Mediatization has long been discussed in academics and now among society, too, in recent decades (Fornas, 2014). The media's rising influence has launched a new aspect to explore whether mediatization would negatively affect democracy. This essay discusses the afore-mentioned question by opening the discussion with the basic concepts and definition of mediatization and democracy, followed by a discussion of the question centring the process of mediatization on finding out if the phenomenon of ‘self- medialization’ changes the ways of performing democracy nowadays, by using different examples around the world.
The essay is concluded with the finding that mediatization is indeed negatively impacting democracy. However, with time, the situation would change with the society gradually finding ways to create and adopt a new form of media democracy in the future.
Mediatization is one of the significant concepts in studying media's character in transforming developed democracies, while well-applied to discuss the content of democracy and politics (Kepplinger, 2002; Stromback & Esser, 2009; Stromback, 2008, 2011a, 2011b). However, to understand the impact of mediatization on democracy, one needs to grasp the concept and importance of democracy truly. Democracy can be defined as
“A government system by the whole population or all the eligible members of a state, typically through elected representatives.” Kepplinger, 2002.
It is important to note that the number of voting democracies in the world nearly doubled amid the last two decades (Freedom House, 2012). It is difficult to find another alternative governmental system with equal legitimacy and backing globally, like democracy (Inglehart, 2003; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). However, developed democracies have witnessed a transformation towards less deferential, increasing complexity, dissatisfied and critical citizens (Norris, 2011), a decrease in voter turnout and trust in political institutions and politicians, also increasingly critical, autonomous, and market-driven media (Strömbäck and Esser, 2014). Mediatization seems to be the term that can encompass and explain these changes.
Mediatization could also be used to refer to the social change process through which media has become more and more ingrained into; and deeply significant; in diverse spheres of civilization (Stromback, 2008). Since the media holds a mainstream position in the public sphere, it can greatly impact either the processes and structure of political communication and decision-making or public opinion (Kach-Baugarten & Voltmer, 2010).
Both the media and political communicators are needed to fulfil the media’s rules, aims, production logics, and constraints (Altheide & Snow, 1979). As a result, politicians who want to address the public are forced to negotiate with the media's preferred formats, timing, language, and even the content of the politicians’ announcement (Mazzoleni & Schulz, 1999). In mediatization processes, some key elements could lead us to whether medialization changes democracy negatively through news values, media logic, and self-medialization.
In news reporting, mass media only presents selective stories of newsworthy events, which abide by certain rules, generally understood as the principles for determining “news value” from a continuous stream of incidents. Its criteria such as personalization, drama, conflict, and proximity either decide what stories get to the front of the news agenda and then published to the public; or force a systematic prejudice upon the media reality of politics because news reports naturally emphasize the features that make an event newsworthy (Strömbäck and Esser, 2014).
A significant example of this practice can be noticed in the reports regarding terrorist attacks worldwide. When the Paris attack happened, there was mass media coverage of the tragedy all over the world. However, in that same time period, there was also the Beirut bombing, which barely garnered any attention from the public. Needless to say, the nearly invisible reports on the bomb attacks or suicide attacks on Iraq and Afghanistan, which killed dozens of people once a week (Sherriff, 2015).
In the meantime, it is easier to understand this phenomenon when we consider the media as a commercial organization that needs to operate their company. To do so, they need to fulfil their customers' expectations, not only the audiences but also their investors and owners. Their political choices are not made by the journalists but by the people above them. This could be well discovered in the election campaign within almost every western democratic country (Strömbäck and Esser, 2014; Gaber, 2011).
Nevertheless, the power of media is still held by empowering individuals, and the media system itself is still democratic in its own framework, avoiding private ownership or intense regulation (Exoo, 2010). Moreover, with the rise of alternative media houses, news selection is now based on the public's taste rather than the position of a single news organizations’ political position (Bailey et al., 2008). In this sense, selective reporting, which is the main element of medialization, does not change the basis of media democracy but rather presents its current form.
Another fundamental element of the process of mediatization is media logic. It refers to the frame of orientation within the media that constructs the meaning of personalities and events being reported. Reporting is now increasingly biased towards the so-called commercial logic of the media, compromising professional media communication due to commercial communication activities (Altheide & Snow, 1979). In short, it is “the whole of such processes that eventually shape and frame media content” (Mazzoleni, 2008, p.2930).
The incorporation of political language into the commercial media pattern has been observed in different areas: communication techniques, the political actors’ communication outlook, and the political discourses’ content. Moreover, after reviewing related literature, it is discovered that several types of research also came to the similar conclusion that the appearance of politicians within the interpretative coverage of journalists has become more and more negative (Mazzoleni and Schulz, 1999). On the other hand, the digital revolution could, in fact, be redemptive, as now the media outlet provides direct communication between citizens and politicians, without the mass media involved (Blumler & Gurevitch, 2001; Gaber, 2016).
An example of this phenomenon can be the recent presidential election in the United States. When Trump, the candidate who eventually won the election, felt that the media was not giving him a fair opportunity to express his opinion, he turned to his Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts, which amassed 25 million followers, to bypass the media to get his spotlight (Nass, 2016). The results of the election proved that this strategy worked. It also suggested that the digital revolution enlarges the media’s power to the public and allows the individual's power to the public without the media. Therefore, mediatization is a reason for the declining democracy and a reason to create direct communication between politicians and the public. From the example quoted above, it can easily be inferred that whether the media logic has influenced political communication or not, it would not matter that much in the future as the politicians nowadays have a more effective and powerful way to communicate with the general masses.
Another problem associated with this is self-mediatization. It is the process that political actors have adapted and internalized to the media’s selection criteria, production routines, and rules to use this knowledge to attain dissimilar strategic goals. The political actors and institutions increasingly act to frame the news structures as per their agenda and influence news management and other political and marketing public relations tactics and strategies, defined as self-mediatization. It can have a snowballing impact (Strömbäck & Esser, 2014).
Despite the political institution, performers can become more skilled through self-mediatization, promote new media logic, and reaffirm the news media's perceived influence, gaining attention. However, any successes, considerable or not, which is achieved through this strategy is usually short-term. This is because the more political activities and processes are shaped, structured, or altered by the news media acting as an institution’ to facilitate the perceived need of political institutions, the more politics will become mediatized, and the advantages they gain will get minimized (Strömbäck and Esser, 2014). Thus, it can be predicted that the situation of self-mediatization would not be as common in the future, and the influences of mediatization would also be not considerably influential either.
From the literature reviewed, it can be suggested that the mediatization of political communication can negatively influence media democracy. The selection based on ‘news commercial value’ narrows the ‘news relevance’ in the market. The polished news article based on ‘media logics’ can potentially negatively frame the politicians, and the phenomenon of ‘self-mediatization’ among different political organizations can lead to a problematic situation.
However, within a democratic society, such unbalanced conditions would not survive for long. The developing technologies allow politicians and the public to create direct or indirect connections to bypass the mass media outlets through social media or alternative media. In fact, it could result in the weakening of traditional roles and functions of the news media and reduce the effectiveness of the traditional mass media; in mobilizing mass audiences (Mazzoleni & Schulz, 1999). Therefore, it can be concluded that mediatization is indeed bad for democracy. Fortunately, it is just a short-term transition towards the new media democracy.
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