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The relationship between citizens, journalism and politics, core topic for a healthy democracy


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The Conversation

Mercedes Medina and Blanca Basanta

Professor of business and Structure of Communication Markets; and student of doctorate on the regulation of digital platforms.

The International Day of Democracy, commemorated on September 15, is not only necessary to raise awareness of the need for citizens to enjoy it. It is also a moment to reflect on some of the problems that prevent it development in a positive way. The success of social coexistence, which in recent years seems to be in a critical state, depends on finding a common goal capable of uniting its members above their particular needs.

We perceive the deterioration of our coexistence in the vulnerability of the mental health of adolescents, we notice it in an exhausted capitalist market, we see it in the conflicts of war that perpetuate a world of sides, and it is evident in a politics based on particular interests. But, above all, we feel the weakness of our system when we contemplate the lack of understanding between politicians and citizens and among citizens themselves.

For democracy to be effective, it is necessary that some actors assume the sovereignty of the people to act as intermediaries between the citizens and the parliament, and thus set in motion the process of deliberation required to reach agreements.

A conversation full of noises

Political mediation has been obscured since technology companies broke into the public place and disrupted representative democracy. Along with appropriating users' data and selling it to advertisers, they used their networks to distribute information produced by others. But also to facilitate the participation of users in these conversations with the chimerical illusion of increasing consensus and the satisfaction of everyone's interests.

However, as Habermas suggests in his latest essay, A New Structural Change in the Public Sphere and Deliberative Politics, social networks seem to offer a form of communication in which the public and the private are mixed, giving rise to a fragmented and narcissistic public sphere that deforms the perception of the common. The problem is that the current conversation is more like noise than a peaceful exchange of ideas that seek to solve problems and reach agreements.

Social platforms have multiplied the flow of information and have allowed citizens to be part of the public sphere in a more direct way. However, the social discussion has not improved, but has become polarized and voices that are not in line with the dominant culture have been eliminated.

In order to restore the media space of understanding, independent and financially solvent media capable of directing the flow of information and condensing public opinions are necessary. In the interview published in the book Reclaiming Journalism (2023), the president of a group publishing house commented that he had to humbly accept that the first thing readers look for in one of his newspapers is not publishing house but the horoscope. And then, the obituaries.

This anecdote reinforced the idea of putting the reader at the center of the project information, and not the partisan or egocentric pretensions of the editors. At final, a healthy democracy depends on a media capable of providing a critical sense to the audience and bringing to the politicians the problems that affect and worry the citizens.

Solutions for promote democracy

With that purpose, the European Commission has financed the project Resilient average for Democracy (ReMeD) as part of its research and innovation program Horizon Europe 2021-2027. ReMeD is a consortium made up of eight European universities and the European Federation of Journalists. It is composed of 30 researchers led by the School of Communication of the University of Navarra who will spend the next three years addressing the difficulties faced by citizens, journalists and media companies both in access to information and in the exercise of their profession.

Technology has always been a conditioning factor in the media market. Sometimes it is seen as an enemy, and other times as an ally. One of the transforming aspects that ReMeD wants to pay attention to is how digital technology has influenced and distorted these relationships between communication professionals and citizens.

Alternative channels such as bloggers, youtubers or influencers have emerged in the face of traditional companies and are becoming increasingly relevant when it comes to informing citizens. Through the partnership between academics, journalists and citizens, the project seeks to identify solutions and communication channels that promote a democracy in which the media act as intermediaries between the public authorities and the population.