In a representative democracy made up of millions of people, politicians need to communicate with those whose votes they rely on and whose welfare should be their main concern. To do so, they rely on the media – so much so, in fact, that some analysts talk about the ‘mediatization’ of politics (see Schulz, 2004; Strömbäck, 2008; and Takens et al., 2013). Inasmuch as politics and the media operate as separate institutions – and the media is best seen as an institution because it persists over time, with norms and rules that impact systematically on those who work in and deal with it (see Ryfe and Blach-Ørsten, 2011) – the membrane that separates them is highly permeable. The media in Europe does not simply observe political activity but also helps to drive, structure and police it – so much so that it is increasingly difficult to distinguish where politics ends and media begins, and vice versa. The media is a source (and, on many matters, for most citizens practically the only source) of information and of interpretation. And it is a source of power (Street, 2011: 283–289), whether that power be discursive (rooted in its capacity to construct reality), or to do with access (the ability to marginalize or promote certain points of view) or resources (which can be brought to bear on governments). The media thereby both produces and reflects what (admittedly rather loosely) we call ‘public opinion’. It also acts as a ‘watchdog’, not necessarily doing good or behaving admirably, but exposing and preventing abuses, thereby keeping politicians on their toes for the rest of us who are too poor or too busy to do so ourselves (see Schudson, 2008).
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