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Not so Similar Anymore? How Media Systems in the Digital Age shape Political Communication in Greece, Italy and Spain

Media
Political Participation
Political Parties
Internet
Social Media
Comparative Perspective
Mixed Methods
Southern Europe
Alice Mattoni
Università di Bologna
Diego Ceccobelli
Scuola Normale Superiore
Alice Mattoni
Università di Bologna

Abstract

The media environment in which Western political leaders communicate with citizens changed considerably in the past decades. Due to the mediatization of politics, and the spread use of ICTs, the center of political communication is shifting from elite-driven media systems to media systems in which voters’ behavior in producing, accessing, and circulating political information is increasingly important. This transformation had a profound consequence for ways in which political leaders interact with different media technologies in order to reach their constituencies and establish channels of communication that allow them to bypass their party machines and to appeal directly to voters. To fully grasp such changes, there is the urgent need to assess the quality of the media systems in which political leaders and their voters interact. In this paper, we employ a theoretical model updating and expanding the work of Hallin and Mancini (2004) to compare the media systems of three Southern European countries – Greece, Italy, and Spain – in the digital age. More in particular, we analyze quantitative and qualitative data on a revised version of its four original variables – media market, political parallelism, state intervention, and journalistic professionalization – to acknowledge the raise and diffusion of ICTs. And we then investigate further two new variables – media accountability and peoples’ voices – that take into consideration the increasingly important role of bottom-up processes related to political communication today. While these countries are usually included in the same Polarized Pluralist model according to the taxonomy developed by Hallin and Mancini, our analysis shows that they differ under many respects when considering their media systems in the digital age. While we detect a convergence among the three countries with regard to certain variables in our model, other variables tend to differ to a great extent. This, we argue, also has consequences with regard to the communicative practices of political leaders and their voters in Greece, Italy and Spain. The paper derives from the research project PiCME - Political participation in Complex Media Environments, based at the Scuola Normale Superiore, and it is structured as follow. The introduction illustrates the contribution of the Hallin and Mancini theoretical framework, explaining why it still represents a valuable starting point to develop cross-country comparative research on political communication and how we can update and expand it so as to take into consideration the relevant transformations that characterized political communication in the past decade. We then discuss the quantitative and qualitative data that we gathered on Greece, Italy and Spain from existing datasets, original expert interviews (N = 21), and original cognitive maps and semi-structured interviews with political actors (N = 30). Conclusions summarize the main findings of our work and consider how changes at the level of media systems in the three countries have influenced political communication processes, especially with regard to the interactions between political leaders and voters.