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Television and the public sphere

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Lecture notes for Level 2 undergrad class

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Television and the public sphere

  1. 1. Television and thePublic Sphere#MAC201 1robert.jewitt@sunderland.ac.uk
  2. 2. Overview1. Jurgen Habermas and the public sphere2. Testing the political public sphere3. Levels of coverage4. Newspaper discourse 2
  3. 3. Context• Examine the media’s democratic & civic usefulness• What is the function of the media in a context of global news, global markets, global audiences ?• Do the broadcasters have a responsibility to their stakeholders, advertisers, or audience? 3
  4. 4. News & political responsibility• To disseminate accurate information and political intelligence that is of general interest• To contribute to an informed political culture and civic society 4
  5. 5. 5
  6. 6. 1 - Jurgen Habermas• Internationally renowned philosopher and social scientist• Frankfurt School tradition• The public sphere• The realm of our social life from which “public opinion” emerges 6
  7. 7. Public sphere• Civic space in which private citizens could meet to discuss matters of political importance• Work towards the formation of a collective opinion for the benefit of the citizenry – ‘communicative rationality’ – knowledge, language and validity claims 7
  8. 8. Conditions for the public sphere• Free from the influences of: – the market place – the state – the family 8
  9. 9. 200,000 BCE 200,000 BCE shared property | hunter/gatherer | no leadership 11,000 BCE 11,000 BCE class | private property | the state | agriculture | authoritarianism 900-1750 CE 900-1750 CE aristocracy | theocracy | hereditary | nation states | merchants 1750-? CE 1750-? CEmarket forces| private property | parliamentary democracy | wages common property >> no property | statelessness | classlessness
  10. 10. Prior to 18th century European culture had been a "representational" culture whicharistocracy | theocracy | hereditary | nation states | merchants dominated its subjects
  11. 11. Early history: Slave society• Public life• Ancient Greece• The agora• Open to the ‘free citizens’ to sit in assembly – Eg Athens: 5% of population, all adult males 11
  12. 12. • “The public life ... went on in the market place (agora), but of course this did not mean that it occurred necessarily only in this specific locale. The public sphere was constituted in discussion (lexis), which could also assume the forms of consultation and of sitting in the court of law, as well as in common action (praxis), be it the waging of war or competition in athletic games.” – The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An inquiry into a category of bourgeois society, Cambridge (MA), MIT, 1989, p. 3 12
  13. 13. Recent history: feudal society• ‘bourgeois public sphere’• London coffee houses (mid-17th century)• Frequented by aristocrats and merchants• Forums for debate• Emergence of ‘public’ culture 13
  14. 14. The public sphere• Active participants met to check powers of state• Formation owed much to burgeoning capitalism and economic freedoms – ‘bourgeois public sphere’• ‘Notional space’ – arena for public debate• Lies between ‘basis’ (private lives of citizens) and ‘top’ (political institutions) 14
  15. 15. Democracy?• Public sphere = public opinion?• ‘the critical state of a democracy can be measured by taking the pulse of the life of its political public sphere’ (Habermas, 2004, p10) 15
  16. 16. Contemporary significance?• Media become the primary location of public engagement• Now, we have a re-feudalised public sphere (i.e. left with the mass media and its power relations)• No independence - corrupted by: – Ownership and control of the media industry – Advertising revenues – Public relations and ‘spin culture’ 16
  17. 17. The Media as Public Sphere • Nicholas Garnham (1992) “The media and the public sphere”, in C. Calhoun, Habermas and the Public Sphere 17
  18. 18. The Media as Public Sphere • Livingstone & Lunt (1994) Talk on television: audience participation and public debate • Hartley (1996) Popular reality: journalism, modernity, popular culture 18
  19. 19. Media sphere: Negatives• Habermas is pessimistic• TV and press most important sources of information: “extensive reliance on mass media has been accompanied by an increase in cynicism and negativism towards politics” (McQuail, 2000: 158)• Mass media accused of failing to serve politicians• “Entertainers” (Carey, 1999) 19
  20. 20. Media sphere: Positives• Public sphere is a neutral zone where – access to information for the public good is widely available – discussion is free from domination – and all those participating are equal • The media facilitate this process by forming public opinion (Curran, 1996)• Provide a zone of ‘protection’ for citizens• Dahlgren (1995) positive political communication 20
  21. 21. Ideal?• The media should inform democratic decisions by helping ‘citizens learn about the world, debate their responses to it and reach informed decisions about what course of action to adopt’ (Dahlgren, 1991: 1) 21
  22. 22. PanelistsPanelists TV Audience
  23. 23. 2 - Testing the political public sphere• See Higgins, 2006 (on Sunspace)• Debate surrounding the 1999 election to the newly formed devolved Scottish parliament.• Scottish press coverage vs UK coverage 23
