Media and Democracy. Participation and Depoliticization

Seminar Paper 2013 25 Pages

Communications - Media and Politics, Politic Communications



A Introduction

B Media and Democracy – Participation and Depoliticization
I Media and Democracy
1. Old and New Forms of the Media
2. Audience Democracy
3. Paparazzi Democracy
II The ´Modern´ Role of the Media
III Participation in Accordance with Depoliticization
1. ´Modern´ Media and Rising Participation
2. ´Modern´ Media and Rising Depoliticization
IV Rising Participation in Accordance with Rising Depoliticization

C Draft of Future Democratic Developments


A Introduction

“There are many types of democracy, and their diverse practices produce a similarly varied set of effects”[1].This notice made by Schmitter and Karlin the year of 1991 became more appropriate during the last two decades and after the end of the Cold War. Various countries, especially those within the former Soviet Union, had to face different and complex challenges.The economic circumstances changed, the European Union began to open its borders and a lot of countries arrived in a process of transition. Transition as “the interval between one political regime and another”[2] had the result that many countries started to achieve democratic progress in their political landscape. Democratic ideas, such as political pluralism and the people, being the sovereign got consolidated and stimulated the evolution of political institutions[3]. Free and fair elections, protection of human rights and the rule of law became the basis for political and social inter-actions.

Nevertheless, the changing world order wasn´t the only circumstance, which had an enormous influence on democracies all over the world. The rise of the new media and the Internet offered politicians and the people a set of new forms of interacting with each other. “The Internet has the potential to serve as an arena for the critical, reflexive and democratic negotiation of governance between public networks and political centres”[4].Beside a new arena for dialogues between policy-makers and voters, the Internet had another important impact on politics. The relationship between political actors and the people, or with regard to Kriesi, between “the public sphere and the arena of decision making”[5] transformed in various ways, which are going to be discussed in detail later in the text. Public reactions to political decisions and propositions can be transferred faster and directly to policy-makers. Social-media networks which also become more and more present in the daily work of politicians and the media are nowadays used to measure and feel out public opinions. “Interaktive, asynchrone und synchrone Kommunikation”[6] became an appropriate tool for political work.

As a result, some scholars began to talk even about new forms of democracies. Manin described in his work the transformation of the classical parliamentarian democracy to an “audience democracy”[7] and highlights the changing aspects of the democratic behavior. Regarding to this approach, Kriesi went further in his conception. He emphasizes the new role and the stronger influence of the public opinion and detects new types of interplay between the different arenas[8]. In addition to those two ideas of a new form of democracy, Trechsel introduced the term of the “paparazzi democracy”[9]. Following his opinion there is another kind of transformation, which is justified by the new role of the citizens and the omnipresence of the modern information and communication technologies[10].

Without any doubt, the procedures of political work and public exercise of influence had been changed by the rise of the new media. Thus, it is worth to figure out, in which way this happened a few decades ago, in times where most public debates were held via television or newspapers. In comparison to this, there will be an analysis of the new media and its impact on democracy and in which ways it confirms the presence of an audience and paparazzi democracy, in this case primarily in Germany. To set limits, this analysis will concentrate on the aspect of a rising participation in accordance with a rising depoliticization, which might be seen as a result of the already mentioned transformation.

B Media and Democracy – Participation and Depoliticization

To approach the influence of the old and new forms of media on democracy, it is necessary to define the different media types and to describe, in which ways they are used by politics and the public. Additional, there is going to be a description of audience and paparazzi democracy, of their differences and changes, especially with a focus on the role of the media and information technologies. As a conclusion, the main aspects of the analysis will refer to the aspect of a rising participation in connection to a rising depoliticization of political and public debates. The base will be the above mentioned papers, written by Kriesi and Trechsel. In contrast to the work by Manin, they are more up to date and concentrate specially on the new connections between the public, politics and the media. Furthermore, this work will use some other books and articles, selected by relevance, timeliness and academic facts and approaches. To complement the literature, provided data of the Democracy Barometerwill be used. Although a lot of other indices are available, this specific one features some advantages, which can help to understand the dynamics between the media and politics. The index rates amongst othersthe political participation, public sphere and the level of competition by evaluating countries on the basis of “theoretical considerations and empirical tests”[11]. Whether the methodology is debatable is not going to be the core of this work. An analysis of a rising participation in accordance with a rising depoliticization will be the aim.

