News & Public Opinion – Public Sphere #NAPO

Today’s lecture focused on the opinion Democracy, or indeed more specifically Public opinion.

At first we explored the two widely accepted forms of representative democracy Elite and Deliberative.

Elite is where citizens vote for the Elite, who then make decisions based on un elected officials and experts opinions because they are thought based to make decisions on their field, as they are ‘Experts’.

The other, Deliberative, is where citizens still vote for representatives but they are instead much more involved in the decision making processes as the citizens and their ‘public opinions’ influence and inform the representatives.

At first look deliberative seems to make more sense or it seems to be more democratic. But what shocked me was how i felt like our ‘Democracy’ was more elitist than deliberative. I did settle on the concept of democracy as a sliding scale as our government and system of MPs is not entirely elitist but the Upper House of Lords, the use of aides and experts are. Its fairer to say ours sits somewhere between the two. That said, it is defiantly closer to the Elite format.]

There are two main Theorists to back these concepts of democracy and as a branch off the public sphere. First is Walter Lippman who believed the best way forward was the Elite structure. He argued this because he didn’t think people were clever enough or have the time to assess the complete info to make decisions on governance. He also argued that because everyone’s perception of reality was different how could the Public in general be expected to come to make important decisions. The most interesting thing about Lippman was he was the man behind the modern-day form of stereotypes; he said ‘We perceive reality to fit our stereotypes’ As to the media doing anything about helping the ‘Public’ understand he dismisses this as impossible because of the concept of journalists being ‘professionals’ (The idea Newspapers and Journalists are bound by the rules and advertising restrictions set by their organisation)

The counter theory supports the more deliberative theory and that is Jurgen Habermas’ theories. His speak of the Ideal Public sphere, potentially like the one in the 18th century Bourgeois public sphere during the rise of trading, capitalism and the middle class. He thinks that the Ideal Public Sphere has Universal access, free from state or economic pressure, that is dealt with in a rational way with critical discourse based on evidence. Habermas accepts we are handicapped by our perceptions as Lippman said but argues that if we talk and exchange on these perceptions, we are able to listen and alter them. However his theories also go on to explain that after the 18th century a ‘Re-Fuedalisation’ of media took place. By this he means there was and is now a return to where media is dependant on advertising and serves private interests, much in the way Lords ruled during the feudal age, now Media Moguls do now. He was also particularly critical of Public Relations, management and Manipulation of public opinion.

His theories have been criticized, especially by the feminism movement for talking of the Ideal public sphere in the 18th century, because that was made up of mainly (ironically largely like today) White, Middle Class, Men. However his ideas are much more┬ápalatable than Lippmans, as a show of hands at the end of the lecture saw very few Lippman fans over Habermas. As to those who say he is ‘utopian’ modern examples of his Ideal speech and public sphere concepts can be found in movements such as the Occupy movement who successfully found ways to re-engage with politics in his way in an attempt to make our democracy more deliberative. However the evictions of these camps see the Elite system winning over for now.