Non-democratic discourse of democratic mass media in Russia: analysis of frames

The procedure for conducting a review of current research on Russia's public sphere. The conceptualization of the concept of a democratic discourse to define variables and indicators and description of the data. Evaluation of the discourse of the media.

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Non-democratic discourse of democratic mass media in Russia: analysis of frames


Research question

The role of mass media in political life has dramatically increased for the XX century. Today a plethora of authors speak about mediatization of politics, which means the substitution of the political logic by the media logic within the political domain and vice versa. The consequences of the increased role of media challenge contemporary democratic theory - what are the normative claims to media activity in democratic society? How does they change relations between politics, economics and media system?

These questions are also crucial for acknowledging current authoritarian and hybrid regimes. The latter combines features of authoritarian and democratic government. Unlike democracy, authoritarian government attempts to establish control over public sphere. This characteristic is essential for its definition. Vice versa, democratic government requires the opportunity to decide how and what matters are to be placed on the agenda and equal and effective opportunities for learning about the relevant alternative policies and their likely consequences.

There is no consensus in literature on the issue of the type of political regime in contemporary Russia. However, the majority of scholars agree that Russian public sphere is predominantly controlled by the government. There are few mass media, which are considered as independent or democratic. Moreover, this feature in highlighted by the very democratic media. They highlight their editorial independence, opposing themselves to mass media, which editorial policy is controlled by the government.

Despite the democratic mass media highlight their political impartiality, scholars of contentious politics connect these media with anti-governmental activity, considering it as one of the instruments of mobilization of protest movement and regime collapse. Moreover, state officials and government controlled mass media accuse democratic media in political bias. At the same time these mass media stress the absence of any kind of bias. This study focuses on the uncertainty of the issue of democratic media political bias - on the one hand, they are permanently accused the political bias, on the other hand, they tend to criticize the government and provide a tribune for oppositional activists. The research question of this study is whether Russian democratic mass-media are in fact politically unbiased?

The object of the research is public discourse in democratic mass-media (Echo of Moscow, TV-Rain, Novaya gazeta).

The subject of the research is the correspondence of this discourse to normative requirements of democratic discourse.

The aim of the research is the estimation of the democratic character of public discourse in Russian democratic mass media. This aim can be achieved by the following steps:

To review current investigations on Russian public sphere;

To conceptualize the notion of democratic discourse;

To define the variables and indicators and describe the data;

To evaluate the democratic character of democratic media discourse.

Schmidt's discursive institutionalism provides relevant methodological framework for this study. Within this framework analyzing democratic media discourse provides evidences for conclusions on informal institutions, which regulates functioning of mass-media. Van Dijk's technique of critical discourse analysis is the method of this research.

There are two hypotheses, which are tested in this research:

Discourse of Russian democratic mass media does not correspond to normative claims of authentic democratic discourse due to the bias in favor of opposition;

Media bias in medias differs due to the type of media.

The hypotheses are tested on the case of media coverage of Russian military activity in Syria (30.09.2015-15.03.2016).The empirical base of the study consists of materials from the following sources:

Dozhd channel (TV Rain);

Ekho Moskvy (Echo of Moscow);

Novaya gazeta (New newspaper).

These sources cover one print media, one radio station and one TV-channel.

1. Literature review

media discourse public

There is a growing literature on the issue of public discourse in Russian mass media. The majority of studies are connected with media coverage of particular policy issues (i.e. the violation of human rights in Chechnya and immigration policy) or events (i.e. the conflict in the South-Eastern Ukraine, nationalistic demonstrations). These studies are focused on the content and do not provide any evaluations of public discourse or public sphere. Scholars consider the content from popular newspapers or TV-channels and make conclusions, how the event or policy is framed.

Other studies consider the condition and development of public sphere in Russia. De Smaele describes contemporary Russian mass-media system as particularistic. He states that there is a lack of institutionalized forms of cooptation between media and political systems. Instead of this, public officials privilege certain journalists and develop personal, rather than professional relations. There is a plethora of scholars, who argues that contemporary Russian mass media are subordinated to state authorities. These authors focus on relations between media and power, emphasizing the degradation of media-logic under state and market pressure. To justify this idea they consider the contemporary condition in historical-institutional perspective.

Historical institutionalist vision

Ivan Zassoursky (Moscow State University) focuses on the post-soviet history of Russian media-sphere and elaborates its correlation with state and business. In his study he highlights the pragmatic, rather than value-driven behavior of democratic media during the 90-s. Thereof, the dramatic changes of 2000-s were caused by the accumulation of resources by one of the elite groups.

