Media democracy

Media democracy is a democratic approach to media studies that advocates for the reform of mass media to strengthen public service broadcasting and develop participation in alternative media and citizen journalism in order to create a mass media system that informs and empowers all members of society and enhances democratic values. Media is also defined as "medium" a way of communicating with others.[1]


Media democracy focuses on the empowerment of individual citizens and promotion democratic ideals through the spread of information.[2] Additionally, the media system itself should be democratic in its own construction [3] shying away from private ownership or intense regulation. Media democracy entails that media should be used to promote democracy[2] as well as the conviction that media should be democratic itself;[3] media ownership concentration is not democratic and cannot serve to promote democracy and therefore must be examined critically.[4] The concept, and a social movement promoting it, have grown as a response to the increased corporate domination of mass media and the perceived shrinking of the marketplace of ideas.

The term refers to a modern social movement evident in countries all over the world which attempts to make mainstream media more accountable to the publics they serve and to create more democratic alternatives.

The concept of a media democracy follows in response to the deregulation of broadcast markets and the concentration of mass media ownership. In the book Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media, authors Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky outline the propaganda model of media, which states that the private interests in control of media outlets will shape news and information before it is disseminated to the public through the use of five information filters.[5]

Media democracy allows people the right to participate in media, it extends the media's relationship to the public sphere, where the information that is gathered and can be viewed and shared by the people.[6] The public sphere is described as a network of communicating information and points of view from people, which is reproduced through communicative action through the media to the public.[7] The relationship of media democracy and the public sphere extends to various types of media, such as social media and mainstream media, in order for people to communicate with one another through digital media and share the information they want to publish to the public.[8]

The public sphere can be seen as a theater in modern societies in which political participation is enacted through a medium of talk and a realm of social life which public opinion can be formed.[9] The public sphere is also a democratic system that is open to any free citizen who would like to participate in media if they have any information they would like to share to society. The public sphere has changed because of the development of mass communication, giving people opportunities to participate in media and the right to share information through all channels of communications.[10] The democracy of the public sphere is in the participation of citizens who provide information to the media and share it to society.

Media democracy advocates that corporate ownership and commercial pressures influence media content, sharply limiting the range of news, opinions, and entertainment citizens receive. Consequently, they call for a more equal distribution of economic, social, cultural, and information capital, which would lead to a more informed citizenry, as well as a more enlightened, representative political discourse.

A media democracy advocates:

  • Replacing the current corporate media model with one that operates democratically, rather than for profit
  • Strengthening public service broadcasting
  • Incorporating the use of alternative media into the larger discourse
  • Increasing the role of citizen journalism
  • Turning a passive audience into active participants
  • Using the mass media to promote democratic ideals

The competitive structure of the mass media landscape stands in opposition to democratic ideals since the competition of the marketplace effects how stories are framed and transmitted to the public. This can "hamper the ability of the democratic system to solve internal social problems as well as international conflicts in an optimal way."[11]

Media democracy is grounded in creating a mass media system that favours a diversity of voices and opinions over ownership or consolidation, in an effort to eliminate bias in coverage. This, in turn, leads to the informed public debate necessary for a democratic state.[12] The ability to comprehend and scrutinize the connection between press and democracy is important because media has the power to tell a society's stories and thereby influence thinking, beliefs and behaviour.[13]

Media ownership concentration

Cultural studies have investigated changes in the increasing tendency of modern mass media in the field of politics to blur and confuse the boundaries between journalism, entertainment, public relations and advertising.[14] A diverse range of information providers is necessary so that viewers, readers and listeners receive a broad spectrum of information from varying sources that is not tightly controlled, biased and filtered.[15] Access to different sources of information prevents deliberate attempts at misinformation and allows the public to make their own judgments and form their own opinions.[16] This is critical as individuals must be in a position to decide and act autonomously for there to be a functioning democracy.[17]

The last several decades have seen an increased concentration of media ownership by large private entities. In the United States, these organizations are known as the Big Six.[18] They include: General Electric, Walt Disney Co., News Corporation, Time Warner, Viacom, and CBS Corporation. A similar approach has been taken in Canada, where most media outlets are owned by national conglomerates. This has led to a reduction in the number of voices and opinions communicated to the public; to an increase in the commercialization of news and information; a reduction in investigative reporting; and an emphasis on infotainment and profitability over informative public discourse.

The concentration of media outlets has been encouraged by government deregulation and neoliberal trade policies. In the United States, the Telecommunications Act of 1996 removed most of the media ownership rules that were previously put in place. This led to a massive consolidation of the telecommunications industry. Over 4,000 radio stations were bought out, and minority ownership in TV stations dropped to its lowest point since 1990, when the federal government began tracking the data.

Internet media democracy

The World Wide Web, and in particular Web 2.0, is seen as a powerful medium for facilitating the growth of a media democracy as it offers participants, "a potential voice, a platform, and access to the means of production".[19]

The use of digital social networking technologies to promote political dissent and reform lends credibility to the media democracy model. This is apparent in the widespread protests in the Middle East and North Africa known as the Arab Spring where social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube allowed citizens to quickly connect with one another, exchange information, and organize protests against their governments. While social media cannot solely be credited with the success of these protests, the technologies played an important role in instilling change in Tunisia,[20][21] Egypt,[22][23] and Libya. These acts show a population can be informed through alternative media channels, and can adjust its behaviour accordingly.

