Monday, June 4, 2007

Habermas article about free press

Jurgen Habermas, one of the foremost theorists of civil society today, argues in How to save the quality press? for state support of the free press.

The core of his argument is that markets, which once supported the independence of the press and its role in a healthy public sphere, now threaten the independence of the press and its role in democracy. When media outlets must be as profitable as possible in order to survive, they will cease to provoke, to introduce new ideas to the public sphere (or the state agenda). They will simply be mirrors that reflect and then reinforce the preconceptions of an increasingly uncritical public.

Habermas states his argument very well, and we can see around us examples of what he fears. Jon Stewart of the Daily Show continuously levels criticism at CNN and other major news outlets for selling news as a consumer commodity and not as a public good. Flash, fear-baiting and celebrity chasing are all tactics media outlets chasing dollars must turn to for survival.

Anderson Cooper said it well during his interview on the Daily Show. Stewart criticized the glitz of CNN television with its 3-D animations, scary-voiced announcers and melodramatic reporting. Cooper replied that you have to play the game. When your ability to report - your ability to communicate with the public - depends on the money you can bring to the station, the winner is going to be the one who feeds news consumers what they want.

Habermas' proposed solution is state support of the media to protect its ability to report honestly. And after reading the article, I'm inclined to agree.

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