Lecture 7: The Americanization / Mediatization of Politics?

Mediatization of Politics

  • Mediatization is the terminology used to describe the current relationship between politics and media
  • Mediatization refers to the way media shapes and changes our everyday lives
  • Of the processes that have been identified as contributing to the mediatization of politics, the following are among the most important
  • First, in their news reporting, mass media present only a highly selective sample of newsworthy events from a continuous stream of occurrences. Events are identified as newsworthy when they satisfy certain rules, commonly understood as the criteria for determining news value. Only part of the criteria of news value are intrinsic to the news events. Often the selection process is determined more strongly by journalistic worldviews and by media production routines
  • Political protagonists on the media stage act in front of more or less passive audiences and consumers of politics. It is left to the media to decide who will get access to the public. In the same way that media select and frame events, the media select which actors will receive attention and frame those actors’ public images. This is one aspect of the mediatization of politics through a media-constructed public sphere. A second aspect consists of the agenda-building and agenda-setting functions of mass media. In addition to conferring status upon actors by giving them attention, the media also assign political relevance and importance to social problems by selecting and emphasizing certain issues and neglecting others
  • Today, the resort to external campaign expertise, to professional consultancy, is normal practice for many European parties and candidates. Television debates and talk shows, spot ads, staged events on the campaign trail, marketing research techniques, growing propaganda expenditures, and the like are common features. In short, the language of politics has been married with that of advertising, public relations, and show business. What is newsworthy, what hits the headlines, what counts in the public sphere or in the election campaign are communication skills, the style of addressing the public, the look, the image, even the special effects. All are typical features of the language of commercial media
  • In other words, we are facing a symbiotic relationship that is characterized by a mediatization of politics and, at the same time, politicians’ instrumental use of mass media for particular political goals. The use of methods for engineering public opinion and consent, such as political opinion polling, marketing strategies, proactive news management, and spin doctoring, which have been studied and discussed extensively in recent years is indicative of this phenomenon
  • Finally, the mass media have genuine, legitimate political functions to perform in voicing a distinct position on an issue and engaging in investigative reporting to perform their watchdog or partisan role. Journalistic partisanship becomes particularly problematic under two conditions. When (a) the political beliefs of journalists deviate substantially from the beliefs of their news audiences, which seems to be the case in countries like Italy and Germany where journalists view themselves as more liberal than their audience and (b) when the mass media exaggerate their control functions and focus excessively on the negative aspects of politics, which also is an obvious trend on the European scene

Mediated vs. Mediatized Politics

  • Mediated is a neutral term which refers to the involvement of an actor operating as the middle man that communicates / transmits information through use of media
  • In contrast, mediatized refers to when media assume character of necessity in politics. The media becomes participant within politics, and it shapes how political communication occurs
  • It is process-oriented, yet it can be problematic because media is given power to shape how certain political news is depicted. It involves selecting what kind of information is communicated to the public

Two Societal Trends with the Rise of Mediatization of Politics

  • Crisis of political parties
  • The crisis of political parties refers to declining of individuals identifying with political parties (Ex. The U.S. is a prime example of the political system decaying because candidates no longer need the parties to reach the voters, but instead rely completely on the mass media)
  • This refers back to the point regarding the new media, the Internet, and the information superhighway revolutionizing the news industry and profession and represent a serious challenge to its survival. They could undermine the traditional mediation function of journalism, bypassing the crucial phases of media selection and interpretation of events. For the most part, the information that circulates on the Internet is not produced by journalists and news media; it is directed to special publics whose information needs are not fulfilled by conventional mass media
  • Ex. The media logic, the frame of reference within which the media construct the meaning of events and personalities they report, increasingly has come to reflect the commercial logic of the media industry (Ex. U.S. politicians almost became voiceless on television during recent decades. In television news coverage of political campaigns, the soundbites of presidential candidates shrunk dramatically as journalists appeared to speak for the politicians by presenting paraphrases and summaries of the politicians’ remarks)
  • The rise of a sophisticated citizenry
  • Refers to a person’s capacity to process information and to make meaning of the political issues encountered in mass media
  • Political sophistication also expands the horizon of people’s interests and raises their level of attention to public affairs and participation in politics