Crowdfunded websites have also been linked to a heightened spread of media democracy.[24]


Though the model aims to democratize the opinions expressed within the mass media as well as the ownership of media entities themselves, feminist media theory argues that the media cannot be considered truly inclusive or democratic insofar as they rely on the masculine concepts of impartiality and objectivity.[25] Creating a more inclusive and democratic media would require reconceptualizing how we define the news and its principles.[25] According to some feminist media theorists, news is like fictional genres that impose order and interpretation on its materials by means of narrative.[26] Consequently, the news narrative put forward presents only one angle of a much wider picture.[26]

It is argued that the distinction between public and private information that underpins how we define valuable or appropriate news content is also a gendered concept.[26] The feminist argument follows that the systematic subversion of private or subjective information excludes women's voices from the popular discourse.[26] Further to this point, feminist media theorists argue there is an assumed sense of equality or equalness implicit in the definition of the public that ignores important differences between genders in terms of their perspectives. So while media democracy in practice as alternative or citizen journalism may allow for greater diversity, these theorists argue that women's voices are framed within a masculine structure of objectivity and rationalist thinking.[27]

Despite this criticism there is an acceptance among some theorists that the blurring of public and private information with the introduction of some new alternative forms of media production (as well as the increase in opportunities for interaction and user-generated content) may signal a positive shift towards a more democratic and inclusive media democracy.[28] Some forms of media democracy in practice (as citizen or alternative journalism) are challenging journalism's central tenets (objectivity and impartiality) by rejecting the idea that it is possible to tell a narrative without bias and, more to the point, that it is socially or morally preferable.[29]


Critics of media democracy note that in order for the system to function properly, it assumes each member of society to be an educated and active participant in the creation of media and exchange of information. In countries with a high illiteracy rate, for example, it would be next to impossible for average citizens to take part and fully engage with media, and adjust their behaviour accordingly in society.[30] Instead of promoting democratic ideals, this would in turn fracture society into an upper-class that actively participates in creating the media, and a lower-class that only consumes it, leaving individuals open to the manipulation of information or media bias. This is not far from Nancy Fraser’s critique of the Habermasian public sphere, with regards to the bracketing of personal inequalities.[31]

Restriction in Media

Restrictions in media may exist either directly or indirectly. Before internet usage of media as well as social media became prominent, ordinary citizens rarely had much control over media. Even as the usage of social media has increased, major corporations still maintain the primary control over media as they are acquiring more and more platforms that would be considered in public use today.[32]

Media has been compared in the sense that it is the usage of media that determines how the content is considered, rather than the actual messages of the content. According to the Alec Charles edited Media/Democracy, “It is not the press or television or the internet or even democracy itself that is good or bad. It is what we do with them that makes them so”.[33][34]

The role government plays in media restrictions in media has been viewed with skepticism as well. The government involvement in media is possibly due to distrust between the government and media, as the government has criticized media before. Partial blame for distrust between the government and the public on both sides often goes to media as the public may feel as though there is false information though media and the government may feel as though media is giving the public false information.[35][36]

These functions of media in the way that it exists is described in a review of Victor Pickard's book, America's Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform, where Josh Shepperd wrote, “If one approaches the historical question of media ownership from a public service model, the private emphasis of the system requires praise for its innovations and self-sustainability, but deserves deep interrogation for its largely uncontested claim that the system, as is, provides the best opportunity for social recognition”.[37]

