Political communication = the interactions between politics, media and the public (triangle­shaped relations)

Everything that can be put in above-mentioned triangle, can be called political communication.

Political communication deals with the relationship between political actors, media and the citizen. Research is driven by the question who shapes this relationship.

Political communication evolves. Evolutions go together with larger societal trends (individualization, depillarization, the crisis of parties, increased voter volatility people are less loyal to their political party, commercialization, etc.)

Media are crucial, but not always to the same extent and in the same way. It is all a process: mediatization (Stromback, 2008), 4 phases:

  1. Mediation; when the media become the main communication channel between politics and the public.
  2. Media become more independent; higher journalistic professionalism; political system still has the upper hand; media do not mediate messages unconditionally anymore.
  3. Media become so independent that other actors have to adapt Media have the upper hand, but are still external to the political system; politicians have to further increase skills to do this adaptation [...]
  4. Politics does not only adapt, the adopt the media logic. Standards of media logic/news worthiness become part of governing processes (evaluation of issues and policies). Media are no longer external. Politicians who need to answer to people are most affected.

Mazzoleni & Schulz (1999), would they agree?

Mediation: yes

Mediatization: yes

4th phase of mediatization: not so much, at least not as a global trend

Media do not, and will not take over political functions

What contributes to mediatization of politics?

  1. Gatekeeping/selection needed by mass media: (journalistic) news values dominate
  2. Media-constructed public sphere
  3. Media logic = commercial logic (negative, shorter, etc.)
  4. Symbiotic relationship politics/media - reciprocal effects
  5. Media taking positions on issues = legitimate function of media (e.g. editorial)

Some problems of increased mediatization:

  • Negativity
  • Focus on people, rather than issues
  • Focus on short term (problems)
  • Focus on conflict
  • Focus on horse race (e.g. polls)
  • Too much power for the media
  • Information is not clear/understandable for the audience
  • [More in week 7]

What do we expect from the media? 5 functions of media in a democratic society (McNair, 2003):

  1. Information: monitoring, inform the citizens about politics
  2. Education: explaining what certain events, decisions and facts mean
  3. Platform function: exchange of ideas can happen in the media public sphere is complete
  4. Watchdog function: control over politics, publicity for what politics does (wrong)
  5. Channel function: political, ideological opinions need to find their way to the people; there is an opportunity for these opinions to make way through the media to the people.

Threats to performing these functions


- Political communication needs to be present in the news media coverage (all political views), while at the same time it needs to be accessible and understandable for the public.


  1. Political actors (re)gain control over the media content (lack of pluralism and independence)

o Lack of independence of media

o Lack of internal and external pluralism

Examples: censorship, state broadcasters, political decisions over the newsroom

  1. Commercialisation

= about commercialism, about attracting an audience as large as possible


3 ways to appeal to larger audiences:

  1. Topics: light news (celebrity news, human interest, feel-good news, sensational (hard) news (crime, natural disasters, accidents)
  2. Format: spectacular pictures, special camera techniques to attract/keep attention. Disadvantage: people remember the form, not necessarily the content
  3. Vividness: making the news more concrete (focus on individual cases, examples or even exemplars) and proximate (local, recognizable, closer to people's world)

Not much room for political news, which leads to an incomplete overview for the public. Do we want a full overview of everything that happens in the political and societal arena? = full news standard

John Zaller: burglar alarm standard

o The public is not interested in all that (boring) political news.

o Media can select what is really important, and bring those with lots of sensational characteristics, so people really see it.

Criticism on this:

o Media really get a lot of power.

o “Burglar alarm that keeps on ringing” (Bennett)

Problem: journalists want to stick to the full news standard, and think they do, but the reality = burglar alarm. Full news standard is not realistic, but it can still be the starting point. Journalists need to do something to maximize information transferal to people. The public should get to know what they need to know.

  1. Information processing by the public

Videomalaise (Robinson, 1975)

Watching (information on) television has negative effects on the public. E.g. cynicism, low trust in political institutions, low sense of “political efficacy” = the feeling [.]

“Dumbing down” people cannot (and don't want to) process political information (anymore). Later: criticism to video-malaise theory

- [.]

“Public Quality” (Costera Meijer, 2003)

Not just “serious, conventional news” vs. “popular” news

  • Introduction of public quality news, in which journalists focus on the audience as citizens
  • Proportional relevance: all groups in society should find relevant news in the news coverage, relative to their proportion in society.
However, there is no consensus about the internet. Some see the internet as even worse than tv, because it offers [.]