chapter  1
24 Pages

Television in the digital public sphere


The digitization of media and communication is part of the digitization of society, i.e. the introduction of digital technology in all parts and sectors of society, from global stock markets to local health care. It is a very complex process which affects all levels and parts of the industries, institutions, arenas and actors that sustain public life in democratic societies, as well as the everyday lives and living conditions of all. The consequences are bewilderingly diverse and difficult to describe and understand in a comprehensive way – as once demonstrated by Manuel Castells (1996). The digitization of television is of special importance. Television was

the central element in the media-based public sphere in the last half of the twentieth century. It gathered by far the largest audience; it was the medium that all other forms of public communication had to relate to. Television was the key link between society’s public life and the private lives of citizens. Peter Dahlgren has talked about an ‘integration of television and political culture’ and claimed that ‘to a significant extent, the official political system exists as a televisual phenomenon’ (Dahlgren 1995: 45). If digitization radically changes television, then the political, social and cultural features of our societies are undergoing changes of considerable importance. This chapter and this entire book are intended as material for further reflection on the issue. The metaphor of a ‘relocation’ of television assumes a spatial way of

thinking, and the metaphorical space thus indirectly referred to in the book’s title is that which is now commonly referred to as the public sphere. In the following, I will first try to sketch the historical development of the public sphere and show why and how it is important to the understanding of the socio-cultural role of television (and other media) and its destiny in digital times. I will then try to define key terms such as ‘broadcasting’ and ‘television’ in order to say something about broadcast television’s position and

characteristics in a digitized public sphere. I discuss features such as interactivity and TV’s relations with the internet, before going into how the structure of the public sphere changes as the internet and the multitudes of channels in digital television establish new possibilities for various kinds of minorities. Finally, I attempt to conclude – and point to the issue of social class and a ‘digital divide’ along the lines of class divisions as a major concern in the era of a digitized public sphere.