Journalism and Democracy: An Evaluation of the Political Public Sphere

Journalism and Democracy: An Evaluation of the Political Public Sphere

Journalism and Democracy: An Evaluation of the Political Public Sphere

Journalism and Democracy: An Evaluation of the Political Public Sphere

Synopsis

The public sphere is said to be in crisis. Dumbing down, tabloidisation, infotainment and spin are alleged to contaminate it, adversely affecting the quality of political journalism and of democracy itself. There is a pervasive pessimism about the relationship between the media and democracy, and widespread concern for the future of the political process. Journalism and Democracy challenges this orthodoxy, arguing instead for an alternative, more optimistic evaluation of the contemporary public sphere and its contribution to the political process. Brian McNair argues not only that the quantity of political information in mass circulation has expanded hugely in the late twentieth century, but that political journalism has become steadily more rigorous and effective in its criticism of elites, more accessible to the public, and more thorough in its coverage of the political process. Journalism and Democracy combines textual analysis and extensive in-depth interviews with political journalists, editors, presenters and documentary makers. In separate chapters devoted to the political news agenda, the political interview, punditry, public access media and spin doctoring, McNair considers whether dumbing down is a genuinely new trend in political journalism, or a kind of moral panic, provoked by suspicion of mass involvement in culture.

Excerpt

The political media are important because, as Anthony Sampson puts it, ‘a mature democracy depends on having an educated electorate, informed and connected through parliament’ (1996, p. 47), and it is principally through the media that such an electorate can be formed. That the actions of government and the state, and the efforts of competing parties and interests to exercise political power, should be underpinned and legitimised by critical scrutiny and informed debate facilitated by the institutions of the media is a normative assumption uniting the political spectrum from left to right. Analysts and critics may dispute the extent to which Britain has a properly functioning ‘public sphere’ - as Jurgen Habermas called that communal communicative space in which ‘private people come together as a public’ (1989, p. 27) - but all agree that such a space should exist, and that the media are at its core. Thus, in debates about the state of

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