Confronting the demands of a deliberative public sphere with media constraints
The main aim of this paper is to investigate and discuss the applicability of a normative meta-theory on empirical research. This is done by confronting the demands of a deliberative public sphere with assumptions resulting from media theory and discussing it on the basis of exemplary cases from environmental and forest policy cases. A core concept of this paper is Jürgen Habermas' notion of a deliberative discourse in the public sphere, where the essential elements for a democratic ideal are openness to speakers from the periphery of the political system, a discursive communication flow and a public consensus or a result supported by the majority. Since today's political public sphere mostly comprises the media public these elements are confronted with the constraints of the media. Theoretical approaches of media studies as well as empirical examples of debates on forest, agricultural and environmental policies in the media corroborates that the media lacks the function of deliberation. Nevertheless, normative demands allow empirical findings to be interpreted relative to expectations. Applying the theoretical concept of a deliberative democracy to the empirical cases of forest, agriculture or environmental policy already serves as a first step toward awareness of deliberation in public communication. It not only can exemplify the gap between normative ideals and the empirical approach but it highlights the degree of “grey” between the static poles of black or white used in entitling processes as deliberative or not deliberative.
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