This chapter argues that, in spite of the economic crisis that has affected the media in Germany, the infrastructure of the German media system is still suited to providing for accountability journalism as a core element of the democratic constitution of society. The conditions for journalism are still more favourable than in some other Western countries, due to stable market structures, policy provisions for public service broadcasting and a media culture heavily influenced by the idea of a public sphere as a critical forum for debate about issues of common concern. There are, however, pressures that will likely aggravate in the long run if left unresponded to. This chapter identifies five countermeasures pursued by German media organisations to tackle the challenges of declining revenues from traditional advertising, shifting audience preferences, and the internet. As a complementary strategy, German publishers have drawn up a wish list of media policy responses designed to improve general framework conditions of the press, and they lobby very hard in Berlin and Brussels for their implementation at the national and European level. Assessing the overall scope of the current difficulties the chapter concludes that we are observing a ‘strategic crisis of newspaper publishers’ but no general media crisis, and certainly no crisis of democracy in Germany.
The European Union (EU) has a problem with its citizens. For about fifty years the political elites have pursued the agenda of political and economic integration, while the broader public remained uninformed and by and large uninterested in what was happening in Brussels. This mode of governance has clearly shown its limits: when the citizens were asked whether they support the plan to introduce a constitutional treaty in June 2005, fifty-five percent of the French voters said “Non” and sixty-five percent of the Dutch “Nee”. In June 2008, fifty-three percent of the Irish voters rejected the Lisbon Treaty, the follow-up to the constitutional treaty, and in 2009 the European Parliament (EP) suffered a record weak election turnout. This came as no surprise, considering that barely every second EU-citizen knew that he or she can vote for the EP (in fall 2007, 48 percent of the respondents knew that they can vote) (CEC, 2008a: 10).
Brüggemann, Michael (2010): Public Relations between Propaganda and the Public Sphere. The Information Policy of the European Commission. In Chiara Valentini, Giorgia Nesti (Eds.): Public Communication in the European Union. History, Perspectives and Challenges. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 67–92.
Taking EU communications as a case study this article deals with the relationship between communication activities of public authorities and the public sphere. Traditional theories of the public sphere regard government communications as an unwelcome intervention that distorts free and open debates. This article argues that public relations activities of governments should be analysed as being part of the implementation of an information policy that also comprises citizen’s rights of access to documents and information. Whether information policy distorts or supports free deliberation is an empirical question that is answered by looking at the information policy of the European Commission since the year 2000. In response to the challenge of communicating Europe to largely disinterested audiences, the European Commission has reformed its communications in order to foster a European public sphere through enhancing the transparency of European governance and starting a dialogue with the citizens. The study shows that the EU fails on its promise of dialogue and that transparency could still be improved. The information policy of the Commission aims at normatively acceptable goals while using ineffective means. Information policy does not turn out to be propagandistic but ineffective. Focussing on media relations could make PR more effective in reaching out to the wider public. If journalism functions as its necessary corrective and citizens are empowered through strong rights of access to information, than information policy could contribute to a vivid transnational public sphere.
Brüggemann, Michael (2010): Information Policy and the Public Sphere. EU Communications and the Promises of Dialogue and Transparency. In Javnost / The Public 17 (1), pp. 5–21. Available online at https://doi.org/10.1080/13183222.2010.11009023.