Communication and Citizenship: Journalism and the Public Sphere in the New Media Age

By Peter Dahlgren; Colin Sparks | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Rethinking the media as a public sphere

James Curran

Classic liberal theories of the media have been advanced so often that their central arguments seem almost wearisomely familiar. The traditional communist and marxist approaches are also well-established reference points in terms of contemporary debate. The same is not true, however, of radical democratic 1 perspectives of the media, at least in Britain. These surface in critiques of the capitalist media and advocacy of public-service broadcasting, in the working assumptions of radical journalists and, in a fragmentary form, in speeches, articles and academic commentary. When collated, these represent nevertheless a coherent and fruitful way of looking at the role of the media, which should take its place alongside the better-known liberal and marxist perspectives.

This chapter seeks therefore to pull together the eclectic elements of the radical democratic tradition, and present it as a formal 'theory'. It does this by setting out in a schematic way the differences between the radical approach and its principal rivals. (See Table 1 for a summary.)

This schema cuts across the best-known modern representation of the media and the public sphere-the historical analysis advanced by Jürgen Habermas. His study has rightly triggered widespread debate, and this essay follows a detour by evaluating his arguments in the light of subsequent historical research. This digression is hopefully justified in that it casts light on a seminal study; and it also brings out the way in which historical research-the neglected grandparent of media studies-can contribute to the debate about the role of the media in liberal democracies.

Implicit in rival theories and historical accounts of the media are alternative prescriptions for organizing the media. Both liberal and marxist approaches have major pitfalls. The essay concludes with

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