Contemporary Russian media sphere is rooted in Soviet media-system. The consequences of glasnost dramatically changed Soviet traditions of media regulation. The term glasnost signifies the Gorbachev's policy of political transparency, rather than freedom of press and speech. Soviet media, still controlled by the Party Central Committee, broadcasted the political activity of the general secretary and reproduced his political support (despite of the dramatic decrease of population's quality of life). During the perestroika mass media started to participate in political struggles - Gorbachev used it against his opponents. Nevertheless, the growing autonomy of mass media backfired on Gorbachev after the end of the Afghan war. As Zassoursky notes, the withdrawal of troops inspired journalists to openly criticize the government and the Party.

After the 1990 law on press was passed, Soviet mass media became far less controlled by the Central Committee. It enabled various organizations (i.e. trade unions, private companies, regional legislators) to found its own mass media. Moreover, this law separated founders from editorial policy by the rigid regulation of their relations. Thus, the 1990 law on press provided the conditions for the development of market media industry.

According to Zassoursky, press was in fact independent from politics and market during the last year of Gorbachev's ruling and the first years of Yeltsin era (1990-1992). That short period became possible due to the weakness of both business and the state. Nevertheless, the notion of democratic media already existed. This notion was used to signify mass media, which supported the government' market reforms. Democratic media was opposed to reactionary press, which criticized perestroika and market reforms. Thus, contemporary democratic mass-media signified the political bias even in the conditions of editorial independence.

Unless the political bias, new independent media were socially biased. Zassoursky states that the rise of independent journalism in Soviet Union was close connected with its particularistic vision of key economic and political issues. It broadcasted the perspective of Russian intelligentsia and discriminated other points of view. For instance, despite the majority of Soviet people did not support the collapse of the Soviet Union, the democratic press solidly applauded this event.

Despite the democratic media supported the government, since the state and business strengthened, they attempted to subordinate media industry. Economic and political stabilization entails the subordination of mass media to economic and political logics. On the one hand, the 1992 economic crisis entails the bankruptcy of several print media. The circumstances of those who survived were dramatically worsened owing to economic pressure and the growing dependence of governmental subsidies. On the other hand, after the 1993 political crisis the government forbidden the titles, which openly supported the Supreme Council. That two-sided pressure fits well into the framework of mediatization.

The concept of mediatization has been developed in 1990-s. It reflects the growing role of media in contemporary politics and the consequences of that role for democracy. G. Mazzoleni and W. Schultz state that mediatization describes the condition where political institutions increasingly are dependent on and shaped by mass media but nevertheless remain in control of political processes and functions. Nevertheless, there is another side of mediatization. This notion also denotes the intervention of market and political logics in media sphere. Thereof, mediatization causes political biases and orientation toward economic profit, rather than independence and impartially in broadcasting. The process of mediatization challenges the democratic government and the independence of media domain from market and politics.

Mediatization of politics in Russia dramatically intensified during the First Chechen war. Mass media criticized Boris Yeltsin and provided critical evaluation of government's policy before the war. Nevertheless, after the beginning of the Chechen war it started to broadcast topics, which were under taboo previously. For instance, mass media focused on Yeltsin's health and his problems with alcohol. According to Zassoursky, mass media were inspired by the conception of the fourth power and tried to determine public opinion and influence political decision-making. Nevertheess, the government replied to mass media in two ways:

developing the propaganda in government's controlled mass media (Rossiyskaya gazeta),

distributing government's grants and informal financial support to loyal mass media and enhancing pressure on critical mass media.

According to Zassoursky, in general the government achieved its goals in general and undermined criticism before the 1996 elections. Nevertheless, there were a plethora of other actors who tried to control both mass media and the government. Different business (controlled by so called oligarchs) also participated in the struggle between mass medias and the government during the Chechen war. Moreover, they played crucial role in these struggle providing the authentic market pressure on different mass media. Economic pressure was close connected with formal and informal (even illegal) use of force. Private security companies widely used for captures of editorial offices and pressure on editorial policy. According to Vadim Volkov, Russian state in 1990-s can be characterized by the deconcentration on the physical capital, which enabled other actors to concentrate this capital in order to participate in the market of safety providing it as a service or as a resource. Accumulating the resources of money and force, oligarchs acquired both economic and political power. Capturing economic and media assets they prepared for state capture and the struggle on the control over the government and the state apparatus in general.

