There is no immediate or absolute relationship between the media and democracy in the sense that, without media, there could be no democracy. Similarly, it does not follow that with the (modern) media comes democracy. Autocracies exist wherein the media supports a political system, and likewise, democracies exist wherein the media works to undermine a political system. However, most often the media and democracy are viewed as supporting each other. This connection is the product of a long historical development, one peculiar to European (and North American) societies, involving not only institutions and practices directly linked to the media-based and democratic processes, but numerous other institutions (such as education, the political system, religion, etc.) as well. The media are not the only institutions that promote (or do not promote) democratic legitimacy. Other major institutions of such influence include education, religion, public authority, cultural institutions, and political systems, among others. From a wider societal viewpoint, the role of the media is rather reduced in influence. If, for example, an education system is based on ethnic or other forms of segregation, or if there is widespread religious intolerance, or if public authority suffers from corruption, it is obvious that the media has only so many resources to encourage systemic legitimacy. The fundamental interrelatedness of different social institutions makes it difficult, or even impossible, to study the media as a phenomenon isolated from the rest of society. For this reason, we should be careful when making comparisons between the media in different countries, even the media outlets within liberal democracies. In addition, there is no consensus as to the right balance of media and other social institutions in a democracy. Throughout the history of democracy, the relations between institutions (the political system, economy, media, and civil society) have undergone renegotiations and adjustments during times of crisis. Over the past few decades, this relationship appears to have reached a new crisis, one that continues to this day and still lacks a clear solution. In many countries, civil society–based media reform movements have been established with clear goals to further democratize media systems. One of the key arguments of these movements has centered on the contradiction between the constitutional obligations of democratic countries and the reality that, in practice, these rights do not apply equally to all. There remain major differences today between different social groups in terms of open access to and the unrestricted availability of information, the ability to utilize information according to one’s needs, having a voice represented by decision-makers, and respect for privacy and personal integrity.
Ran Wei and Larry Zhiming Xu
The ongoing revolution in information and communication technologies (ICTs) has fundamentally transformed the landscape of democracy and the way people engage in politics. From the configuration of media systems to the decision-making of the voting public, the changes have permeated through almost every level of society, affecting political institutions, political actors, citizen groups, and mass media. For each aspect, a synopsis of classical and emergent political communication theories, contemporary and contentious political issues, and cutting-edge research adds to the discussion of new media. The discussion is unfolded with an account of research of new media effects on politics in international setting and cross-cultural contexts with insights of how Western theories and research apply (or fail to) in international contexts.
Christopher J. Gilbert
The editorial cartoon is a touchstone for matters of free expression in the journalistic tradition. Since their early inception in the politically charged engravings of 18th-century pictorial satirist William Hogarth to the present day, editorial cartoons have shone forth as signifiers of comic irreverence and mockery in the face of governmental authority and in the more generalized cultural politics of the times. In democratic nations they have been cast as a pillar of the fourth estate. Nevertheless, they—and the cartoonists, critics, commentators, and citizens who champion them—have also long stood out as relatively easy targets for concerns about where the lines of issues such libel, slander, defamation, and especially blasphemy should be drawn. This goes for Western-style democracies as well as authoritarian regimes. In other words, the editorial cartoon stands at a critical nexus of meaning and public judgment. At issue from one vantage is what it means to promote the disclosure of folly as the foolish conduct of public officials and the stupidity of institutions that are thereby worthy as objects of ridicule. From another vantage, there is the matter of what it is to deplore the comicality in journalistic opinion-making that goes too far. To approach editorial cartoons from the standpoints of free expression and press freedoms is to verge on conflicting values of civil liberty in and around the so-called right to offend. This was true in the age of Hogarth. It was true in the days of famed French printmaker and caricaturist Honoré Daumier, who was imprisoned for six months from 1832 until 1833 after portraying Emperor Louis-Philippe in the L Caricature. It is also particularly true today in a global media age wherein editorial cartoons, whether or not they are syndicated by official newspapers, can traverse geographic and other boundaries with relative ease and efficiency. Furthermore, the 21st century has seen numerous cartoon controversies vis-à-vis what many commentators have referred to as “cartoon wars,” leading to everything from high-profile firings of cartoonists (including in the United States) through bans and imprisonments of artists in Middle Eastern countries to the 2015 shootings of cartoon artists at the headquarters of French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. Indeed, if the threshold of the free press is the killed cartoon, the limit point of the freedom of expression is the killed cartoonist. Hence the importance of looking beyond any one editorial cartoon or cartoonist in order to contemplate the comic spirit in certain historical moments so as to discover the social, political, and cultural standards of judgment being applied to the carte blanche of journalism and the comic license of those using graphic caricatures to freely editorialize their takes on the world—or not.
