Democracy and the Media

The Institute for Human Sciences in Vienna organised a remarkable panel discussion at the Burgtheater Vienna to discuss the topic “Democracy and the Media” on 21 of November 2010.

Burgtheater Vienna by City.Map-at, downloaded from Flickr 24/11/2010

Burgtheater Vienna by City.Map-at, downloaded from Flickr 24/11/2010, altered.

Panel

  • Bodo Hombach (CEO of WAZ Media Group, Essen),
  • Bill Keller (executive editor of the New York Times, New York),
  • Ezio Mauro (execeutive editor of La Repubblica, Rome) and
  • Paul Starr (professor for sociology at Princeton University, coeditor of The American Prospect and Pulitzer Prize Winner).
  • Nicholas Lemann (Decan of the Columbia School of Journalism, New York) moderated the discussion.

Discussion

The internet causes innovation in the press, but it weakened the position of the press in its role of being a public voice and opinion maker in democracies. The news media was expected to flourish in the post industrial world. What might be good for news media might not be good for democracy and not even for journalism. The newspaper market had already experienced severe changes before the internet established new information channels. Papers were shut down due to commercial reasons. Nowadays, young people often prefer reading news on a screen, even if they have access to printed newspapers.

Most information you find in blogs is traceable back to original reporting from traditional media. News media can only succeed the competition with high quality journalism. The platform doesn’t matter, but content matters. The platform is only relevant for revenues. Mediocre journalism is too expensive for free papers and too poor-quality to sell.

The internet offers detailed information sites on special topics, such as sports, finance, arts, etc. People who access only information sites that are of special interest to them have less access to general news, which are incorporated in traditional information sources. Also the websites of newspapers change how people access information. On the web, people go directly to areas of interest, while the printed newspapers make them pass other topics when turning the pages.

Media are responsible for the dialogue within democracies. In Italy, the prime minister said in public speeches that citizens shall not follow the printed press, but use only TV channels to get relevant information. As Mr. Berlusconi owns the main media networks in Italy and has most political power, the country faces a severe democratic danger. Mr. Berlusconi uses populism: Popularity becomes opinion making and citizens become spectators; informed citizens are not wanted by the leading elite. In Italy, most voters decided upon their vote due to information gathered on TV.

Public funding of news media is problem as such media should be independent. Media can only be independent when they are profitable. Especially in the south-east European market, investors buy news media for personal interest; they are not interested in free expression of opinions.

The search for the truth, which is the core duty of journalists, is crucial, especially in the complicated world of politics. News media have to work for the citizens and not for politicians. The internet can support the development of free press, especially in areas, where there is no free press (e.g. Iran elections 2009).

Further Information

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