Zassoursky notes that the 1996 Presidential elections has been the nodal point in the development of Russian media system. The dramatic redistribution of media market preceded the elections. The growing dependence of media on the state and business resulted in the political bias of the majority of mass media. Some scholars states that the elections results in the return of state propaganda in media sphere. There is a common opinion that mass media has played the substantial role in Yeltsin's reelection. The extensive criticism of Zyuganov and the Communist Party resulted and, vice versa, the taboo on the criticism of the government's policy resulted in the dramatic rise of Yeltsin's popularity. Nevertheless, due to this crucial role, after the 1996 Presidential elections mass media suffered from the lack of trust and credibility. It became close connected with the manipulation of public opinion. According to Zassoursky, public sphere degraded to the public scene with the predominance of public show and manipulation, but without spontaneous clash of different public discourses. In Habermasian terms, after the 1996 Presidential elections Russia faced with the structural deformation of public sphere.

Zassoursky illustrates his statements on the development of Russian media system on the case of Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Independent Newspaper). It was established together with Echo of Moscow in 1990. Whether Echo of Moscow has kept radical-democratic pathos, Nezavisimaya Gazeta has developed in its own way (opposing to democratic mass media as independent mass media). Nezavisimaya Gazeta considered itself as a clone of English Independent and French Le Mond. Nezavisimaya Gazeta tried to combine commercial success and independent editorial policy. Despite the majority of mass media it did not provided sole position in editorials. Moreover, it gave a tribune to adherents of various political positions and views. During the 1993 political crisis Nezavisimaya Gazeta declared its own position as the neutrality in arms. Due to its creative editorial policy, the newspaper quickly became commercially success in the beginning of 1990s.

Political stabilization and market reforms undermined commercial success of Nezavisimaya Gazeta. Despite its dramatic popularity, it had to reduce the circulation. Paper and printing prices dramatically increased in 1994-1995. Moreover, the postal service also increased. Despite the substantial rise of costs, street prices remained low - a federal agency Rospechat' had a monopoly on newspaper distribution and provided minimum prices for consumers. Facing with these difficulties, Vitalyi Tretyakov had to stop publishing the newspaper. In 1995 Nezavisimaya Gazeta was captured twice: by the ONEXIM group and by Boris Berezovsky media group. The latter accumulated various media sources preparing for the 1995 State Duma elections and the 1996 Presidential elections. Thereof, Nezavisimaya Gazeta strongly supported Boris Yeltsin and participated in anti-communist propaganda in favor of him. Despite the financial stabilization and relative editorial autonomy, Nezavisimaya Gazeta lost its unique independency and impartiality, which distinguished it from democratic mass media.

After the 1996 presidential elections media industry was divided between different oligarchs, who used it in economic and political struggles. For instance, media battles accompanied the process of Svyazinvest privatization. The company controlled the regional telecommunication infrastructure and was prepared for privatization through public tender. Nevertheless, oligarchs, who supported Boris Yeltsin during the 1996 Presidential elections and contributed in his victory, expected the privileged access to privatization assets. Facing with the government's unwillingness to violate the law, they started to criticize the particular officials in mass media, which they controlled. According to Zassoursky, by the end of 1990s mass medias became the instrument of PR and propaganda, rather than independent and impartial information sources. Mass media activity was correspondent to market logic, while media logic substantially degraded.

In the end of 1990-s the government attempted to take the mass media market under the control. First, the presidential decree of 1998 created a government-controlled media holding company, which included the broadcasting transmission towers, state-owned radio and TV-networks, at both the federal and regional levels. Second, in 1999 Yeltsin established a ministry of press, television and mass communication to oversee and control the media sector (this ministry had not existed since early 1994, when the press and information ministry was closed). Then in 1999 the Kremlin tried to make peace with influential media magnates. Berezovskii was easily brought back in the team of loyal media magnates into the fold proved easy, while Gusinskii refused to be loyal and support Yeltsin's incumbent during the 2000 Presidential elections.

After the 1999 Duma elections and the 2000 Presidential elections the power elite intensified attempts to provide the loyalty of mass media and establish the control over the public sphere. Scholars stress the case of NTV as the good illustration of the government attack on uncontrolled media. In early 2000s NTV faced financial problems due to the end of the exclusive contract on the advertisement with Video-International - the advertising agency founded and controlled by the minister of press, television and mass communication Mikhail Lesin. Advertising was a major source of revenue for NTV and the end of this contract substantially undermined its financial stability. Thereof, due to the Media-Most growing debt NTV was sold to state-owned Gazprom-media.

Russian sociologist Olga Kryshtanovskaya states that after Putin's victory on the 2000 Presidential elections so called silovoki has established the control over state and business. Siloviki is an informal name of the elite group connected with military or paramilitary structures. Media magnates of 1990s has been removed from the political domain. Moreover, the state has strengthened the control over editorial policy of various mass media (predominantly, major federal TV-channels). Since 2000, Russian government has been frequently obliged in the violation of the freedom of speech. According to Freedom House, Russia became not free in all categories. Nevertheless, the strengthening of the state control over the public sphere was not total. So called democratic mass media consider themselves as independent and strongly criticize the government.

