In a collection of essays, “Why Democracy Need an Unlovable Press” by Michael Schudson, he emphatically explores the interplay between the western-democracies and journalism. He self admittedly declares that in the past there has been criticism directed to the press by different Sociologists and media scholars he included. The different authors believed that the press was a tool of sensation and an avenue to rake in dollars in terms of advertisement. Schudson agrees that neither can journalism create democracy nor democracy invent journalism, but, there is a strong interplay between the two. He highlights that in instances where people are prepared to bring democracy the press plays a significant role. This is through bringing in helpful services that will force into power representative and democratic governance. These services are a recipe to the democratization. This essay pays attention to these basic roles played by the media.
Information to the citizens is the first role of the press according to Schudson. In a democracy, journalism has a fundamental role in the provision of crucial educational information to the people. This information can be on what the people’s political representative are doing. The press also informs the citizens on impacts of some political decision on democracy. This gives the people power in terms of knowledge and participation in self-governance, which is the essence of democracy. In fact, journalism avails the news to the people, and this opens to the people some things that they would have not known. Schudson describes the relationship between democracy and journalism as inter-depended in terms of information. Journalism avails information to a democracy while democracy makes information part of journalism.
Instigation is another role of journalism. In the last three or four decades, investigative journalism has done a lot of work in the United States and the European democracies. Journalism focuses on the political leaders and their behaviors. Journalism therefore, provides a platform where conflicts within the government are brought in the full light for the public to see. This watchdog keeps the political elite on alert. The government will always think that there is someone watching the news on some corruption or a scandal somewhere. The media play a role in instilling fear of prosecution, loosing politically or public embarrassment. This fear increases the democratic space and therefore, good governance.
The third role of journalism in a democracy according to Schudson is analysis. When journalist expounds a complex event or scenario in a comprehensive and simple narrative, they assist democracy. This branch of journalism is referred to as the analytic or explanatory journalism. An analytic journalist should be in a position to link the public capacity of understanding complex events to the transmission of the information.
Media scholar Patrick Murphy in his work “Media and Democracy in the Age of Globalization” describes the media as a significant tool in legitimization of democracy, in the world. The mass media today especially in Africa forms the platform for a healthy democracy. There are two reasons that Murphy bases his argument on; first, the press creates awareness on the side of the public ensuring that citizens make well-informed political decisions. Secondly, the media ensures that the elected people’s representatives in the government keep to their oath of office and act to the interests of the electorate. Murphy argues that the antagonism between the media and the governments works best for democracy. The press should not be an enemy of the state, but should be a tool of positive criticism of the government undoing. The press should be an avenue for information dissemination as mediatory tool between the different facets of the society and the government of the day.
According to Murphy (2010), the media is involved in governance and democracy. For instance, the media is involved in governance parameters like decentralization of resources, fighting corruption and ensuring inclusiveness in policy formulation. An independent media will provide checks and balances in the justice system. It will provide checks and balances on the judiciary in terms of the court reports. The media also plays a role in ensuring free and fair elections. The media gives equal access to the political candidates. The press also investigates and reports electoral malpractices in time. Murphy describes a media that serves the interests of the citizen as the one that is financially viable and with editorial independence. Public interest, in the past, few decades according to Murphy has been a key agenda of the various media companies throughout the world. This has fostered democratic governance.
Sociologist Agner Fog in his work “The supposed and the real role of mass media in modern democracy” describes the media as a backbone of the democratization. He explains that the media supplies that needed political information to the electorate hence ensuring that they make good and informed political decisions. In the establishment of any democratic society, the media has to perform some roles. According to Fog, the media has a role of acting as a medium for identification and deliberation of social and political issues inclined to democracy in the society. It should also act to reveal the mistakes of the political leaders that serve to kill democracy. The expectations on the media to perform these roles are usually high and the society will always assume that the media is capable, and indeed, it is executing these roles.
Fog (2004) further outlines other functions of the media in a democratic society. He begins with by describing the fundamental responsibility of the media in providing an avenue for debate on issues related to democracy. The media should also be a tool for assessment of sociopolitical development in the direction of democratization. Fog believes that also the media should be a measure of the political leaders in terms of their exercise of power. He describes the media as civil society by extension that should be the voice of the society in flashing out impunity and anti-democratic traits within the political leadership.
However, today there is growing number of critics on the role of the press in democratization process. Critics like Fallow claim that the media today is commercial and anti-democratic with the news comprising of gossip, scandals and violence. The media is concentrating on personalities at the expense of political ideologies. The media is blamed for absence of informative debates leaving the citizens confused and uninterested in politics based only on slogans. The media is described as watchdog whose role is to bark at the wrong political issues leaving the fundamental democratic ideologies.
The representative form of government entails political leaders elected to represent their people. The regions of representation are districts, constituencies or counties depending on the country’s political sub-divisions. The element of direct democracy is also adopted in some representative democracies, which incorporate referendums at crucial issues of national significance. Journalists and journalism scholars have been critical of the way representative democracy is exercised in the United States. They claim that there are no checks on the exercise of power. In a representative democracy, the political leaders act in the interest of people. The critics argue that some major crucial issues like military deployment have been done in the United States without involvement of the American people. To them the media has also failed to pressurize the political leadership to act responsibly and in accordance to law. Schudson supports the representative form of democracy adopted by the United States and the majority of other countries in the world. As much as the representative democracy should protect the public interests, Schudson argues that there are judgments the political elite are entitled to make. He describes the media as an industry that has played a crucial rule in ensuring that those in power do not abuse the representative democracy in the United States. The media has done a lot to enlighten the people about their democratic rights including provision of information on the characteristics of the representative democracy and its benefits. Schudson explains that the perception of American about the role that the media plays in democracy has changed. The media has played a role in the whole process of elections over the years. It has scrutinized every American Presidential candidate in full glare of the public in either debates or interviews.
In conclusion, Schudson and other social and media scholars have researched and published a lot about journalism and democracy today. The fundamental issue that crops up is that the press image has changed in the face of advancement in terms of democracy. The digital era the world is in today and the increasing ease of access to information is enlarging the democratic space. People today are freely expressing their political ideologies while the media is a free social institution that more and more is increasing its ability to serve the public interest.