GARNHAM AND THE PUBLIC SPHERE
Garnham identifies the media and the political structure of the state as one, instead of one existing outside of the other, which is the popular opinion of the role of the media n the public sphere. The media is responsible for public communication which is the center of the political process. He further identifies that the recognition of the true role of the media has converted it to a tool for sustaining private imterests in the political process where information is treated as power.
This information is centrifugal to the enlightenment for political discourse which are ideally supposed to guide political decisions. However, the commoditization of information restricts accessibility to it except to the privileged few. Thus, possession of information – the tool of political communication, begins to reflect the existing social strata. This dynamic reflects on the democracy inherent within that can only be is fruitful based on informed consent. Garnham is arguing here that the control of the media cannot be left to the media itself.
‘Public communication lies at the heart of the democratic process; that citizens require , if their equal access to the vote is to have any substantive meaning, equal access also to sources of information and equal opportunities to participate in the debates from which political decisions rightly flow’.
He criticizes the liberal theory of the press as the dominant model in terms of communications, this model continues to reflect the conditions of the society in the nineteenth century where the individual is expected to access all the information he needs and adequately engage in public debate for public good. Garnham depicts that this theory has led to oligopoly control, depoliticization of content, trivialization of affairs of the state, homogenization the news amongst others.
Garnham criticizes the concept of the public sphere and its contemporary application go the public service broadcasting, it is from these criticisms that he proposes the ideal public sphere as a model for public service broadcasting. He criticizes the period in which Habermas presents as the epoch of the public sphere, where it can only be accessed by the bourgeois males. He explains that these stratified members of the public sphere assumed this position where they thought their private interests in the liberal democratic system at the time served the public good. From Garnham’s point of view, it signified the imposition of the ideas of the ruling class through economic power in the interests of the ruling class.
Garnham also criticizes the idea of the individual as the core of the public sphere. Habermas assumes that the individual readily accesses information and knowledge, this is not the case in the contemporary public sphere which is characterized by the specialization of interests and information to further other interests that serve the dominating groups in the society. It is the effect of the monopolistic ideology, the similarity in the interests of the political structure and the dominant economic group. In essence, the dominating player of the public sphere is the political party.
Despite these criticisms, Garnham proposes the strengths of Habermas public sphere that can be used to restructure the vehicle of the mass media in Europe, US and other democratic territories, public service broadcasting. The public service broadcasting is devoid of economic determinants as its backbone is not centered on economic interests, it is modeled to serve the democratic political process of government scrutiny and provisions of undistorted information. With the public service broadcasting, there is equal access via the license fee (as synonymous with BBC, RTE), and its ability to insulate itself from government interference as identified by Curran as well.
According to Garnham there remains the need to readdress the obligations of the free individual in the modern democratic state. He discusses that media journalists can only perform in the interest of the public sphere in a regulated environment, however minimal either through training, set standards or legislation. This aims at creating the principle of public accountability for journalist that will limit the trivialization of information for commercial interest or for political partisanship. He also proposes that the dispensation of the media should revolve around the pluralist ideologies present in the society. It is by this means that the public sphere equals the political and economic development of all consisting groups of the society.
The current status of contemporary media as pointed out has begun to assume the fatality as the sole cause of disparity in the state and not fulfilling its democratic function upon which it was designed for. Modern media structures despites its oligopolic characteristics can still be salvaged to protect the citizens of the state and be independent of political control.
With the reforms of regulation backed by statutory underpinnings, legislation that will promote diversity representation such as the fairness rule and equal time rule of the Bill of rights in the US, UK and Ireland which would still need a few reforms to render it effective and impactful. It would be a start in steering the conduct and operations of modern media
Another key reform from Curran and Garnham of contemporary media is to shift the end goal of the media from economic underpinnings to responsible objective dissemination of information at a universal level that will drive development of the political process in the state.
Garnham’s reform of the Public service broadcasting directed at use of specialized expertise, autonomy of operations and public funding and will promote local content that will reach the minority audience and promote exchange of cultural and organizational information. This can produce a collective solidarity, a consensus for the progress of the state.