Jurgen Habermas

This essay evaluates the usefulness and validity of the concept of a global public sphere in relation to the media, in particular the news. The concept of the public sphere is best known in its formulation by the German critical theorist Jurgen Habermas in the early 1960’s. This essay will first demonstrate a brief theoretical discussion of the concepts of globalisation and the public sphere.

Secondly, in order to determine whether or not there is a global public sphere in respect of the news, I will discuss the idea that the news is a complex and bias process and that its content is heavily based on the news values of professional organisations. I will also argue that the news is a commodity and a form of entertainment. Thirdly, my essay will address some of the evidence which implies that there is a globalizing tendency in the news and finally, I consider whether the evidence is adequate to support the notion that ‘a global public sphere in the respect of global news’ actually exists.

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In order to discuss the possibility of a global public sphere in terms of global news, it is first important to define the key terms themselves. According to Sparks ‘There is no one set of ideas that we can point to as constituting theories of globalisation. ‘1 He outlines two broad groups. ‘… those who see globalisation as an extension of a previously existing capitalist system’ and more presently those who view ‘… the commercial media system of the developed capitalist world, and in particular that of the United States, is increasingly the dominant international model, destroying or subverting all alternative systems.

‘2 However, he argues this is not the main current of thinking. For most theorists, ‘globalisation is a new way of analysing the world, different to that offered by concepts of capitalism and imperialism. ‘3 Imperialism understood as a system of exploitative control of people and resources exists to an extent, as it describes the cultural dominance of western societies; however there is a trend towards globalization in the media and the news. According to Featherstone (1990) ‘Globalisation is defined to exclude domination, cultural control and social revolution.

‘4 Contributing to this is ‘the increase in the number of international agencies and institutions, the increasing global forms of communication, the acceptance of unified global time, the development of standard notions of citizenship, rights and conception of human kind. It is emphasized that ‘the focus on the globe is to suggest that a new level of conceptualization is necessary. ‘5 Habermas’s concept of the public sphere (1964) outlines the idea that the public sphere is a place where free and fair communication can occur.

‘By ‘the public sphere’ we mean first of all a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed. Access is guaranteed to all citizens. A portion of the public sphere comes into being in every conversation in which private individuals assemble to form a public body… Citizens behave as a public body when they confer in an unrestricted fashion- that is, with the guarantee of freedom of assembly and association and the freedom to express and publish their opinions- about matters of general interest.

In a large public body this kind of communication requires specific means for transmitting information and influencing those who receive it. Today newspapers and magazines, radio and television are the media of the public sphere. ‘6 In its contemporary usage, a definition of the term is suggested by Shattuc ‘The ‘public sphere’ a space or public arena where political opinion can be formed freely’7 or ‘a sphere in which the activities of the state could be confronted and subjected to criticism’8 as defined by Brooker.

Although Habermas’s formulation has been subject to criticism, particularly with regard to its historical validity, it is important to foreground two aspects of the original formulation as Sparks suggests ‘The first of these is Universality: ‘Access is guaranteed to all citizens’. Everybody has a right to participate. 9 My analysis of the news will consider whether the news in reality is open to everyone as a matter of right. ‘The second issue is equality: citizens: ‘confer in an unrestricted fashion’. To confer is to participate in a discussion, to have rights both as auditor and of speaker.

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