Normative Criteria for the Public Sphere
What qualities should the public sphere have to nurture and sustain a vigorous democratic public life? More specifically, who should be participating and on what occasions? What should be the form and content of their contributions to public discourse? How should the actors communicate with each other? What are the desirable outcomes if the process is working as it should? These are normative questions that have been important issues in political theory for many years. Classical theorists such as Rousseau, Locke, and Mill provide certain broad parameters in which answers can be sought; contemporary political theory develops the answers in more detail. There is a close link between theories of the public sphere and democratic theory more generally. Democratic theory focuses on accountability and responsiveness in the decision-making process; theories of the public sphere focus on the role of public communication in facilitating or hindering this process.
We review four traditions of democratic theory in this chapter, mining them for the answers that they suggest for mass media discourse in “actually existing democracies. ”79 We regard our categorization as a convenient organizing tool for attempting to identify normative criteria that play a significant role within and across perspectives. A number of writers overlap traditions or make shifts over time, so we consider their ideas wherever it seems most convenient. Often we will different traditions calling attention to similar criteria, and sometimes there are different emphases among theorists that we are grouping together and calling a tradition. The boundaries do not really matter____________________