The Media and Democratization

Authored by: Graeme Turner

The Routledge Companion to Global Popular Culture

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415641470
eBook ISBN: 9780203081846
Adobe ISBN: 9781136175961


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Western liberal models of the media have traditionally regarded it as one of the cornerstones of the democratic state: on the one hand, the role of the media is to create the fully informed citizen required for a properly functioning democracy and, on the other hand, the ‘fourth estate’ role of the media is to operate on behalf of the citizenry by holding government to account – publishing comment and criticism, checking the accuracy of government information, uncovering information in the public interest, and observing protocols of ethical practice in order to guarantee the legitimacy of their role. That the media should operate in this way is more or less taken for granted; the controversy over the media’s behaviour during the recent phone-tapping scandals, for instance, is motivated by anger at the transgression of these protocols. We need to remember, however, that this is a very particular version of the media, with its own history; it is able to take the media’s democratic function for granted because it has normatized the experience of the Western democracies of the global north (Hallin and Mancini, 2004). Once we move beyond that context – and most media theory does not – we encounter a great many variations in the structure of the political relations between the media and the state. (Furthermore, of course, there is plenty of media – media content as well as media institutions and organizations – that are directed to serving political interests that have little to do with democracy.) Despite the West’s considerable political and historical investment in exporting both democracy and the liberal version of the media (often in partnership), Katrin Voltmer (2013) points out that this has proven to be much easier said than done. Even when there is a policy framework for transitioning into democratic forms of government, Voltmer argues, the process is often influenced by local scepticism about the ‘desirability of becoming like the West’, while the adoption of Western models of ‘media freedom’ is challenged through accusations of colonialism or imperialism (2013: 5). Voltmer argues that the imposition of such models onto environments that have very different cultures and circumstances to the West can have unexpected consequences:

[T]he experiences of the last two decades or so, when radical neoliberal economic reforms, premature elections and uncurbed media liberalization have frequently resulted in more inequality, violent intergroup conflicts and political polarization, . . . [suggest the need] for a greater sensibility for the specific conditions under which transitions are taking place outside the Western world.

(Voltmer 2013 : 5)

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