Historical-institutional perspective enables to reveal the path dependence - institutional development over time. There is no conventional definition of this concept, it just denote the significance of historic legacy for contemporary institutions and practices. Despite historical institutionalism considers institutions in dynamics, it poorly elaborates the issue of institutional change. Historical institutionalism suffers from the kind of historical determinism, which neglects the role of agency on institutional development. Thereof, historical institutionalism tends to reduce the complexity of real-life practice to certain historical logic.

Other approaches

Some scholars scrutinize the consequences of the governmental control over public sphere for public opinion. There is a consensual view among social science scholars, that focusing on patriotic and nationalistic rhetoric fosters nationalistic and chauvinistic views in society. Lev Gudkov connects Russians' nostalgic mood on the Soviet past and Putin's paternalistic and great-power discourse in the concept of resentment nationalism. According to Gudkov, it corresponds to post-totalitarian (in Juan Linz terms) type of thought, which is characterized by low level of inter-personal trust, atomized social relations and negative identification. He also states that state propaganda is the main source of the regime legitimacy on post-totalitarian society. Repressive media censorship enables to undermine any forms of political and civic collective action or civil society development. Moreover, it enables to reproduce the collective myth about the greatness of Russia. Focusing on military activity and foreign policy, the propaganda shift attention from internal issues and prevents society's self-description.

Despite high levels of the authorities' support, the government can be characterized by only formal, rather than substantial legitimacy. Putin's regime needs only facade societal consensus, - L. Gudkov. In absence of democratic institutions and well-developed media system the regime feels the lack of substantial support and has to artificially reproduce political passivity and withdrawal.

Some scholars state that the regime tries to reproduce formal support as the primary condition of its existence. Due to its authoritarian nature Russian personalist regime does not need mechanisms of democratic accountability and will-formation. Moreover, the occurrence of such mechanism would undermine the regime. For example, Oleg Kashirskykh argues that Russian people can be characterized by instrumental logic in voting behavior and instrumental type of rationality in everyday life. According to Kashirskykh, the regime reproduces this kind of thinking to undermine any forms of civic and political cooperation. Thus, it restricts public sphere and devaluate politics as a kind of human activity. Marginalizing citizens' public activity and focusing on instrumental role of politics and its economic nature enables the regime to prevent society's politicization and any forms of political dissent and protest.

Despite mass media plays a substantial role in public opinion formation the sustainability of the latter remains questionable. Some scholars argue that public opinion in authoritarian society is volatile and highly dependent on ad-hoc media frames, but there are lack of empirical studies on this issue. Ellen Mickiewicz provides the evidence on the idea of unsustainable public opinion under authoritarian rule. She emphasizes that despite a media conceals various policy tradeoffs an audience's critical assessment can be activated during the discussion. Tradeoffs intersecting in public space provides cognitive outcomes. It fosters critical assessment of various policy strategies and encourages complex reasoning. She tested her hypothesis on sixteen focus groups conveyed in four Russian cities differentiated by political and media environment. Thus, to maintain its own sustainability authoritarian regime has to undermine public deliberation and rational opinion formation.

The majority of studies on Russian media landscape bases on constructivist approach and qualitative methods. This approach enables to grasp constructs, which are created and re-produced by mass-media. Moreover, it provides the opportunity to evaluate these constructs, for instance, to assess its correspondence to particular ideological families. Nevertheless, this approach is relevant for studies focused on particular issues. It does not enable to make institutional conclusions required by the aim of this research.

This research bases on discursive-institutional framework, which has been developed by Vivien Schmidt. According to Schmidt, institutions are not external-rule-following structures but rather are simultaneously structures and constructs internal to agents whose background ideational abilities within a given meaning context explain how institutions are created and exist and whose foreground discursive abilities, following a logic of communication, explain how institutions change or persist. By background discursive abilities she understands the ideational processes by which agents create and maintain institutions. By foreground abilities she means people's ability to think and speak outside the institutions in which they continue to act. In this research we focus on public speech, which enable to unclothe both the background and foreground discursive structures. Basing on the results of discourse-analysis, we grasp informal institutional arrangements of democratic media and make conclusions on their correspondence to normative claims of independent media functioning.

2. Theoretical framework and conceptualization


The notion of discourse is one of the most controversial terms in social sciences. It is widely used in communication studies, political science, sociology, history and other fields. Thereof, there is a lack of conceptual clarity of the concept of discourse.

