News Media in Western Democracy – Is it in crisis?

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Credits: www.e-ir.info

First and foremost, according to Lee (2011) in his article Who is to blame for the perceived crisis in democracy? Politicians, the media or the public?, democracy is defined as “the rule of a citizen body with the right to free and fair elections, under the principles of ‘liberty, equality and fraternity’” (para. 5).

The media’s role in making sure that there is a free flow of information, ideas and opinions is hence vital in order to sustain a healthy democracy. As discussed in the earlier blog post, the industry has evolved beyond the traditional means (newspapers, radios and television platforms) and is now on to a whole new platform online – social media, or technically any social networks that one can access online through the use of mobile phones, computers and other electronic devices. However, one factor remains unchanged throughout the evolution and that is the role of the news media as a ‘watchdog’.

Credits: www.reputationforward.com

A country will be not be able to develop properly and fully if there are no journalists to scrutinize the actions of government officials, investigate the truths of what the government says to the general public as well as to collect information and facts so that the public will be able to make proper and informed decisions.

Dating way back into history, Lippmann (1927) was the one who coined the phrase ‘manufacture of consent’ and in his view, the media’s role is paint simplicity pictures in the public’s mind in order to make simpler the intricacy of modern life. On the other hand, Bernays (1928) used the power of media to produce the types of stories required in the interests of his clients, for example in the case of American Tobacco which sells cigarettes as a symbol of woman’s emancipation (Tye, 1998).

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Credits: www.mediareform.org.uk

According to Jamieson (1996) who studied advertising in the United States from 1960s – 1980s, he stated that during an electoral phase, 50% of the images broadcasted/printed by the media were directed at the candidates’ images. He realized that this is actually an obsession in contemporary politics with the larger focus on the images of the party and politicians over policy.

Here’s a question: Do the press remember John Prescott as the politician who successfully negotiated the Kyoto treaty, or as an over-weight man suffering from bulimia who once punched someone? (Lee, 2011).

Likewise, to support the above claim by Jamieson, Curran (2002) stated that “the principle democratic role of the media, according to traditional liberal theory, is to act as a check on the state.” (p. 217).

Credits: www.presseurop.eu

Another recent issue on the crisis of news media is on Romanian’s news media. According to Ciobanu (2013), many journalists left their jobs because of pressures as well as conflicting political issues between the different media companies owned by political figures or those who are extremely wealthy. They have neither control nor freedom and independence in what they can write and publish, and aside from that, their salaries were delayed most of the time.

“Last year, journalists at one of Romania’s largest daily newspapers, Jurnalul National, were offered a Faustian bargain: take a 25 percent salary cut or be demoted to a lesser “collaborator” status, and also give up their authorship rights to the paper for the coming 50 years. To add insult to injury, employees of this paper risk losing their jobs if they complain about working conditions or contracts.” (Ciobanu, 2013, para. 1).

Similarly…

“At competitor Adevarul, journalists were told last year to either take a 15 percent cut in pay or move to “temporary collaborator” contracts; in addition, they were forced to commit to non-disclosure agreements regarding the details of how their media company operated, otherwise risking to be fined 8,000 euros. Employees of other dailies have also seen their already small salary payments delayed by months.” (Ciobanu, 2013, para. 2).

It is up to individuals to decide if there is any crisis involved in the news media in western democracy. But if any, I think every party – individual, politician/government, media etc, definitely do play a part in the crisis of the news media. What do you think?

(702 words)

References

Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. New York: Horace Liveright.

Ciobanu, C. (2013, May 22). ‘Romanian media in crisis’. Open Democracy. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://www.opendemocracy.net/claudia-ciobanu/romanian-media-in-crisis

Curran, J. (2002). Media and Power: Communication and Society. Routledge.

Dahlgren, P. (2000). Media, citizenship and civic culture (3rd ed.). In J. Curran & M. Gurevitch (Eds). Journal of Mass Media and Society, pp. 310-328. London: Arnold.

Jamieson, K, H. (1996). Packaging the Presidency: A History and Criticism of Presidential Campaign Advertising. USA: Oxford University Press.

Lee, P. (2011, July 28). ‘Who is to blame for the perceived crisis in democracy? Politicians, the media or the public?’. E-international Relations. Retrieved June 21, 2013, from http://www.e-ir.info/2011/07/28/who-is-to-blame-for-the-perceived-crisis-in-democracy-politicians-the-media-or-the-public/

Lippman, W. (1927). The Phantom Public. New York: Macmillan; 13 Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Schostak, J., & Goodson, I. (2012). What’s wrong with democracy at the moment and why it matters for research and education. Power and Education, 4(3), ISSN 1757-7438.

Tye, L. (1998). The Father of Spin. Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of Public Relations. New York: Crown Publishers; 2002 published as An Owl Book, Henry Hold and Co.

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