public and private power
  16. 16. Curran on market liberal perspectives of the media• “The traditional public watchdog definition of the media thus legitimates the case for broadcasting reform, and strengthens the defense of a free market press” (Curran, 2007, 28)• Thus the core critique of the liberal market model is that is explains the media solely in terms of market imperatives. If private media are subject to constraints, so too are public media. (29)
  17. 17. The media and the state, the market, civil society and journalism (Matos,2008)• A “free” market press - the market functioned as a liberating and oppressive force at the same time – Limits where placed on the increase of public debate due to media concentration and excessive commercialization• The state – oppressive or vehicle for social and economic inclusion?• Civil society – negotiation with the market forces, the state and the media• Journalism – shaped by various forces (state, market and public opinion)• Problems to tackle:• - Strengthening of a complex media system with multiple journalism identities
  18. 18. The conservative perspective on the media (Hackett, 2005)• The conservative critique, or elitist democratic or “neo- liberal”, rose to the political hegemony from the 80’s onwards, and states that “governments that govern least are the best”• Democracy in this view is a process for selecting leaders who are the “experts” (the elite decision-making public), with citizen participation confined mainly to voting every few years.• Role of the press – by exposing corruption and power abuse, the press should act as a watchdog on government• Press need not raise questions about the social order… but focus in representing inter-elite debates and providing the public with “objective” information – elitist mandate articulated as early as the 20’s by Lippmann (87).
  19. 19. “The left liberal bias of the media”• “Conservatives (market liberals) fear that left-liberal and state- regulated journalism could threaten public support for business, and for the economic and military policies that….underpin freedom and prosperity” (87).• “The left liberal thesis is partial and misleading. Its persistence is accounted for… a generation-long corporate and right-wing “ideological mobilization” to undo the…60’s protest movements, to restore the unchallenged legitimacy of corporate capitalism…”(Hackett and Zhao, 1998; 138).• Youtube video: CNN shows the mainstream media’s bias (
  20. 20. The public sphere liberalism perspective (Hackett, 2005, 89-91)• The public sphere liberalism model accepts the elitist democrat’s support for individual rights and the watchdog press, but places a higher value on popular/participation through political channels• Role of journalism – “Liberal participatory democrats prioritize the role of media in facilitating or even constituting a public sphere…” (89)• “Market forces do not have only to down-market sleaze and the decline of traditional political news in newspapers, argues McNair (2000: 202, 208); they can also create incentives to invest in quality journalism….and far from stimulating cynicism, Norris (2000: 318) finds that “exposure” to news media, and trust participation in the political system, are mutually reinforcing (“Virtuous Circle”) (91).
  21. 21. Baker on functions of the news media• Baker (2002; 129-53) advocates 2….types of news media: 1) A segmented system that provides each significant cultural and political group with a forum to articulate and develop its interests• 2) Journalism imperatives that can facilitate the search for society-wide….by being universally accessible, inclusive (civil, objective, balanced and comprehensive) and thoughtfully discursive, not simply factual (in Hackett, 2005, 89).
  22. 22. The radical democratic perspective• “If market liberals emphasize individuals liberties and restrictions on government power, and public sphere liberals highlight public deliberation about policy, radical democrats add 3 dimensions – a view of democracy as not being just a set of procedures…….but a societal environment which nourishes development….everyone’s equal right to ‘ the full development and use’ of their capabilities (Macpherson, 1977; 14 in Hackett, 2005, 92).
  23. 23. The radical perspective meets the public sphere• Within the tradition of critical political economy, the media are seen as having a role in reversing structural inequalities of societies• The media should give more voice to various groups in civil society in order to facilitate social change, having a role in the fight against social injustice• “The public sphere and radical democratic critiques suggest that both countries… need to nurture a more democratic media system….Such pluralism requires regulatory and legislative initiatives, such as subsidies and media ownership ceilings because, left to themselves, commercial pressures will generally deepen rather than reduce the undemocratic aspects….” (95)
  24. 24. Curran’s democratic model for a complex media system (in Matos, 2008)• An ideal democratic media system is one in which various sectors, the state, the market, civic and alternative sectors, are represented (Matos, 2008)• Curran (1991, 2000: 142-149) has envisioned an alternative model for a complex media system - third way between liberalism and Marxism• It has at its core the public service TV, with private enterprise, the social, civic and the professional sectors surrounding it (1991,2000; 140-148).• Civic sector is composed of political parties, social movements and interest groups; the professional sector is controlled by professional communicators; the private is more responsive to popular pleasures and can act out the watchdog function whilst the social market represents minority media interests.• Youtube video: Outfoxed Rupert Murdoch (1-9) (
  25. 25. The debate on objectivity and balance in journalism: historical perspectives (in Matos, 2008)• According to US historians, journalists and academics (Waisbord, 2002; Tumber, 1999; Schudson, 1978), a more sophisticated reading of the ideal of objectivity gained strengthen amongst American journalists because of their..questioning of their own subjectivity.• Objectivity was also seen as vital for publishers and their needs to move away from highly politicized publications.... It also began to be considered a necessity by journalists who wanted their work to be taken seriously... Tumber, 1999; Merritt, 1995; Schudson, 1978; Tuchman, 1972)• Model of “information” and factual journalism...was mainly represented by the success of the New York Times since the 1890’s.