Helle Sjøvaag and Jonas Ohlsson
Media ownership is of interest to research on journalism due to the assumption that ownership can have an impact of the contents and practices of journalism. Ownership of news media take many forms: state ownership, family ownership, party ownership, trust ownership, public or corporate ownership. The main concern with ownership in journalism scholarship is market concentration and monopolization, and the undue effects this may have on media diversity, public opinion formation, democracy and journalistic autonomy. Throughout the research, ownership motivations are assumed to lie with the potential financial and political benefits of owning journalistic media. Benevolence is seldom assumed, as the problematic aspects of ownership are treated both from the management side of the research, and from the critical political economy perspective. News and journalism are largely understood as public goods, the quality of which is often seen as threatened by commercialism and market realities, under the economic aims of owners. However, the many forms and shapes that ownership of news media assume have different impacts on the competition between media outlets, the organization of editorial production, journalistic and professional cultures, and the intensity of corporate and profit maximizing philosophies that journalists work under. Ownership, however, assumes different forms in different media systems.
Scientific advances, technological development, and changes in risk consciousness have led to stronger demands on society to manage and control various kinds of risks. Risks should be assessed, prevented, controlled, and communicated in order to prevent negative impacts. Risks related to the environment and health are probably some of the most research-dependent examples. It is primarily scientific experts that provide knowledge to authorities, organizations, and citizens about environmental and health risks and thus exert considerable influence on the understanding and management of risk. At the same time, there are actors in society—especially citizen and interest organizations—that question whether risk regulation is reliable and relevant. There are also demands that citizens should have more transparency and control over risk regulation. The current situation is characterized thus by a paradox: Issues relating to environment and health are seen as increasingly expert dependent while citizens simultaneously demand increased influence over them. This development is especially noticeable in the European Union, with its strong emphasis on the rights of citizen and consumers to have access to information about risk and also opportunities to influence their regulation. In response to this situation, risk governance has been put forward. It refers to a body of ideas for how to more responsibly and efficiently deal with complex risks issues, where there are different interests and standpoints about how to regulate them. Fundamental ideas of risk governance are openness, transparency, participation, inclusion, deliberation, and reflexivity; that experts involved should be open to questioning the situation; should not conceal issues of uncertainty and pluralism (that there exist different legitimate understandings, evaluations, and recommendations); and should be receptive to the input and participation of other stakeholders. This means that risk regulation should no longer be organized into three discrete activities: risk assessment, risk management, and risk communication (aiming at a one-way transfer of knowledge from the regulators to the public).
While the periodizing concept “post-truth” (PT) initially appeared in the United States as a key word of popular politics in the form “post-truth politics” or “post-truth society,” it quickly appeared in many languages. It is now the object of increasing scholarly attention and public debate. Its popular and academic treatments sometimes differ in respect to its meaning, but most associate it with communication forms such as fake or false news, rumors, hoaxes, and political lying. They also identify causes such as polarization and unethical politicians or unregulated social media; shoddy journalism; or simply the inevitable chaos ushered in by digital media technologies. PT is sometimes posited as a social and political condition whereby citizens or audiences and politicians no longer respect truth (e.g., climate science deniers or “birthers”) but simply accept as true what they believe or feel. However, more rigorously, PT is actually a breakdown of social trust, which encompasses what was formerly the major institutional truth-teller or publicist—the news media. What is accepted as popular truth is really a weak form of knowledge, opinion based on trust in those who supposedly know. Critical communication approaches locate its historical legacy in the earliest forms of political persuasion and questions of ethics and epistemology, such as those raised by Plato in the Gorgias. While there are timeless similarities, PT is a 21st-century phenomenon. It is not “after” truth but after a historical period where interlocking elite institutions were discoverers, producers, and gatekeepers of truth, accepted by social trust (the church, science, governments, the school, etc.). Critical scholars have identified a more complex historical set of factors, to which popular proposed solutions have been mostly blind. Modern origins of PT lie in the anxious elite negotiation of mass representative liberal democracy with proposals for organizing and deploying mass communication technologies. These elites consisted of pioneers in the influence or persuasion industries, closely associated with government and political practice and funding, and university research. These influence industries were increasingly accepted not just by business but also by (resource-rich) professional political actors. Their object was not policy education and argument to constituents but, increasingly strategically, emotion and attention management. PT can usefully be understood in the context of its historical emergence, through its popular forms and responses, such as rumors, conspiracies, hoaxes, fake news, fact-checking, and filter bubbles, as well as through its multiple effects—not the least of which the discourse of panic about it.
In the 1950s and 1960s, the U.S. Congress, with allies in the news media, created legislation that came to be known as the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). It was designed to help hold the federal executive accountable to the public. It became law in 1966. Its significance can be understood in several contexts: (1) in connection with a special relationship of journalists to the operation of the FOIA; (2) in terms of arguments that transparency in government is necessary for citizens’ informed participation in democracy and that, on the other side, there are strong democratic arguments that transparency should be limited in the pursuit of other legitimate values, some of them recognized in the language of the FOIA itself that government agencies may deny a citizen's request for information on the grounds that honoring the request could endanger national security, personal privacy, the integrity of internal government deliberations, or other significant objectives; and (3) that freedom of information law are one institution within a wider web of institutions and practices dedicated to holding government accountable. In this regard, the U.S. Freedom of Information Act can also be seen in a broad context of a cultural shift toward “openness” and a political shift toward what has been called a “monitory” model of democracy.