Democratic deficit?

Posted on December 2, 2009

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At a talk last night at City University regarding the decline of the regional print press, and thus regional news in general, in the face of the technological revolution, an interesting point was made regarding the danger to democracy if local papers were to disappear.

Local papers have played a crucial role over the years in reporting local democracy to those that are interested, something that is unavailable anywhere else. Judith Townend of journalism.co.uk argued that the BBC has started to play this role, but I contend that the BBC does not do it in the scope or knowledgeable way that local papers do, at least for the moment. Though some regionals are setting up an online presence, with variable success, it is my view that the decline of regional newspapers leads to a democratic deficit, locally at least, as people cannot get information regarding democracy in their local area in the simple way they have been used to. As yet, there doesn’t appear to be any service that can fill the vacuum.

The other issue that came up was that of paying for online news. I am opposed to this, as I prioritise democratic values over consumerism, but I can see the point of view of those arguing for it. Just like the person who loses their regional paper and thus their source of news on local democracy, the person who is unwilling or unable to pay for a news service online is denied access to knowledge about what is occurring in the supposedly democratic country in which they live. Falling back on the BBC, which is not free in any case, is not a good option, as I question its unreliability and impartiality as well as the common sense of relying on one, limited news source.

For me, journalists and the publications they work for play a pivotal role of letting people know about the democratic processes going on around them. And if the public, for whatever reason, is denied access to decent services, then a democratic deficit certainly occurs.

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Posted in: Issues, Media