The concept of discourse is rooted in postmodern and post-structural social theory. French philosopher Michel Foucault is the most influential author in these paradigms. His theoretical heritage could be divided into two periods: archeological and genealogical. The first period covers The Birth of the Clinic, The Order of Things: An Archaeology of the Human Sciences, The Archeology of Knowledge. The second period covers Discipline and Punish, The History of Sexuality and famous lectures in College de France (Society Must Be Defended, Abnormal Security, Territory, Population, The Birth of Biopolitics). Despite the significant differences between two periods of his activity, Michel Foucault articulated and extensively used the concept in both projects of archeology and genealogy.

According to the archeological project, discourse is a particular way of speaking. In the Archeology of Knowledge he defined discourse in the following way: we shall call discourse a group of statements in so far as they belong to the same discursive formation [discourse] is made up of a limited number of statements for which a group of conditions of existence can be defined. Discourse in this sense is not an ideal, timeless form it is, from beginning to end, historical - a fragment of history [] posing its own limits, its divisions, its transformations, the specific modes of its temporality.

According to Foucault, truth is a discursive construction and different regimes of knowledge determine what is true and false. Foucault tries to scrutinize the structure of various regimes of knowledge - the rules, which determine what can and cannot be said in certain circumstances, and the rules, which define what is considered as true or false. The starting point of Foucault's archeological thought is that although a human being has an infinite number of ways to make statements, the statements and even thoughts that are produced within a specific domain are rather repetitive and similar. Moreover, there is a plethora of statements that are never uttered, and would not be considered and accepted as meaningful. The historical rules of particular discourses determine what it is possible to say.

In the project of genealogy, Foucault developed a conception of power-knowledge. Foucault shifted his attention from structures and treating agents as primary categories, focusing on power and ways of its reproduction and operation. As discourses, power does not belong to individuals, states, groups with particular interests and other particular agents. Instead of this, power is dissolved across various social practices.

The Foucault's major contribution to the power theory is the idea of its productive aspect. He stated that power should not be considered as exclusively oppressive or restrictive. Rather we should acknowledge the dual nature of power - it is as oppressive as productive. Despite power oppresses and restricts social actors, it also constitutes particular discourses, regimes of knowledge, even bodies and subjectivities.

Foucault defined the following rules of the analysis of power:

1. to understand power by looking at its extremities, at its outer limits at the point where it becomes capillary; in other words, to understand power in its most regional forms and institutions, and especially at the points where this power transgresses the rules of right that organize and delineate it, oversteps those rules and is invested in institutions, is embodied in techniques and acquires the material means to intervene, sometimes in violent ways;

2. to study power at the point where his intentions - if, that is, any intention is involved - are completely invested in real and effective practices; to study power by looking, as it were, at its external face, at the point where it relates directly and immediately to what we might, very provisionally, call its object, its target, its field of application, or, in other words, the places where it implants itself and produces its real effects;

3. Power must be analyzed as something that circulates, or rather as something that functions only when it is part of a chain. It is never localized here or there, it is never in the hands of some, and it is never appropriated in the way that wealth or a commodity can be appropriated. Power functions. Power is exercised through networks, and individuals do not simply circulate in those networks; they are in a position to both submit to and exercise this power. They are never the inert or consenting targets of power; they are always its relays. In other words, power passes through individuals. It is not applied to them and that it exists only in action;

4. Power does - at least to some extent - pass or migrate through our bodies we should make an ascending analysis of power, or in other words begin with its infinitesimal mechanisms, which have their own history, their own trajectory, their own techniques and tactics, and then look at how these mechanisms of power, which have their solidity and, in a sense, their own technology, have been and are invested, colonized, used, inflected, transformed, displaced, extended, and so on by increasingly general mechanisms and forms of overall domination;

In this study we will base on Foucault's methodological precautions of the analysis of power. Connecting power and knowledge Foucault provided the close connection of power and discourse. Discourses as a particular ways of operation of power contribute substantially to producing the subjects and the objects we can know about. Thereof, basing on this connection Phillips and Jorgensen articulate the central questions for all theories of discourse analysis: how is the social world, including its subjects and objects, constituted in discourses?

Foucault's concept of power-knowledge also affected his conception of truth. According to Foucault, there is no access to universal truth because it is impossible to think outside discourse; there is no escape from power-knowledge nexus. He called the consequences of this nexus truth effects - effects, which were created within discourses. While in the archaeological period, he understood truth as a system of procedures and rules for the regulation, reproduction and diffusion of statements, in the genealogical period, due to the connection between truth and power he argued that truth was produced by and embedded in systems of power. Thereof, it is fruitless to investigate whether something is true or false. Instead of this, Foucault focuses on the very effects of truth and investigate how they are created in particular discourses? He scrutinizes the discursive processes which construct discourses and produce the impression that they fully represent reality.

