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Paper prepared for presentation at the International Association for Mass Communication Research, The American University in Cairo, Egypt, July, 23-29 2006

MEDIATED POLITICS IN REPRESENTATIVE DEMOCRATIC REGIMES TRANSFORMATION OF IDEOLOGY AND DEPOLITICIZATION OF VOTERS

Anastasia Deligiaouri, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece (IKY scholar)

ABSTRACT

natasa0977@hotmail.com

New “mediated’ democratic regimes are in a stage of re-organizing their basic principles reconsidering and redefining at the same time basic concepts of their function. The invasion of media communications in political arena didn’t affect only communication strategies of politicians and reception ethics. They have changed the whole political setting and the function of substantial political and democratic procedures. As an inevitable consequence they also changed the political attitude of citizens towards politics in general. The lack of solid ideologies hasn’t led to the “end of ideologies” as it was stated in the first instance when the phenomenon of “silent consensus” appeared. On the contrary it has transformed “old ideologies” to a new depoliticized ideology where voters’ presence in political scene is signified by their total absence. Citizens’ participation is restricted to their presence only for the purpose of legitimizing the predetermined scenery which is set for them without them. The important issue is that their total disappearance from the official forums where political decisions are formed is an attitude made deliberately without any use of force. The crucial argument then lies upon this case. Is this attitude so freely formed or is the general communicative environment and the new political communication techniques, especially the ones used on TV, that promote such an enforcement that is willingly accepted? Is this depoliticization the “preferred meaning” that we invite the citizens, the readers to accept? Democratic regimes bearing the alterations that media has imposed to their functions proved to have a more vulnerable “core” than we expected. Certainly democracy should include a factor of adjustment in order to deal with new challenges. Although a fruitful discussion could appear by reconsidering the content of terms like representation, democratic procedures and political participation in the lights of new media technologies we should never forget that basic principles of these concepts should be kept alive and working!

I. INTRODUCTION

The centralization of communication on TV in contemporary “audiovisual”

Western civilization wasn’t an innovation regarding only the methods of political

communication. Political procedures, attitudes and perceptions, as well, are in a constant

transformation negotiating their new content under the new “mediated” political scenery.

Substantial terms for the realization and function of democracy like representation,

publicity and political participation have gained a new concept or lost their real one

because they had to adapt to the challenges that the communicative environment has

imposed.

As TV started to increase steadily and progressively its presence to political

communication methods and strategies, a new set of political ethics has raised, “televised

ethics” that “nurtured” a new discussion about the present and the future of democracy.

Nevertheless, some voices were more critical questioning even the pragmatic existence of

democracies under the conditions of their surveillance to media.

Very soon the convergence in new electronic media and new technologies has

forced politicians to change their communication strategies employing TV as their main

medium for their campaigning and their basic forum for their everyday communication

with the citizens. Citizens, on the other hand, following the same “stream”, have

narrowed their source of political information only to TV news and programs. As

“information” became the core value of media democracy, citizens’ participation to

politics was more or less determined from the information they received. Citizens became

primary TV viewers “consuming” political information without having the responsibility

or perhaps the possibility to react and finally take part in the political game. The latter

takes place, mainly on a TV screen, under the rules of a drama act.

The internationalization of economies, EU policies, and the phenomenon of silent

consensus that emerged in western societies in the decade of 70's made this spectacle

look very much the same in all “civilized countries”. The decline of ideological struggles

has underpinned the previous setting, disconnecting voters from political parties that no

longer provide ideological integrity or inspiration and, therefore, a safe basis for political

argumentation was lost forever. In the new era of non- ideological politics or meta-

politics depoliticization of citizens is an ongoing procedure that eliminates politics in a

one-dimensional process. Politics is a form of communication, anyway. “Those who seek

political power do so by organizing the behavior of others; organization implies

communication” (Arterton, 1987, p.15). But communication also means interaction,

exchange of political messages and practical result.

This paper will focus on some of the basic theoretical considerations regarding the

impact of media domination on democratic procedures especially as far as citizens’

participation

is

concerned.

The

second

part

will

compare

and

estimate

these

consequences on the Greek political scenery providing interesting facts and evidence.

