From Watchdog to Hunting Dog: The Role of the Media Over Again

Camilla Arnvig & Sandra Elvar Christensen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The aim of this master thesis is to examine how the development and terms in the media industry have an impact on the establishment of the public opinion in a democratic perspective. The analysis is executed based upon a methodical and theoretical starting point in Norman Fairclough’s critical discourse analysis and three-dimensional model and is supported by Habermas’ thoughts of the public sphere, public opinion, and deliberative democracy. By combining these theories and methods, we are able to identify the development and terms of the media industry which have consequences for the public opinion and deliberative democracy. In addition, primary empirical data have been collected in the form of a survey and two focus group interviews that support the thesis conclusions.
Using Fairclough's framework, we found that the media are strategically using linguistic tools in order to create consensus of their desired role, which leaves the recipient with very little room for interpretation regarding the above. Based on this communication a number of discourses originate in the production by the media. However, in the consumption by the respondents in the focus group interviews, further discourses originate, which indicates a change, whereby the discursive practice does not maintain status quo and demonstrates a gap between the media and the respondents’ perception of the media’s role in society. The third dimension shows that the post factual society, including the individuals inherent need for sensational and emotional content, and the media agreement are surrounding factors affecting the medias terms and their ability to provide information. It is concluded that there is a clash between the ideal communication of the media and the communication implicitly wanted by individuals due to the post factual society. Furthermore, it is concluded that the politicians' misjudgment of who poses a threat to the Danish media industry is a challenge that has consequences for the democracy.
Using Habermas’ framework, we found that the development and terms in the media industry have consequences for the establishment of the public opinion in a democratic perspective. Due to the fact that the medias environment has changed, the media has undergone changes that has resulted in them becoming more commercial and delivering free content. However, the media is unable to generate revenue from free content, so they require payment for the in-depth content. These changes are not contributing to the deliberative democracy as this will exclude some citizens. Based upon Habermas’s ideals for the ideal speech situation, social media and its inherent premises regarding possibilities of debating, the rise of echo chambers, fake news and personal and limiting algorithms are both contributing and limiting in regard to the deliberative democracy. In addition, fake news and the risk of thereby ending in a post factual democracy have consequences for establishing the public opinion, as the individual act upon information that is factually incorrect, making it difficult to be a part of a deliberative democracy. The media plays an important role in fighting fake news, to ensure that the population can be part of deliberative democracy, as it is a prerequisite that what is being spoken about is based on truthful facts according to Habermas. It is concluded that society and the media must be able to account for the powers of society, as the democracy otherwise will be undermined. However, movements in society try to counteract this development. Both constructive journalism that seeks to strengthen democracy by covering all perspectives and thus provide clarity of a case and a tech commission whose work and recommendations can help highlight the importance of the media's role in a democracy.
Finally, the thesis states some recommendations based upon the analytical results. Based on the respondent’s answers, the thesis argues that the media industry should cut commercial content and to a greater extent bring information. This supports the journalistic ideals that prescribe information over commercial content, which ensure that their existence is based upon content that qualifies the individuals to engage in a deliberative democracy. In this matter, focus on in-depth journalism and subject specialists can be useful tools.
The thesis has shown that the development of the media industry, which is largely driven by technological development and the spread of social media, has changed the terms for the existence of the journalistic media, which has an essential role in establishing the public opinion in a democratic perspective.

EducationsMSc in Business Administration and Organizational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2020
Number of pages152
SupervisorsLena Mygdam Zwisler