B I. Media and Democracy

B I.1 Old and New Forms of the Media

“People (…) use, interpret and respond to media in very different ways”[12].

This short quotation already describes the most important tasks and usages of the different types of media.Three main aspects are mentioned above and should be in mind, every time some forms of media are used. First of all, the people have the possibility in an established democracy to utilize the old media, i.e. newspapers, and the 2.0 types in varying ways. They serve as an almost direct source of information about processes and happenings, either in the public sphere or in the arena of decision making. They are supposed to be as neutral as possible, to offer the readers and listeners the second usage of the media – the interpretation of given information. Although, “the news media can provide coherent frameworks of interpretation to help citizens comprehend a complex world”[13], it stays the task of information consumers to combine coherent or separate inconclusive facts. Thirdly, responding to the media became especially during the last decade more common, than it was before. In earlier times, the public sphere´s possibility to react on news consisted mainly of letters to the editor of newspapers or letters to politicians. Nowadays, this takes place primarily by the omnipresent of internet based technologies and social networks – “People use their social networks and social networking technology to filter, assess, and react to news”[14].

Thus, this evolution raises the question, in which ways the relation between the people and the media had been changed. Of course, it is just possible in this work to take a look on the main aspects of this matter.But this will be necessary for a better understanding of the audience and paparazzi democracy concept. The prior idea of newspapers and broadcasting serviceswas to spread information and to inform interested people about matters and concerns. Particularly political topics raised attention, because of a somehow natural opacity for persons, not being directly involved. Due to a higher competition, broadcasting companies were forced to distinguish and also finance themselves by adding advertisement or by producing a more critical and investigative journalism. This resulted in parts of the media, gaining some political power and influence. “The mass media have become the most important source of political information for the wider public”[15].

The role of the media had been transformed to a new level. The former passive position on political discourses emerged to an active and influencing one. Before this evolution, the media was depending on the information, which had been given to them by “decision makers”[16]. Political actors were mostly able to decide themselves, which processes they offer the public audience. But as a result of the media and investigative journalism, newspapers and broadcasting networks achieved a higher and more important status in a state´s structure. They have become the fourth branch in a democratic society and the link between the two arenas[17]. This transformation had been consolidated by the rise of the Internet and the Media 2.0. It is not necessary anymore to be a journalist or to work with news networks. On the Internet everyone has the possibility to publish articles, to write about some unnoticed issues and to criticize political actors in a more direct manner. “Any citizen can get onto the stage of politics, digitally equipped to control the decision makers and curb their autonomy”[18].

In summary, the media has various tasks, but also offers some possibilities to the civil society. On the one hand they control by critique, inform by making political processes visible and connect the different spheres. On the other hand, the media provides a space to articulate interests and to form opposite opinions[19]. Nevertheless, in this important role of the media lies one big problem. They are the intersection between the public sphere and the arena of the decision making. Thus, they gained the power to decide and select, which information are supposed to be important and interesting. The result can be seen in the form of an audience democracy by Kriesi.

B I.2 Audience Democracy

The description of a new form of democracy by using the term ´audience´ seems even more appropriate after assessing the modern role of the media. In a certain way, people began to consume news and information, which are constantly available and up-to-date. A conscious consumption demands some form of selection, regarding personal interests or the quality of the product – in this case the qualityof information. But it reaches a problematic point, if the offer passes some kind of threshold and becomes confusing to the public sphere. Some scholars refer to this as an “information overload”[20], a massive amount of news and media output. The impact is a more passive public sphere – an audience, which expects from political actors to go public, to use the media and to leave the arena of decision making.

Corresponding to this effect, Kriesi introduced the “ideal audience democracy”[21], which contents three main aspects, this type has to come up to. First of all, political processes and actions are supposed to happen more frequently in the public sphere, within the range of the media[22]. Hence, political actors would be forced to defend their plans more intensive and to handle with critique. Secondly, political communication becomes an essential part of democratic mechanisms[23]. The public sphere, the media and the arena of decision making reached a condition, where a constant, mutual exchange of news and information takes place. “The process operates down-wards from governing institutions towards citizens, horizontally in linkages among political actors, and also upwards from public opinion towards authorities”[24]. As a third main aspect of an ideal type of an audience democracy, Kriesistates the political mobilization[25].This point includes especially the inter-relation between the public sphere and the arena of decision making, which increased since the media became overarching.Thus, this concept raises the question, in which ways the media and democracy changed under the aspect of an audience society. Without any doubt, the media became an important instrument for policy makers and a regulatory actor in decision-making.