  26. 26. The objectivity dilemma (in Matos, 2008)• Critics have argued how objectivity serves as a defense system for journalists and news organizations to repudiate charges of bias (Tuchman, 1972, 1999).• Tuchman (1972) has stated that professional norms produce stories that support the existing order. She has examined the newsman’s notion of objectivity by focusing on some standard journalism practices, such as the presentation of all sides of a story during a period of time (the balance criteria)• As Hackett and Zhao (1998, 88) state, the objectivity regime persists precisely because “it does offer openings, however unequal, to different social and cultural groups”.• Critiques blame decline of public life on journalism• - Decrease in interest runs deeper (I.e. decline of modernism, growth of cynicism, relativism, individualism, etc).
  27. 27. On the importance of the ideal of objectivity• “We cannot coherently abandon the ideal of objectivity and, whatever they may think, objectivity critics do not abandon it either. To claim that a piece of journalism piece is not objective is to say that it fails to provide the truth.. How do we know that American news accounts on the Gulf War are partial, except by comparison with some other…possible accounts? We know how to distinguish between better and worse, more or less accurate accounts..” (Lichtenberg, 2000; 241-242).
  28. 28. The partisanship versus professionalism debate*• Professionalism was consolidated in the US in the mid-40’s, having had its roots in the ‘information’ journalism model led in part by The New York Times (Hallin, 2000; Schudson, 1978).• Hallin (2000) retains the philosophy of professionalism as a means of safeguarding journalism practice from economic and political pressures. He laments that in the US professionalism has declined in newsrooms due to marketing pressures.• Events which followed the Cold War consensus war, such as Vietnam, Watergate and the pressures of civil rights movements, diminished ‘objective journalism’ in the US, opening a trend towards interpretative journalism….• Regarding Vietnam War, Hallin (2000) stated that the changing political environment led to modifications in news reporting.* (in Matos, 2008)
  29. 29. Objectivity and professionalism continued (in Matos, 2008)- For Soloski (1989, 1999; 310), news professionalism controls journalists through the setting of standards and the reward and punishment systems. Control is not total because professionalism “provides journalists with an independent power base” while also affording journalists “too much freedom”, with news organizations adopting procedures again to limit professionalism.- Objectivity permitted certain views to be treated as acceptable, when before they were not. Hallin (2000) concluded that backing or critique of policies depends on the degree of consensus that these enjoy amongst the political establishment (Tumber, 1999, 288).• When consensus is strong, the media plays a relatively passive role and tends to reinforce official power….when political elites are divided, they become more active….objectivity and balance reign in the middle region, which he calls the sphere of legitimate controversy (Hallin, 2000 in Matos, 2008)
  30. 30. Some conclusions• 1) Both political authoritarianism and excessive economic pressures can impose constraints on media;• 2) The watchdog role has its limits, but is still vital to understand the democratic role of the media for both advanced democracies and emerging ones;• 3) Different perspectives on the media assign to it diverse roles and understand the deficit in US and UK journalism from various positions (i.e. market liberals, etc);• 4) Beyond discussions of “pessimistic” versus “optimistic” readings of the media;• 5) In spite of being attacked from various fronts, key liberal media theory demands (i.e. watchdog role, professionalism, objectivity) seem to remain still relevant (Matos, 2008; Curran; 2000).
  31. 31. Questions for further debate in Political Journalism lecture• What is the role of political journalism in the context of the “crisis of objectivity” and the rise of new media technologies?• Should there be a wider role for partisan media?• Depending on specific historical and political contexts, can journalism cultures of professionalism be used to advance democratisation or particular causes?• Is there a crisis in public communications?• Are commercial media worldwide “dumbing down”? What are the threats posed to the notion of the “media as a public sphere”?• Can civic and/or public forms of communication still have a role today?
  32. 32. Seminar activities for this week – group readings and presentations Hallin, Daniel (2000) “Commercialism and Professionalism in the American News Media” in Curran, James and Gurevitch, Michael (ed) Mass Media and Society, New York: Oxford Josephi, Beate (2008) “Journalism in the global age – between normative and empirical” in Tumber, Howard (ed) Journalism – Critical Concepts in Media and Cultural Studies, London Lichtenberg, Judith (2000) “In Defence of Objectivity Revisited” in Curran, James and Gurevitch, Michael (ed) Mass Media and Society, New York: Oxford University Press, p. 238-255 McNair, Brian (2007) “Politics, democracy and the media” in An Introduction to Political Communication, London: Routledge, Schudson, M. (1995) “The News Media and the Democratic Process” in The Power of News Harvard University Press: Cambridge, Mass, (see ch.10)
  33. 33. Set readings for next week• Thussu, D. K. (2007) News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment. London: Sage, chapter 5• Further reading: Baum, M. (2003) Soft News Goes to War: Public Opinion and American Foreign Policy in the New Media Age. Princeton University Press; Burston, J. (2003) “War and the Entertainment Industries: New Research Priorities in an Era of Cyber-Patriotism” in Thussu, D. K. and Freedman, D. (eds.) War and the Media: Reporting Conflict 24/7, Sage; Tumber, Howard and J. Palmer (2004) Media at war : the Iraq crisis. London: Sage• Seminars: Discussions of lecture and individual presentations