6

Is there a democratic deficit in US and
UK journalism?
Robert A. Hackett
Does journalism in the US and UK adequately serve the needs of a democratic political communication system?
What do different political perspectives have to say on this question?
If there is a democratic deficit, what can we do about it?

By framing and directing attention to public issues, journalism has a key role in contemporary political life, one commonly described as vital to informed citizenship and accountable government. Many critics, however, argue that even in established liberal democracies like Britain and the US, journalism is falling short of expectations of how it should function as an agent of democratic rule.

Whether journalism has such a 'democratic deficit', and why, is this chapter's topic. Positions on these questions vary, for two reasons. First, the evidence on media performance is not always clear cut. The influences on news selection, the patterns of news content, and their impact on political life, are questions much debated among journalists, politicians, media scholars and publics.

More fundamentally, though, how we evaluate the media's democratic performance depends greatly on what 'grading' criteria we use. This chapter sketches contending perspectives on what democracy entails, and what the roles of journalism in contributing to democratic governance ought to be. Competing conceptions of democracy are not simply matters for 'policy wonks'. They are 'weapons' in fundamental political divisions over social and economic policy, and alternative futures are ultimately at stake. For instance, the business sector and some of the affluent middle class favour 'free market' policies of privatization, market reregulation (often called deregulation), trade liberalization and the dismantling of the 'welfare state'. Trade unions, progressive social movements and other groups, by contrast, advocate a positive role for the public sector in protecting the environment, labour

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