II. THEORETICAL CONSIDERATIONS

In modern societies where the basic vital needs are more or less covered,

ideological fights were substituted by symbolic-aesthetical fights; the total supremacy of

images is a reality. The struggle of classes has turned to become the struggle over

meaning. (Hall, 1998, pp.69-72). Events are no longer the focal point for oppositional

argumentation. On the contrary, what counts is their signification, the way they are

presented. This signification, usually given in media messages, includes also the codes of

their comprehension. What we mean is that the way something is presented (its form)

defines its meaning, its social context: The reign of form and symbols against the content.

This is what mediated politics is all about. As Thompson underlines: “the analysis of

ideology must address both the symbolic forms which are produced and diffused by

media institutions, and the contexts of action and interaction within which these mediated

symbolic forms are produced and received” (1990, p.265).

The alienation of voters from their parties was the second level consequence. The

first was about political parties loosing their correspondence with society as a social

organism, about loosing their representative role and their orientation to political ideas.

Henceforth,

they

lost

their

credibility

as

crucial

factors

in

political

process.

Papathanasopoulos

points

out:

“Political

Parties

and

their

leaders

have

become

disconnected from the stable societal sectors that formerly were the basis of their

representation and support. They have also progressively lost the organizational strength

and vitality that they had during the heyday of the transition to democracy” (2000, p.58).

As political parties could not longer keep their ideological coherence, balancing between

the new economic structures that globalization has imposed what they were left to deliver

to the citizens as political proposal was a homogenized ideology looking alike in all the

dimensions of political spectrum.

This ideology was channeled through television, which as a medium has the

capability of reaching the masses very easily. Massiveness in the dissemination of

information wasn’t at all innocent. It was followed, inevitably with a mass response from

the audience, the spectators that we have mentioned, and because of the “grammar” of the

medium (TV is a one dimensional medium) it ended to a non-response, always speaking

in political terms. Televised voters are literally constructing their new political identity

under the umbrella of consumerism. The citizen, consumer, voter can no longer

distinguish between politics, information and entertainment. All the aforementioned are

part of the same spectacle, the “infotainment” project. Voter can hardly trace his own

position and role in this political game, which seems to be working perfectly without him.

The only element needed for its stability is audience’s consensus and therefore the

desirable legitimation. This is really not difficult to be achieved since politics have

become a commercial product and commercialization of politics enhances conformity in

attitudes. Political messages are consumed like any other product. The only conflict is

about the possible meaning of the messages we receive. Hence, TV has educated viewers

to find in the messages they receive the so called “preferred meaning”. This meaning

refers to the political agenda that political authorities in conjunction with media moguls

have chosen for us without us. Citizens were first invited to accept this meaning and

steadily they got used to live with it. In the end they became integral parts of the new

depoliticized ideology, which is keeping them in a blissful ignorance about the real

political game. An ignorance, which is well cultivated with no real alternative

In the discussion about media effects on politics, especially during the pre-

electoral campaigns new words were introduced trying to explain more accurately the

phenomenon of apathy of citizens that is detected worldwide. Political discontentment,

although

it

is

a

general

condition,

is

mainly

explained

in

terms

of

a

personal

dissatisfaction and it is associated to the expectations and needs of the viewer towards

political

environment

and

certainly,

to

the

level

of

reliance

to

the

medium

of

communication. Reception and perceptional factors are also included paying attention to

the semiotic codes of the medium that implies its own rules to the procedure of

representing a message. Therefore, terms from the relevant literature that try to explain

citizens’ unwillingness to participate actively in politics are: Discontent, dissatisfaction,

estrangement,

cynicism,

negativism,

powerlessness,

malaise,

meaninglessness and so on (Demertzis, 2006).

normlessness,

If we could summarize the crucial resultants of the depoliticization of voters, of

citizens we would emphasize in points like: a) The malfunction of political institutions

in media- centered- democracies. Part of this malfunction, is due, in our opinion, to the

centralization

of

power

to

media

which

made

political

institutions

nugatory

b)

Normalization of old solid ideologies and the movement from “right” and “left”

ideologies to the ideology of the central, of the “middle” opinion which is, naturally,

convenient for all but providing no motives for activation. Activation is most of the times

a behavior that needs differentiation and ambition as prerequisites in order to exist. c)

The problem of disconnection between politicians and their political parties and

between citizens and political parties. A personal relationship between voters and

politicians

is

established.

d)