Foucault's conception of subjectivity, which was developed in both archeological and genealogical periods, is the nodal point of the majority of contemporary theories of discourse. According to Foucault, subjects do not exist outside discourses; moreover, subjects are created and reproduced in discourses. This idea is rooted in Marxist structuralism. Stating that subjects are externally determined by something else, Foucault developed Althusser's approach to ideology.

According to Althusser, human subjectivity is constructed during social practices, which reproduces social relations with pre-determined roles and agencies. Nevertheless, Althusser acknowledged the reality of the structure, which determine subjectivity. Going further, Foucault recognized the contingency of the very structure, which is created by power. Thereof, in Foucault's theoretical perspective both structure and agency are contingent.

The majority of contemporary conceptions of discourse analysis are rooted in the archeological, rather than genealogical project. L. Phillips and M. Jorgensen defines discourse as a particular way of talking about and understanding the world (or an aspect of the world). Providing this definition they add that this notion is contested by different interdisciplinary approaches. Without a specific framework this notion seems vague and hardly appropriate for empirical research. L. Phillips and M. Jorgensen emphasize three approaches - Laclau and Mouffe's post-marxist discourse theory, critical discourse-analysis and discursive psychology. Juxtaposing of different conceptions of discourse enables to reveal their strengths and weaknesses and make reasonable choice.

Ernesto Laclau and Chantal Mouffe consider discourse as a set of linguistic and extra-linguistic signs. The latter is essential for this approach. Basing on the poststructuralist ontology Laclau and Mouffe argue that discourse constructs social reality through contingent fixation of meanings. Discourses are different perspectives on social reality, which struggle for the meaning of signifiers. Since one discourse dominates others, it becomes hegemonic. They have borrowed this concept from the political theory of Antonio Gramsci, who used this term to denote the importance of cultural dominance in political struggle.

Despite of the exhaustive theoretical elaboration of their key concepts, Laclau and Mouffe have poorly clarified research technique. Providing the separation of moments and elements of discourse, they have not described how it can be grasped in empirical study. The latter is the ultimate weakness of this approach.

Unlike post-marxist discourse theory of Laclau and Mouffe, critical discourse analysis (CDA) presupposes the separation of discursive and extra-discursive reality. According to CDA, discourse exists in non-discursive social context being one of various types of social practices. Practitioners of this state that discursive and non-discursive realities are dialectically connected. Discursive practices simultaneously depend on other social practices and constitute them by the production and re-production of meaning. Narrow understanding of discourse and focusing on the nexus between non-discursive social reality and discursive practices are the ultimate strengths of this approach. Both of strengths enable to make conclusions about social reality basing on the analysis of discourse.

Adherents of CDA elaborate a variety of techniques, which enable to reveal different aspects of discursive practices. Nevertheless, CDA does not provide theoretical framework, which enables to interpret results of empirical study. While Laclau and Mouffe clearly elaborate theoretical aspect of discourse-analysis, adherents of CDA develop the practical side. Thus, it needs the external theoretical framework for results discussion.

Discursive psychology emphasizes how individuals use particular discourses in constructing and negotiating representations of social world and identities. This approach focuses on discourses in particular social interactions, rather than on discursive struggles on the macro-level of society. Highlighting the individual level of discursive practices does not correspond to the aim of this study and discursive-institutional methodology, which focuses on social structures, rather than individuals.

In this study we use the concept of discourse, developed in CDA. There is a variety of particular conceptions of critical discourse analysis within this paradigm, which will be scrutinized during operationalization. To provide CDA it by external theoretical framework we adopt one of contemporary theories of democracy.


Democracy is also an essentially contested concept, which suffers from the lack of conceptual clarity. According to Gallie, there are several characteristics of the essential contestability:

1. Appraisiveness;

2. Internal complexity;

3. Various describability;

4. Openness;

5. Reciprocal recognition;

6. The derivation from an original exemplar, whose authority is acknowledged by all the contestant users of the concept;

7. Continuous progressive competition.

The concept of democracy fulfills all Gallie's conditions. Dahl states that the notion of democracy is idealistic and inappropriate for empirical investigations (he prefers the concept of polyarchy). Moreover, Habermas argues that ought cannot be separated from is in democratic theory, what makes it essentially appraisive. The notion of democracy contains various aspects, which cannot be ranged. Due to this impossibility, the concept of democracy fulfills both the second and third claims. Other claims are provided by the continuous open debates in democratic theory with common agenda.

