In our latest google hangout Maria mentioned the coming election in Sweden and pointed out the possibility of ’parallel public spheres’, the mainstream media and other groups centered around different interests, usually taking place on the internet. I would like to elaborate further on this and bring in the research from Cammaerts into the discussion. Studies on media, civil action and participation show that 1) the definition of citizenship has turned into consumerism and cultural citizenship 2) the mainstream media is failing to voice the concerns of its citizens.
When talking to people in general I am usually struck by how unengaged people are in politics. Especially young people, seem to have completely lost their trust in mainstream media and instead finding alternative news channels on the internet. Others feel that the real issues are never really discussed in the public sphere, and therefore don’t act their right to express themselves. Since the commercialization of media, the political dimension of communication seems more and more absent pushing its citizens to find alternative spheres. However, whether public spheres are created on the internet or in mainstream media, ’real participation’ of the citizen must directly adress power, according to professor Jan Servaes. It suggests that, we can have diverse media channels and so called ’free choice’ among them without having real participation. Sociologist Zygmund Bauman argues that the freedom of choice for the European citizen is shrinking, since the the tool of power of participation that lied within the law and and legislation has been transfered to the markets.
Participation in democracy today, in my opinion, is not so much about ’real participation’ but about information, services and choice of entertainment content. The case of the postal service in Finland illustrates well how the citizen is not only caught between disfunctional media and a company but also how the municipalities constrain citizen participation. The background story is that the The Finish Postal Service wanted to rationalize their postal services and ordered the residents to move the local citizens mail boxes, the citizens opposed this and organized themselves.
The municipalites in Finland (like in Sweden) usually adress their citizens as ’clients’ offering services rather than including them into participatory processes of real decision- making. The local media also acted in opposition to the citizens, demonstrating the failure of media to politicize the concerns of the residents. Auli Harju argues that traditional journalism is molded in principles of autonomity and indepence that make the journalist want to take distance from the citizen, portraying the citizen as passive rather than as an actor in the civic society. In this case, the media posted the Postal Offices arguments as facts in the main news pages whereas the the residents voices was found in the local papers at the end. Secondly, media tends to focus on conflict and drama in stories, therefore making it even harder to create that public sphere for discussion among different groups and interests. Even though the local media covered the story, they did not follow up on questions regarding citizen participation, nor did they facilitate or maintain a public sphere for a dialogue to continue.
Returning to the idea of the parallel public spheres in the beginning of this post; If the citizen can’t rely on the media to politicize its concerns anymore and if the state and municipalities still define the citizen in the traditional way, as a receiver of information and services, where could the citizen have a real discussion on matters that concerns his/her life? How can community media challenge the commercial mass media and the old nation- state definition of citizenship?