chapter  1
13 Pages

Trust, cynicism, and responsiveness: the uneasy situation of journalism in democracy

ByKees Brants

There was a time when the relationship between politicians, journalists and citizens in many a liberal democracy was of a symbiotic nature. Each profited from the other: politicians had access to the media to inform the public about their plans and achievements and thus enhance their chance of re-election; journalists had access to politicians who provided them with the stock and bone of policy and politics to fill their columns and TV news with; and the thus informed public had all the cognitive tools to rationally and seriously play their role as citizens in a strong and lively democracy. Those were the days. That is, provided we are not fooled by the strainer of the past that only lets the sun shine, as the Chinese saying goes. The relationship in what couldmetaphorically be described as the GoldenTriangle of political communication certainly looks quite different these days. Politicians accuse journalists of stripping the serious business of politics of its

substance and reducing it to mere imagery and infotainment, sensation and scandal. Moreover, they hold them responsible for what could be seen as a legitimacy crisis, in which voters look with disdain at, or turn away from, the political process, thus claiming a double doom scenario of current political communication: as journalists become increasingly negative about politics, they create or feed a similar cynical feeling among citizens. At the same time, journalists mistrust the political ‘spin’, the attempts to control and steer news management by politicians and their spokespersons to positively frame policy and people, and to bypass the ways and means of being controlled. The public, traditionally at the receiving end of political communication, are now not only criticizing and turning away from those who represent them, but also question the responsiveness and empathy of media that seem to listen more to each other and to the socio-political elite than to what bothers the public. In short: what was once considered a symbiotic relationship between politics, media and the public is turning from a Golden Triangle into a Bermuda Triangle.