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The impact of the mass media on the quality of democracy within a state remains a much overlooked area of study

Müller, L. (2014) “The impact of the mass media on the quality of democracy within a state remains a much overlooked area of study“, LSE EUROPP, 05 Δεκεμβρίου.


Media organisations are generally assumed to play an important role in democracies, but how effective are they in performing this function within specific states? Lisa Müller outlines results from an analysis of 47 countries, based on a framework which rates two separate aspects of media performance: the extent to which they perform a ‘watchdog’ role by providing information, and the degree to which they act as a representative forum for the views of citizens. She finds that no country in the analysis performs well on both of these dimensions, but that the variations between states match differences in the quality of their democracy.

Modern societies could not be imagined without mass communication. Television, newspapers, the radio and the internet are the main sources of information for citizens all around the globe. But what does this mean for the functioning of political systems and processes? Few would doubt that mass media in authoritarian regimes – which are typically controlled tightly by the state – serve to maintain the existing power structure. One only has to think of the pervasive state propaganda disseminated by North Korean media to keep the country’s citizens in line. There is also broad agreement that mass media contribute to democratisation processes, as seen for example in Eastern Europe during and after the Soviet Union’s collapse.

By contrast, there is a great deal of controversy when it comes to the issue of whether free mass media serve or harm democracy once they have been established. On the one hand, adherents of what is often referred to as the ‘media malaise’ theory claim that because mass media in established democracies mostly operate according to market principles, they disregard their democratic duties. This is alleged to have serious repercussions for democracy, causing apathy, cynicism and ignorance with regard to politics among citizens.


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