See also


  1. "Definition of MEDIUM". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  2. Exoo, Calvin F. (2010). The Pen and the Sword: Press, War, and Terror in the 21st Century. California: Sage Publications. pp. 1–4. ISBN 978-1-4129-5360-3.
  3. Exoo, Calvin F. (2010). The Pen and the Sword: Press, War, and Terror in the 21st Century. California: Sage Publications. p. 4. ISBN 978-1-4129-5360-3.
  4. Hazen, Don and Julie Winokur, ed. (1997). We the Media - A Citizen's Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy. New York: The New Press. ISBN 1-56584-380-0.
  5. Chomsky, Noam (2002). Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. Pantheon. ISBN 978-0375714498.
  6. James Deane. "Chapter 10 : Media, democracy and the public sphere" (PDF). Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  7. Wheeler, Mark; Iosifidis, Petros. "The Public Sphere and Network Democracy: Social movements and Political Change?". Global Media Journal. 13 (25). Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  8. "Boundless - A Modern Immigration Company". Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  9. "The Public Sphere" (PDF). Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  10. Fog, Agner. "The supposed and the real role of mass media in modern democracy" (PDF). Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  11. "Fact Sheets On Media Democracy". Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  12. Exoo, Calvin F. (2010). The Pen and the Sword: Press, War, and Terror in the 21st Century. California: Sage Publications. pp. 1–2. ISBN 978-1-4129-5360-3.
  13. Meyer, Thomas; Hinchman, Lew (2002). Media Democracy: How the Media Colonize Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. pp. x. ISBN 0-7456-2844-3.
  14. Williams, Frederick and John V. Pavlik, ed. (1994). The People's Right to Know: Media, Democracy, and the Information Highway. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. p. 153. ISBN 0-8058-1491-4.
  15. Exoo, Calvin F. (2010). The Pen and the Sword: Press, War, and Terror in the 21st Century. California: Sage Publications. pp. 195–196. ISBN 978-1-4129-5360-3.
  16. Meyer, Thomas; Hinchman, Lew (2002). Media Democracy: How the Media Colonize Politics. Cambridge: Polity Press. p. 1. ISBN 0-7456-2844-3.
  17. "Ownership Chart: The Big Six". Free Press. Archived from the original on 7 February 2012. Retrieved 4 April 2012.
  18. Kidd, Jenny. "Are New Media Democratic?". Cultural Policy Journal. Archived from the original on 2012-11-02.
  19. Kirkpatrick, David D. (January 14, 2011). "Tunisia Leader Flees and Prime Minister Claims Power". The New York Times.
  20. Shane, Scott (January 29, 2011). "Spotlight Again Falls on Web Tools and Change". The New York Times.
  21. Fahim, Kareem; Mona El-Naggar (January 25, 2011). "Violent Clashes Mark Protests Against Mubarak's Rule". The New York Times.
  22. Schillinger, Raymond (September 20, 2011). "Social Media and the Arab Spring: What Have We Learned?". The Huffington Post.
  23. "How can we build a democratic media?". 5 October 2015. Retrieved 21 February 2019.
  24. Thornham, Sue (2007). Women, Feminism and Media. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 97. ISBN 978-0-7486-2071-5.
  25. Thornham, Sue (2007). Women, Feminism and Media. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. pp. 90–92. ISBN 978-0-7486-2071-5.
  26. Thornham, Sue (2007). Women, Feminism and Media. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 95. ISBN 978-0-7486-2071-5.
  27. Thornham, Sue (2007). Women, Feminism and Media. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 109. ISBN 978-0-7486-2071-5.
  28. Thornham, Sue (2007). Women, Feminism and Media. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. p. 43. ISBN 978-0-7486-2071-5.
  29. "Role of Media In Democracy".
  30. Fraser, Nancy (1990). "Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy" (PDF). Social Text. Duke University Press (25/26): 56–80. doi:10.2307/466240. JSTOR 466240.
  31. Mack, Ott, Robert L., Brian L. (2014). Critical Media Studies: An Introduction Second Edition. West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell. p. 50. ISBN 978-1-118-55397-8.
  32. Charles, A. (2013). Media/Democracy : A Comparative Study. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
  33. Cammaerts, B., & Carpentier, N. (2007). Reclaiming the Media : Communication Rights and Democratic Media Roles. Bristol, UK: Intellect
  34. Shepperd, Josh (1 September 2016). "Victor Pickard, America's Battle for Media Democracy: The Triumph of Corporate Libertarianism and the Future of Media Reform" Check |url= value (help). International Journal of Communication (Online): 4723–. Retrieved 21 February 2019 via Gale.

Further reading

  • Bagdikian, Ben H. (2004). The new media monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press.
  • Gillmor, Dan (2004). We the media: Grassroots journalism by the people, for the people. O’Reilly Media. Archived from the original on 2006-01-18.
  • Hackett, Robert A. (2001). Building a Movement for Media Democratization. In P. Phillips and Project Censored. Project Censored 2001. New York : Seven Stories.
  • Hackett, Robert A. & Carroll, William K. (2006). Remaking Media: The Struggle to Democratize Public Communication. New York; London: Routledge
  • Hazen, Don and Julie Winokur, (eds). (1997) We the Media: A Citizens’ Guide to Fighting for Media Democracy. New York: The New Press.
  • Lewis, Jeff (2005) Language Wars: The Role of Media and Culture in Global Terror and Political Violence, London: University of Michigan Press/ Pluto Books, 2005.
  • McChesney, Robert, Making Media Democratic, Boston Review, Summer 1998
  • McChesney, Robert Waterman. (2000). Rich media, poor democracy: Communication politics in dubious times. New York: New Press.
  • McChesney, Robert W. and Nichols, John (2002) Our Media, Not theirs: The Democratic Struggle Against Corporate Media. New York : Seven Stories.
  • The Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom. Campaign statement. Archived from the original on 2011-08-03.
  • Rush, Ramona R. and Allen, Donna, (eds). (1989) "Communications at the Crossroads: The Gender Gap Connection. New Jerskey: Ablex Publishing.
  • Allen, Donna and Rush, Ramona R. and Kaufman, Susan J. (eds). (1996) "Women Transforming Communications, Global Intersections." Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications.
  • Ross, Karen and Byerly, Carolyn M. (eds.). (2004) "Women and Media, International Perspectives" Malden: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Byerley, Carolyn M. (ed.) (2013) "The Palgrave International Handbook of Women and Journalism" New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
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