Gallie has argued that essentially contested concepts cannot be exhaustively defined. Thus, it is senseless to attempt to assert, that there is the only one right definition of a concept. Instead of this, during the conceptualization of such kind of notions we should focus on the limitations of all existing definitions and overcome possible misunderstandings. Scrutinizing of three main contemporary democratic theories in political theory enables to highlight its specific features and limitations.

Elitist conception of democracy has been developed by Joseph Shumpeter in the beginning of XX century. Criticizing classical conceptions of democracy Shumpeter considers democratic government as a method, which is that institutional arrangement for arriving at political decisions which realizes the common good by making the people itself decide issues through the election of individuals who are to assemble in order to carry out its will. Despite Shumpeter restricts the notion of democracy by free and fair elections, he provides several external conditions of its stable functioning, highlighting in particular the role of public sphere and independent mass media.

The majority of definitions of democracy in political science is anchored in this approach. For instance, Adam Przeworski states that democracy is a system in which parties loose elections. Simplicity of these definitions is simultaneously their strength and weakness. They are easy for operationalization and enable to assess the democraticness using only one criterion. However, this simplicity makes these definitions useless beyond political domain. They are developed for the analysis of political institutions, rather than social institutions. Thus, we refuse this family of conceptions.

Pluralist conception of democracy has been developed by Robert Dahl and his adherents. This conception does not restrict democratic government by the simple procedure. Dahl provides the following characteristics of the democratic government:

1. control over governmental decisions about policy is constitutionally vested in elected officials;

2. elected officials are chosen and peacefully removed in relatively frequent, fair and free elections in which coercion is quite limited;

3. practically all adults have the right to vote in these elections;

4. most adults also have the right to run for the public offices for which candidates run in these elections;

5. citizens have an effectively enforced right to freedom of expression, particularly political expression, including criticism of the officials, the conduct of the government, the prevailing political, economic, and social system, and the dominant ideology;

6. they also have access to alternative sources of information that are not monopolized by the government or any other single group;

7. finally, they have an effectively enforced right to form and join autonomous associations, including political associations, such as political parties and interest groups, that attempt to influence the government by competing in elections and by other peaceful means.

However, this conception focuses on political domain and does not enable to scrutinize media discourse. Moreover, focusing on pluralism as the essence of democracy, this conception does not take into account the content of public sphere. Stating that the variety of media sources should exist, it does not provide normative claims for mass media functioning in democratic society. These claims are provided by deliberative democratic theory.

Deliberative democratic theory has been developed by Jurgen Habermas and his followers. This conception is anchored in Habermas' theory of communicative ethics. Focusing on arguments exchange, Habermas elaborates the rules of rational communication, which is denoted by the concept of ideal speech situation. He describes it in the following way:

1. Every subject with the competence to speak and act is allowed to take part in a discourse.

2. Everyone is allowed (a) to question any assertion whatever, (b) to introduce any assertion whatever into the discourse, (c) to express their attitudes, desires and needs without any hesitation.

3. No speaker may be prevented, by internal or external coercion, from exercising his rights as laid down in (1) and (2).

Satisfying all of these conditions enables to produce rational decision, which must be morally significant for all participants. If someone disagree with the argument, he must justify his claim by counter-argumentation. To elaborate this idea Habermas develops his own approaches to rationality, which becomes one of the most influential conceptions in critical theory.

Distinguishing two types of rationality - communicative and strategic, Habermas argues that authentic political communication must correspond to the former, rather than the latter. Unlike strategic rationality, communicative rationality presupposes the achievement of rational consensus and mutual understanding. Due to the focusing on communication, Habermas highlights the role of public sphere in politics. According to Habermas, the public sphere is the vehicle of public opinion; it can best be described as a network for communicating information and points of view (i.e., opinions expressing affirmative or negative attitudes); the streams of communication are, in the process, filtered and synthesized in such a way that they coalesce into bundles of topically specified public opinions. Rooted in civil society the public sphere needs mass media and social networks which provide a necessary infrastructure for circulation of public discourses and, consequently, rational opinion formation.

Deliberative democracy provides relevant framework for the analysis of public discourse. Highlighting the role of mass media in political life and developing normative claims for public discourse enables to elaborate the concept of democratic discourse.

Democratic discourse

Habermas' theory of deliberative democracy has been criticized by his followers. Criticizing him for the idealistic vision of democratic process, they have attempted to re-formulate his criteria of rational communication for the evaluation of particular communicative practices.