Personalization

of

politics

turned

politics

to

an

interpersonal contradiction of ideas, which however hard it can be, it can never lead to

collective reacts. A possible rejection or approval is headed towards a person. Thus, ideas

remain untouched. It is easy to replace a person reassuring that he will bear all the

criticism, but not an ideology. e) New media environment and the increasing exposure

of viewers to international political images that are promoting common cultural identities

helped in the direction of convergent decoding of political messages. Multiculturalism

even if it indicates a range of different views and attitudes, it is based on identical

cognitions of the world that people share because of the similarity of media pictures they

receive. If the input is similar then the output cannot vary dramatically. Similarities in the

trends of audiences- citizens in Western democracies prove the truth of this statement. f)

Convergence of economies and political regimes on international level encourages

similarity but not collective consciousness. What we can surely conclude from the above

is that TV and in general media have exaggerated the already persistent process of

citizens’ apathy and mistrust to the political system.

We tried to underline the ultimate causes that lead and preserve the phenomenon

of

depoliticization

in

representative

parliamentary

democratic

regimes

in

Europe.

Certainly, the above comments are only a hint in comparison to the size of the problem

itself. The important issue, though, is that this tendency is not temporary but it displays a

stable route and we can safely assume that it is the new dominant ideology: The non-

active ideology that has limited citizens’ participation only to the task of legitimizing the

preexisting scenery every time an election procedure is taking place. The alibi that not

much can be done because of the unified supernatural political structures is a very good

excuse for all: Politicians and citizens. The question is whether the conditions could be

formed differently or if we can use them in a different direction to enhance the real

communication between politicians and voters.

III. THE GREEK CASE

Greek political scenery cannot be analyzed isolated from the general framework

we have already described. We should point out, though, that the 3 rd period of Greek

Democracy (which began in 1974 with the restoration of democratic regime and

parliament) matured in parallel with the explosion of media domination worldwide. In

this parallel procedure, Greek society had to bear all the essential changes needed for the

modernization of the Greek state and administration and to synthesize them with the

demands of the globalised economic and media scene, as well

The explosion of media and the options of alternative information sources (p.e.

private

TV

channels)

took

place

in

Greece

the

late

80’

accompanied

with

the

phenomenon of corruption in political parties that brought onto the surface the demand

for more information and transparency in public life. Media helped in this direction, in

the first place.

In the decade of 90’s and especially at the National Parliamentary Elections of

1993 an extended use of media came in handy (Papathanasopoulos, 2000, p.53) and TV

was legitimized in voters consciousness as the most valuable and representative mean of

gaining information for the pre- electoral campaigns of political parties. Major rallies that

all the political parties used to engage as their central pre-electoral

policy were

diminished and the fear that supporters of each party will not participate in them became

imminent. This danger forced the leaders of the two major political parties in Greece, in

1996 (M.Evert from New Democracy and K.Simitis from PASOK) to relocate their

forum of communication with the citizens on TV rather than city squares.

At the same time, inter-organizational procedures that used to be of a great

significance for the normal function of political parties were almost nullified because

people who keeping them alive did no longer occupy themselves with them. The numbers

are not only good indicators but proofs of this situation. PASOK the biggest socialist

party in Greece which in 1981 won the National Elections with a great percentage

(48,07%) and continues to have a great popularity since today, in 1975 had 8.000

members, in 1984 220.000, in 1994 156.868 and the official register of the party in 2002

showed 312.670 members. The number is continuously declining and the last rise in 2002

is, according to the official secretary of the party, only because in 1996 new members

came in to participate in succession procedures of Andreas Papandreou and therefore

only adventitiously the number was increased (“To Vima”, 24-06-2003, p. A11).

The other parties had the same luck. The number of official members is slowing

down and, as officials from the parties insist, not even the registered members are active

any more. Certainly, the decline of numbers shows political apathy. We cannot insist,

though, that this is the exclusive proof for depoliticization. On the other hand, the

message behind the numbers is quite obvious. We do not declare our political identities

because it seems that they do not play the important role they used to in the past. New

ideology is against identities. The only identity promoted is this of the consumer citizen.

We are what we consume. Products of the products we consume. The saying that “the

things you own end up owing you” has its complete confirmation in this condition.

Convergence in ideologies in Greece can be stated by many examples. The

research from a daily newspaper “Imerisia” is quite enlightening for our analysis. The

research was conducted from 4-6/1/2005 taking sample of people from the whole

country. Among other important findings we emphasize on the tendency which show that

for the citizens the dipole Right-Left in political range does not have its old signification.

Only 34,3% of the respondents believe that this contradiction is in any way politically

valid (“Imerisia”, 8/9-1-2005,pp. 3-5).

