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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.
Media democracy focuses on the empowerment of individual citizens and promotion democratic ideals through the spread of information. Additionally, the media system itself should be democratic in its own construction  shying away from private ownership or intense regulation. Media democracy entails that media should be used to promote democracy as well as the conviction that media should be democratic itself; media ownership concentration is not democratic and cannot serve to promote democracy and therefore must be examined critically. 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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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. 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."
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. 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.
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. 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. 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. This is critical as individuals must be in a position to decide and act autonomously for there to be a functioning democracy.
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. 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".
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, Egypt, 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.
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. Creating a more inclusive and democratic media would require reconceptualizing how we define the news and its principles. According to some feminist media theorists, news is like fictional genres that impose order and interpretation on its materials by means of narrative. Consequently, the news narrative put forward presents only one angle of a much wider picture.
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. The feminist argument follows that the systematic subversion of private or subjective information excludes women's voices from the popular discourse. 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.
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. 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.
Critics[who?] 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. 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.
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.
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”.
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.
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”.
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