Seyla Benhabib develops the features of deliberative discourse, which provides the legitimacy of deliberation output:

1. participation in such deliberation is governed by the norms of equality and symmetry; all have the same chances to initiate speech acts, to question, to interrogate, and to open debate;

2. all have the right to question the assigned topics of conversation;

3. all have the right to initiate reflexive arguments about the very rules of the discourse procedure and the way in which they are applied or carried out.

These features weaken Habermas' normative claims. However, they are still irrelevant for the assessment of media content. Media is never free from coercion. Editors decide who and in what time will appear on air. Even if all opinions are equally presented in prime time, there is a variety of forms of internal exclusion. For instance, moderating a discussion, radio or TV presenter have a control over agenda on air. (S) he can discriminate certain speakers in favor of others. Thereof, power relations is the essential component of media source.

Power relations are developed in all society's subsystems. There are various types of power: social power, political power, economic power. Habermas states that media system constitutes its own source of power. Basing on the technology of mass communication, media power denotes those who select and process politically relevant content and thus intervene in both the formation of public opinions and the distribution of influential interests (i.e. columnists, reporters, editors, producers, directors, and publishers). Despite the relative independence of mass media from economy and state and the functioning according to its own code, mass media usually privileges someone in access to its resources. Representatives of functional systems or various groups of pressure contest for the access to media seeking to use media in transforming of one type of power into another type of power (for instance, transforming social power into political support). Thereof, media power is a social catalyst, which encourage societal dynamics and establishes nexus between different subsystems.

Manuel Castells defines power as the relational capacity that enables a social actor to influence asymmetrically the decisions of other social actor(s) in ways that favor the empowered actor's will, interests, and values. The notion of actor denote any subject of action. It could be individuals, organizations, institutions, networks, collective actors, etc. The relational capacity of power means that it is an immanent component of social relations, rather than an attribute. Unlike component of social relations, an attribute can be appropriated or disappropriated. According to Castells, power relations cannot be removed from social relations.

In mass media system power relations are described by the notions of agenda-setting, framing and priming. The concept of agenda-setting devote to media's ability to influence the salience of topics on the public agenda. Covering one issue more prominently and excluding the other from covering mass media influence of public opinion and reveal its power potential.

The concept of framing was introduced in sociology by Erving Goffman. Goffman focused on primary frameworks of human experience, which he defined as ways to organize experience and structure everyday perceptions. In communication studies this concept was introduced by Robert Entman. According to Entman, this concept emphasized two aspects of media influence on public opinion - selection and salience. To frame means to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described. To achieve this aims frames include the following components:

Definition of problems - frames highlight what causal agent is doing with what costs and benefits, usually measured in terms of common cultural values;

Diagnostics of causes - frames highlight who creates the problem and who is blame for it;

Moral judgments - evaluating causal agents in moral categories mass media present its own position, which influence an audience perception of covering news and stories;

Suggested remedies - mass media usually offer and justify treatments for the problems and predict their likely effects, which involves mass media in processes of political decisions making and policy promotion.

All these components embody power in text and emphasize different aspects of media influence of audience. A reader has to perceive the world as it is presented by text. Text restrict his cognitive abilities and more or less invisibly influence on public opinion.

Both of agenda-setting and framing result in priming effect. As Scheufele and Tewksbury note priming refers to ` `changes in the standards that people use to make political evaluations', which occurs when news content suggests to news audiences that they ought to use specific issues as benchmarks for evaluating the performance of leaders and governments.

Whether authentically democratic discourse is still possible? Habermas states that power is illegitimate per se. Legitimation of political power in modern societies is provided by the deliberative discourse, which pass through a public sphere and foster public opinion. Media power must be legitimized in its own logic. First, media source must be inclusive for all interested actors (if there are formal or informal restrictions, that discriminate an actor, they must be rationally justified to be legitimate). Moreover, the specter of opinions must be exhaustively represented on air. As Bohman states, only the clash of different perspectives can produce an effective deliberation, which fosters rational public opinion.

Second, an editorial policy does not discriminate certain participants in favor of others (editorial impartiality). Being a component of all social relations, power relations are dependent on particular context. As we have already shown, even if a point of view is represented on air, it can be discriminated if favor of others by moderator, who accumulates power resources in this particular context.

If these two requirements are satisfied, mass media produces a democratic discourse. Habermas emphasizes two structural conditions, which encourage fair game in media system: first, a self-regulating media system must maintain its independence vis-a`-vis its environments while linking political communication in the public sphere with both civil society and the political center; second, an inclusive civil society must empower citizens to participate in and respond to a public discourse that, in turn, must not degenerate into a colonizing mode of communication. Both of conditions frame an activity of media source fostering its inclusiveness and impartiality.

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