Journalism and Democracy

Authored by: Brian McNair

The Handbook of Journalism Studies

Print publication date:  November  2008
Online publication date:  January  2009

Print ISBN: 9780805863420
eBook ISBN: 9780203877685
Adobe ISBN: 9781135592011


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The histories of journalism and democracy are closely linked. The origins of journalism, as we recognize it today, parallel the turbulent birth of the first democratic societies nearly four hundred years ago. While the concepts of news, and the role of the correspondent as a professional dispatcher of newsworthy information, predate the bourgeois revolutions of early modern Europe, the modern notion of a political journalism which is adversarial, critical and independent of the state was first formed in the early seventeenth century, against the backdrop of the English Civil War and its aftermath. In that conflict, which pitted the forces of absolute monarchy against those in favor of democratic reform and the sovereignty of parliament, journalism played a key role (Conboy, 2004). It did so again during the French Revolution of 1789 (Popkin, 1991; Hartley, 1996), and also in the American War of Independence (Starr, 2004). Then, and since, the presence of a certain kind of journalism, existing within a functioning public sphere (Habermas, 1989), has been a defining characteristic of democratic political and media cultures. This chapter explores the role played by journalism in democratic societies, past and present, both from the normative and the pragmatic perspectives, and critically assesses its contribution to the development and maintenance of democratic political cultures.

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