  24. 24. MethodAll broadsheet newspapers or ‘quality’ titles(Bromley: 1998) from 3 day period: 5th-7th of May 24
  25. 25. 3 - Levels of coverage• Scottish papers = 84,160 words• UK papers = 19,246 words• ‘The Scottish papers therefore assume the greater role in the political public sphere around the election simply by offering substantially more coverage than the UK papers’ (Higgins, 2006: 29-30) 25
  26. 26. Distribution of words35000 3317630000 2934825000 2163620000 Scottish papers15000 UK papers10000 8521 5277 5448 5000 0 Election Eve Election Day Results Day 26
  27. 27. 4 - Newspaper discourse4 types:1.News Informative2.Feature coverage3.Opinion Evaluative4.Editorial 27
  28. 28. Types of News Coverage• There is a greater emphasis on evaluation and comment when an issue falls within the remit of a public sphere – i.e. on matters in which the public should be informed, the press serves as a means by which important issues are highlighted. 28
  29. 29. 2 types of coverage• Informative types • Evaluative types• News to be factual • Offer overtly• Feature articles go subjective appraisal ‘beyond the reporting of current events or of facts to explain issues and/or entertain’ • Heavy use of the without being explicit personal pronouns ‘I’ in offering a and ‘we’ (Fowler, judgement or opinion 1991: 64; Allan, 1999: (Hicks, 1998: 118). 92 29
  30. 30. Word count by discourse type 348443500030000 265422500020000 19356 Scottish papers15000 UK papers 1026010000 5000 4577 2390 3318 2019 0 News Feature Opinion Editorial 30
  31. 31. The Scottish papers….1. demonstrate a significantly greater quantity of election coverage2. ‘present a pattern consistent with voter deliberation by providing the bulk of election material when it is able to inform democratic action’ (Higgins, 2006: 39)3. attempt to engage via an emphasis on feature and opinion coverage whereby ‘the greater stress of informative material [comes] at a time where it can be used to substantiate voting decisions’ (ibid).4. place their coverage in the most prominent parts of the paper. 31
  32. 32. Conclusion• Democratic society needs some kind of space in which the important issues of the day can be discussed so that the public can make informed decisions.• Cultural proximity impacts upon how information is presented to the public• Higgins suggests that the ‘public sphere’ that Habermas identifies is manifest in the civil institution of the press. 32
  33. 33. News as social and political agent?• Should we think of the business of news as reporting facts or seeking out and bringing us material we should know about?• Is it a role of the news to make us more socially and politically aware, or to distract and entertain us?• Can it do both? (Think of the role of news values.) 33
  34. 34. Points for discussion• In your judgement, is the media as a public sphere driven by consideration of: – Political and democratic responsibility on the part of the media institutions and journalists? – The need to appeal to a given audience? 34
  35. 35. Bibliography• Allan, S. (1999/2004) News culture. Buckingham: Open University Press.• Bell, A. (1991) The language of news media. Oxford: Blackwell.• Bromley, M. (1998) ‘The ‘tabloiding’ of Britain: ‘Quality’ newspapers in the 1990s’, in M. Bromley and H. Stephenson (eds) Sex, lies and democracy: the press and the public, pp. 25-38. London: Longman.• Curran, J. ((1996), ‘Mass Media and Democracy Revisited’, in Curran and M. Gurevitch, eds. (2000) Mass Media and Society,• Dahlgren, P. (1991) ‘Introduction’, in P. Dahlgren and C. Sparks (eds) Communication and citizenship: journalism and the public sphere, pp. 1-24. London: Routledge.• Deacon, D., M. Pickering, P. Golding and G. Murdock (1999) Researching communications. London: Arnold.• Fowler, R. (1991) Language in the news: discourse and ideology in the press. London: Routledge.• Franklin, B. (1997) Newszak and news media. London: Arnold.• Franklin, B. (2004) Packaging politics, 2nd edition. London: Arnold.• Galtung, J. and M. Ruge (1973) ‘Structuring and selecting news’, in S. Cohen and J. Young (eds) The manufacture of news: deviance, social problems and the media, pp. 62-72. London: Constable.• Garnham, N. (1992) ‘The media and the public sphere’, in C. Calhoun (ed) Habermas and the public sphere, pp. 359-376. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.• Habermas, J. (1989) The structural transformation of the public sphere. Cambridge: Polity Press.• Habermas, J. (2004) ‘Public space and political public sphere – the biographical roots of two motifs in my thought’, Commemorative Lecture, Kyoto, November 11.• Hartley, J. (1996) Popular reality: journalism, modernity, popular culture. London: Arnold.• Hicks, W. (1998) English for journalists, 2nd edition. London: Routledge.• Higgins, M. (2006) ‘Substantiating a political public sphere in the Scottish press: a comparative analysis’, in Journalism, Vol. 7, No. 1, pp 25-44.• Livingstone, S. and P. Lunt (1994) Talk on television: audience participation and public debate. London: Routledge.• Negrine, R. (1998) Parliament and the media: a study of Britain, Germany and France. London: Pinter. 35• Walzer, M (1995), Toward A Global Civil Society, Oxford: Berghahn Books

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