Another important issue that comes from an opinion survey that was published

recently indicates the weird phenomenon, that while most of the citizens privilege TV as

the basic source of political information, if not the only one, the credibility and the

objectivity of the medium is extremely low. The unusual high percentage of 71% of the

respondents believes that news bulletins and political broadcasts are only creating

impressions in favor of high TV ratings. Only 13% have answered that TV news provide

objective information. What is even more intriguing is the opinion of 74% that is talking

about private TV in Greece has more power than the Constitution allows having

(“Sunday Eleftherotipia”, 30-10-2005, pp. 12-13).

Obviously, political dissatisfaction in Greek society addresses both the political

system and the sources of political information. This attitude generates mistrust to the

whole political setting. The phenomenon is more interesting in Greece, a country which

according to the Greek Constitution (article 51, par.5), voting is obligatory for all Greek

citizens (with few exceptions). It seems, though that this institutionalized form of

participation isn’t enough for a real democracy.

The Greek paradigm shows that despite the singularity of any political system

homogeneity in global political and economical arena has managed to maintain a similar

citizens’ attitude in all modern societies. In Greece, the challenges were, indeed, too high.

First the growing of an immature democracy and second the demands of a free society

urging for the deregulation in communications (which was a state monopoly until the late

80s) came synchronously. Mediated politics in Greece grew in a period of continuous

modernization of the state and had to be regulated as well before knowing very well what

media power was all about.

IV. CONCLUSION

Is media democracy turning democracy into the center of political spectrum

where agreement is established more easily based on an absence, which is not even

acknowledged? It is a common belief among citizens that they do participate as far as

they can. This illusion is keeping the dream of modern democracies alive. As long as you

cannot gain consensus of your real situation media democracy has nothing to fear.

We have tried to provide some elements that explain the detected depoliticization

of citizens in modern democracies or the new ideology of non- participation, which is

basically promoted from media. When mediated politics first appeared the expectations

from media were extremely high. Some scholars even have foreseen the reconstruction of

“real-direct-democracy” where citizens’ participation would be encouraged and wouldn’t

have to pass through representative procedures that tend to weaken it. Unfortunately, the

absence of a regulative framework in media communications in connection with their

subordination to economic powers led to different results. Instead of establishing a real

participation we ended to a non-participation model with citizens watching only the

political process without interfering to it.

A good option we have is to try to correlate the term of “teledemocracy” to refer

“not to a politics that would undercut our established representative machinery, but to use

of communications technology to facilitate the transmission of political information and

opinion between citizens and their public leaders” (Arterton, 1987, p.14).

Our suggestion of democracy is that it should include not only the potentiality of

the citizens to express their opinion or to be heard but, also, the ability to enforce in a

binding way the agenda of discussion and to participate in decision-making procedures.

The control mechanisms of political authority are equally important. When contemporary

televised audiences reach that level of participation then we will return to the discussion

of citizenship. Until then we should remain to the media term of tele-citizens that face

democracy by distance.

V. REFERENCES

Arterton, Christopher, F. (1987). Teledemocracy: Can Technology Protect Democracy? Newbury Park, Beverly Hills, London, New Delhi: Sage publications. Demertzis, Nikos. (2006, June 6). “Political Cynicism and Political Alienation in the Third Greek Democracy”. Retrieved, June 6, 2006, from

http://media.uoa.gr/people/demertzis/pages_gr/articles/docs/1994/political_cynici

sm.php. (In Greek). Hall, Stuart. (1998). “The rediscovery of ‘ideology’; return of the repressed in media studies.” In Gurevitch, Michael, Bennett, Tony, Curran, James & Woollacott,

Janet, Culture, Society and the Media, London & New York: Routledge. Imerisia (2005). “In course of rapid depreciation the political parties’system”, 5 January, 3-5. (newspaper, in Greek) Papathanassopoulos, Stylianos. (2000). “Election Campaigning in the Television Age:

The Case of Contemporary Greece”. Political Communication, 17, 47-60. Sunday Eleftherotipia (2005). “Cunning, exaggerative, bumptious and then informational”, 30 October,12-13. (newspaper, in Greek) Thompson, John, B.(1990). Ideology and Modern Culture: Critical Social Theory in the Era of Mass Communication, Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.

itch in PASOK and New Democracy.”, June 24, A11.

To Vima (2003). “30 years (newspaper, in Greek)