This book is one of the outcomes of a three-year research project funded by the Art and Humanities Research Council to explore contemporary UK television news and current affairs programming. The researchers have contextualised their empirical work within broad debates about media power, responsibility and the neoliberal agenda. They examine the ways in which political and corporate interests have influenced the historical development of the media, and argue that it has abandoned any notion of constituting a forum in the public sphere where radical ideas and debates can be expressed. The media is now much more open to commercial and state pressure, making it less productive of democratic debate and information than its own 'idealisation of itself' would suggest (p35). To try to provide empirical evidence that could support this argument makes for a fascinating project - though an extremely ambitious one.
The initial two chapters, which lay the academic and socio-political groundwork for what is to follow, are well written and argued. The decline in political participation in the UK is placed within broader debates about political apathy and mistrust of the political elites. Political apathy does not necessarily mean disengagement with politics; it is more a question of many feeling that political representation is only for the elite. This argument seems compelling, but perhaps does not take sufficiently into account other forms of political activity than voting, for example working with pressure groups and other campaigns - though there is some acknowledgement of the active participation of young people in progressive political movements that attempt to hold corporate interests and politicians accountable.
In relating these debates to young people, the authors successfully manage to encompass a variety of related concerns, from educational reform to media ownership to the extent of consumerism in the 1990s. They offer a good theoretical basis for understanding the relationship between young people and media consumption, and the relationship between this consumption and wider socio-political concerns. The authors also attempt to look at young people's interaction with television news - rather than simply focusing on the 'effects' of the media - including looking at ways that interaction with the media can inform, educate and equip young people with tools to adequately critically analyse social and political events. This is welcome, given a general tendency to encourage young people in the consumption of news (and products), without any questioning of their messages and production processes.
The empirical section of the book is equally if not more impressive. In order to investigate theories about apathy and disconnection, the researchers interviewed broadcasters and young people, carried out content analysis of news programmes, and undertook case studies of political discourses on specific issues.
The interviews with broadcasters provide some interesting insights. On the one hand the broadcasters noted the necessity of incorporating young people's views into programme agendas. …