Informed vs. Informational Citizens

  • Informed citizens
  • Not only information but a point of view and preferences to make sense of it
  • High level of understanding from the source material
  • Informational citizens
  • Saturated with bits and bytes of information
  • Knowledge acquired through social media, new headlines, etc.
  • The growing intrusion of media into the political domain in many countries has led critics to worry about the approach of the media-driven republic, in which mass media will usurp the functions of political institutions in the liberal state
  • However, close inspection of the evidence reveals that political institutions in many nations have retained their functions in the face of expanded media power
  • The best description of the current situation is mediatization, where political institutions increasingly are dependent on and shaped by mass media but nevertheless remain in control of political processes and functions
  • American politics tends to be driven more by political substance . . . than by the antics of Media Politics
  • The ideas of the irresistible power of the mass media and of media power’s negative consequences for the democratic process often have been shared by the academic community around the world. Cases such as candidate Fernando Collor de Mello’s remarkable television-fueled victory in the 1989 Brazilian presidential elections. The successful performance of Silvio Berlusconi, a media tycoon, in the 1994 Italian general elections; and the 1997 electoral victory of Labour leader Tony Blair in the United Kingdom
  • According to critics, the media have distorted the political process also by turning politics into a marketlike game that humiliates citizens’ dignity and rights and ridicules political leaders’ words and deeds. Critics argue that the media’s presentation of politics in the United States as well as in many other countries, as show-biz based on battles of images, conflicts between characters, polls and marketing, all typical frenzies of a journalism that is increasingly commercial in its outlook, has diminished if not supplanted altogether debate about ideas, ideals, issues, and people’s vital interests and has debased voters by treating them not as citizens but rather as passive consumers of mediated politics
  • Critics' concerns extend to the newest media to enter the arena of political communication. Because they create the possibility of direct and instant electronic democracy, the new media have given rise to several fears described by critics. Traditional democratic institutions of representation will be undermined or made irrelevant by direct, instant electronic communication between voters and officials. The new media will fragment the electorate, eroding the traditional social and political bonds that have united the polity. Political parties will lose their function as cultural structures mediating between the people and the government. Shrewd, unprincipled politicians will find it easier than before to manipulate public opinion and build consensus by using new information technologies and resources
  • In short, critics’ regard conventional mass communication and new communication technologies as sharing what could be described as a mutagenic impact on politics, that is, the ability to change politics and political action into something quite different from what traditionally has been embodied in the tenets of liberal democracy
  • Without depreciating the validity of the critical, somewhat apocalyptic positions of those who see the media as one of the most crucial factors in the crisis of politics and political leadership in postmodern democracies, it is our argument here that the increasing intrusion of the media in the political process is not necessarily synonymous with a media takeover of political institutions (governments, parties, leaders, movements). Moreover, media intrusion cannot be assumed as a global phenomenon, because there are very significant differences between countries in this respect. Recent changes that have occurred in the political arenas around the world cannot be explained as reflecting some common pattern of media-driven democracy. Instead, the concept of mediatization of politics is a more sensible tool for addressing the question of whether the media complex endangers the functioning of the democratic process
  • Mediatization is, in fact, a phenomenon that is common to the political systems of almost all democratic countries, where it has taken different shapes and developed at different speeds
  • The mass media are not mere passive channels for political communicators and political content. Rather, the media are organizations with their own aims and rules that do not necessarily coincide with, and indeed often clash with, those of political communicators. Because of the power of the media, political communicators are forced to respond to the media’s rules, aims, production logics, and constraints
  • To characterize politics as being mediatized goes beyond a mere description of system requirements. Mediatized politics is politics that has lost its autonomy, has become dependent in its central functions on mass media, and is continuously shaped by interactions with mass media
  • Of the processes that have been identified as contributing to the mediatization of politics, the following are among the most important
  • The media industry is undergoing epochal changes both on the global level and in individual countries. The rapid spread of the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the industrial and financial interests of the media and telecommunication trusts are prompting a revolution also in the conventional mass media. The adjustment by the news media and journalism to the new scenarios is progressing at different speeds in different national and continental contexts, but some changes have already occurred that are significant for our discussion of the mediatization of politics
  • First, the news business in Europe was characterized in the past by the strong presence of public service broadcasting, which meant there was some form of governmental control, direct or indirect, over the entire newsmaking process, from recruitment of journalists to production policies. Today, this process is much broader and more dramatic. New information outlets, such as satellite and cable channels, are increasing in number and engage in fierce competition with public broadcasting channels. One important side effect of the rush to commercialized communication and news has been a decrease (but not the disappearance) of the formerly high level of politicization of both the public media organizations and the outlook of news professionals
  • Second, the process of commercialization of the public and private news media industry is clearly seen in the preferences noted earlier of news organizations for spectacular and sensationalistic coverage of political events and leaders
  • Third, in addition to a widespread journalism that pursues commercial objectives and frames political reality accordingly, we can also observe in various national contexts the rise of an adversarial type of news media that does not fit the traditional model of the role relationships linking the press and politicians
  • Finally, the new media, the Internet, and the information superhighway are literally revolutionizing the news industry and profession and represent a serious challenge to its survival. They could undermine the traditional mediation function of journalism, bypassing the crucial phases of media selection and interpretation of events. For the most part, the information that circulates on the Internet is not produced by journalists and news media; it is directed to special public whose information needs are not fulfilled by conventional mass media

Mediatization of Politics and the Self-Mobilized Citizen

  • The self-mobilized citizens formulate their stance on current issues independently of the positions of the political parties
  • They develop their political orientation individually and independently through the availability of information via mass media. As a result of an ever-expanding media system, the press, radio, and television provide a steadily increasing content of politically relevant information for these citizens
  • Furthermore, another example of an ever-expanding media system is the Internet. Because the Internet represents a shift from mass media to interactive media, and from monological to dialogical communication, it can be seen as an important extension of the possibilities for participation

However, there remains a large group of people who are poorly informed and not so much interested in politics, called the chronic know-nothings. Because of their low level of education and motivation, these people lack the cognitive resources for more active participation in politics. In previous times, the majority of this group relied on political parties to relieve them of the need for individually deliberated choices. However, the declining of party identification has led to the crisis of political parties

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