[1] Schmitter, Philippe C./Karl, Terry L.: What Democracy Is...and Is Not, in: Journal of Democracy, Vol.2 (1991), Nr.3, pp.75-88, p.76.

[2] O´Donnell, Guillermo/Schmitter, Philippe C.: Transitions from Authoritarien Rule. Tentative Conclusions about Uncertain Democracies, London 1986, p.6.

[3] Cf. Beetham, David: Democracy. Key Principles, Institutions and Problems, in: The Inter-Parliamentary Union (Ed.) : Democracy. Its Principles and Achievement, Geneva 1998, pp.21-30, p.21.

[4] Coleman, Stephan/Kaposi, Ildiko: New Democracies, New Media, What´s New? A study of e-participation projects in third-wave democracies, Tallinn 2009, p.10.

[5] Kriesi, Hanspeter: Strategic Political Communication: Mobilizing Public Opinion in ´Audience Democracies´, in: Esser, Frank/Pfetsch, Barbara (eds.) : Comparing Political Communication. Theories, Cases, and Challenges, Cambridge 2004, pp.184-212, p.190.

[6] Knaut, Annette: Politikvermittlung online: Abgeordnete des Deutschen Bundestages im Web 2.0, in: Walther, Christian (ed.): Medien/Demokratie, Frankfurt am Main 2010, pp.9-36, p.13.

[7] Manin, Bernard: The Principles of Representative Government, Cambridge 1997, p.223.

[8] Cf. Kriesi, Hanspeter: Strategic Political Communication: Mobilizing Public Opinion in ´Audience Democracies´, in: Esser, Frank/Pfetsch, Barbara (eds.) : Comparing Political Communication. Theories, Cases, and Challenges, Cambridge 2004, pp.184-212, p.192.

[9] Trechsel, Alexander H.: Towards a Paparazzi Democracy, Boston 2012, p.1.

[10] Ib. , p.5.

[11] Article: „Concept“, in: Democracy Barometer, http://www.democracybarometer.org/concept_en.html (date: 02-13-13).

[12] Article: “Questioning the Media: A guide for students”, in: European mediaculture online. Media education, http://www.european-mediaculture.org/fileadmin/bibliothek/english/buckingham_guide/buckingham_guide.pdf (date: 02-13-13).

[13] Schudson, Michael: News and Democratic Society: Past, Present, and Future, Cambridge 2008, p.6.

[14] Trechsel, Alexander H.: Towards a Paparazzi Democracy, Boston 2012, p.7.

[15] Article: “The growing interdependence of media and politics and its implications for democracy”, in: National Center of Competence in Research. Newsletter June 2012, http://www.nccr-democracy.uzh.ch/document-store/newsletter/NCCRNewsletter_10_Juni2012.pdf (date: 02-14-13).

[16] Kriesi, Hanspeter: Strategic Political Communication: Mobilizing Public Opinion in ´Audience Democracies´, in: Esser, Frank/Pfetsch, Barbara (eds.) : Comparing Political Communication. Theories, Cases, and Challenges, Cambridge 2004, pp.184-212, p.192.

[17] Cf. Coronel, Sheila S.: The Role of the Media in Deepening Democracy, New York 2003, p.3.

[18] Trechsel, Alexander H.: Towards a Paparazzi Democracy, Boston 2012, p.1.

[19] Cf. Bussemer, Thymian: Die erregte Republik. Wutbürger und die Macht der Medien, Stuttgart 2011, p.48.

[20] Perrson, Petra: Attention Manipulation and Information Overload, New York 2012, p.4.

[21] Kriesi, Hanspeter: Strategic Political Communication: Mobilizing Public Opinion in ´Audience Democracies´, in: Esser, Frank/Pfetsch, Barbara (eds.) : Comparing Political Communication. Theories, Cases, and Challenges, Cambridge 2004, pp.184-212, p.186.

[22] Cf. Ib.

[23] Cf. Ib.

[24] Norris, Pippa: Political Communications, Harvard 2004, p.1.

[25] Kriesi, Hanspeter: Strategic Political Communication: Mobilizing Public Opinion in ´Audience Democracies´, in: Esser, Frank/Pfetsch, Barbara (eds.) : Comparing Political Communication. Theories, Cases, and Challenges, Cambridge 2004, pp.184-212, p.186.


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Title: Media and Democracy. Participation and Depoliticization