Media And Public Sphere

The influence of journalism and newspaper on the public sphere
Habermas developed the concept of the public sphere to mean that part of life, especially in social circles, where the population can exchange opinions on issues of significance to the common good, so as to form a public opinion. This public sphere is expressed when people gather together to debate issues that are with a political base.

Habermas’ effort rely on a characteristic historical moment when coffee houses, salons, and societies became the place of discussions during the 17th and 18th centuries and extends this phenomenon to an ideal of participation in the public sphere for today (Mayhew, 1997). The significance of the notion of public sphere lies in the process of debate, which must be modeled to a critical and rational discussion. That is to say that the discussion has rules where emotive language is avoided and focus is laid on the rationality of the contents being debated. The contributors are supposed to have a common attention in truth with no status differentials.

Criticism is one component that is considered vital in this process such that the propositions are tested and the contributors or participants can make discovery through the process (Mayhew, 1997).

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Properties of journalism/newspapers that allowed a public sphere to emerge

The media has played a critical role in the emergence of the public sphere. To start with, the press has a wide reach which allows more public participation. Sine early times, the newspaper journalism highlighted political controversies and development. The development of the newspaper in the 17th century was seen as an emergence of a critical organ of a public involved in vital political debate. The recent media has developed to the extent of commodifying news.

In addition, publishers in early time took sides with loyalist or patriots. The news brought more controversy and kept the public informed of the political happenings. The editors more often than not created a sphere for political discussions.

Changes to journalistic field and the newspapers that present the greatest challenges to a democratic public sphere

The emergence of the mass press is based on the commercialization of the participation of the masses in the public sphere. As a result, this ‘extended’ public sphere lost much of its original political touch giving way to entertainment and commercialism.

The role of newspapers as a traditional media has become increasingly problematic in today’s democracy. The gap between the democracy ideology and its practice is so conspicuous. The mass communication is lacking credibility in furtherance of democratic ideals. Many theorists have pointed out that newspaper and other journalistic channels separate people from one another and substitute themselves for older places of politics

The newspaper has become active participants in the political process through their role in publicity, instead of reporting on the process itself. Furthermore the newspaper has become fundamental to political life. Political participants are required to regularly update with the media’s requirement and plan their exposure actively; failure to do so they tend to fall quickly out of favor. Moreover, the lousy “media performers” assume the same failure. Public debates on television and the discussion columns in newspapers present little aspect of a critical-rational debate. (Thomson, 1995)

Plebiscites, research in public opinion and opinion management do not provide a potential for democracy; they are adjunct to public administration rather than a true public discussion. That is they do not present a chance for discursive opinion formation.

Manipulation of events is used to provide utmost televisual effects. Debates are modeled such that the extreme opinions clash in order to attain maximum impact and increase ratings. Elsewhere, there is little contribution in regard to the development of discursive public opinion or will. The choice of topics reflects the inclination to proprietal and commercial interests.

Television programs that allow audience participation are directed to groups that are not significance for the public view. However, this admission does not guarantee any changes in the power structures within the society. So these programs provide just an illusion of involvement which arouses a feeling in the public that their democratic rights are exercised.

As a result of the shifting communications environment, the public sphere is revealed as a platform for advertising. In the process, this realization has invaded the process of public opinion by methodically exploiting or creating news events that draw attention.

Aspects of the current media system that present the greatest opportunity for the continuation or renewal of the public sphere

The efforts to salvage the public sphere centre on making publicity a basis of logical consensus formation other than controlling popular opinion (Benson & Neveu, 2005). Traditional media can add into democratic functions through action as an agent of representation. The media should be organized to tolerate different social groups to articulate their outlook. In addition, the media should aid organizations to get support through publicity of impending causes and protests. That is the media should help these organizations operate as representatives medium of the supporters view.

Presently, the internet presents a great opportunity to many of the things aforementioned. It has the capacity to extend participative democracy in a revitalized public sphere. The structure of the internet eliminates control by the conglomerate media organization. Many more people have access to internet opportunities and debate for the formation of political will. As well, the commodification of the internet is inevitable. However, the traditional media have vast resources and established audiences. The resources include money, expertise, research materials, and photographs while the audience is often willing to accept what they publish. (Mayhew, 1997)


A public opinion can only be formed if there is existence of a public that engages in rational discussion. The public opinion is a critical authority that balances social and political power and publicity can manipulate it so as to support products, programs, people and institutions. However, there has been a deterioration of the public a phenomenon which is fuelled primarily by publicists (Thomson, 1995). A person’s individual point of view when solicited does not comprise the public sphere, since it include a process of opinion formation; for instance, a public opinion poll.

Over the years, the notion of the public sphere has been used and linked to matters in media theory which include consumerism and commodification, culture and media ownership, surveillance and participative democracy, and desecration by public relations practitioners, virtual communities mapping, globalization and journalism in the future.

The public sphere is still functional, although it is not and will not be the same. Its future lies within the digital media especially with the emergence of the internet phenomenon. (Thomson, 1995)


Benson R. & Neveu, E (2005): Introduction: Field Theory as a work in progress. Pp1-25

Thomson, J.B. (1995): Advertising, public relations, and the problem of strategic communication, Media and Modernity. Pp119-148

Mayhew, L.H. (1997): The new public. Pp 189-235. New York: Cambridge University Press

Thomson, J.B. (1995): Media and the development of modern society, Media and Modernity. Pp 1-80

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