Centre for Communication Governance at NLU delhi
Theories of Media, and its Relationship with Democracy

Tony Bennett, Theories of the media, theories of society (Culture, Society and the Media, 1982)

Bennett in examining the scholarship on the different theories of media seeks to understand the assumptions at play in the various schools of thought, which have gone on to shape our understanding of media. Through this exercise he also aims to comprehend the implications of the terminology “mass, media and communications”, so as to discern the nature of the media as perceived.

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The Mass Media as Fourth Estate

This article deals briefly with the various theories propounded in relation to public sphere and the media.

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Alison Gillwald, The Public Sphere, The Media and Democracy (Transformation 21, 1993)

Gillwald examines the public sphere, contextualising it in terms of the debate between the liberalist school of thought and the Marxist school of thought. While the traditional liberalist position that locates the media “at the interface between the governors and governed”, the Marxist school characterises the media as bourgeoisie. Gillwald in elucidating on the shortcomings of both these notions, seeks to understand the public sphere in the sense of Habermas’ critical sphere. Through the debunking of certain misplaced assumptions with regard to the public sphere, she seeks to reconstruct the public sphere, thereby redefining the role of the media in a democracy.

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Dr. Stephen Stockwell, Reconsidering the Fourth Estate: The functions of infotainment (Australian Political Studies Association, 2004)

Traditionally the role of the media was to help shape the debate that would largely inform the electorate on issues of relevance to democracy. In recent times however, the media has come under attack for dereliction of its duty to inform and resorting to cheap gimmicks that target ratings. Essentially it is perceived, that the media is now seeking to “dumb down” viewers placating them with voyeuristic entertainment. In this article however Stockwell seeks to challenge this presumption that ‘infotainment’ is essentially negative. 

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Peter Uwe Hohendahl, Critical Theory, Public Sphere and Culture. Jurgen Habermas and his Critics (New German Critique, 1979)

Hohendahl examines the traditional notion that culture and politics are essentially divorced in the public sphere. He further elucidates on critiques of this notion and seeks to comprehend the nature of the public sphere. In doing so he also observes the notion of collective identity that seems to be a by-product of an advanced capitalist society.

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Simon Susen, Critical Notes on Habermas’ Theory of the Public Sphere (Sociological Analysis, Volume 5 Number 1, 2011)

Habermas’ simplified understanding of what connotes the public sphere, needs to be re-examined in context of a modernist society. Susen in her article aims to build on the traditional structural understanding of the sphere and further examine its proliferation in modern times. The idea is to discern whether Habermas’ theory is of any relevance in a modernist society where the nature of the public sphere has undergone a stark transformation.

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Researching Media, Democracy and Participation, The Intellectual Work of the 2006 European Media and Communication Doctoral Summer School (2006)

This report expounds on the various components of the “media system”. It begins with examining the role of the media in deliberative democracy. It then goes on to examine the different avenues that foster participation in the media. Furthermore, it elucidates on the linkages between democracy and public participation, seeking to understand how knowledge is produced and communicated through modern societal institutions.

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Agner Fog, The supposed and real role of mass media in modern democracy (2004)

Fog undertakes an examination of the various factors that influence the media. Focussing specifically on the stiff economic competition this paper seeks to examine how economics has fostered the development of a ratings driven media, as opposed to one that works towards informing the electorate.

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Jenifer Whitten-Woodring & Patrick James, Fourth Estate or Mouthpiece? A Formal Model of Media, Protest and Government Repression (Routledge, 2012)

With the advances in technology, communication of information to the public, through the media, is facilitated with remarkable ease. The role of the media however is not limited to being a broadcaster of information. It also acts as a watchdog. Woodring and James in their article examine whether an independent media with more democratic characteristics is actually better equipped to protect human rights, and act as a tool to combat government oppression.

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Sheila S. Coronel, The Role of Media in Deepening Democracy

Coronel examines the constraints placed on the media and posits that the media can only be efficient in the discharge of its various functions, if there is a conducive environment fostering the same. Furthermore, Coronel states that in an ever-changing democracy, the media too needs to adapt and equip itself with tools that will help it function better in the contemporary context.

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Howard Tumber, Democracy in The Information Age: The Role of the Fourth Estate in Cyberspace (Information, Communication and Society, Vol. 4, 2001)

This article assesses the future for journalism within the public sphere and asks whether journalism can perform its normative functions in the digital age.

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Nic Newman, William H. Dutton & Grant Blank, Social Media in the Changing Ecology of News: The Fourth and Fifth Estates in Britain (International Journal of Internet Science, Volume 7 Number 1, 2012)

Newman et al focus on the implications of the advent of the internet on traditional media. The internet is what is now being envisaged as the fifth estate. This article seeks to examine the various risks and benefits associated with the increased reliance on the fifth estate.

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