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The Media and the ‘Deliberative Democracy’. On the Framing Contests Regarding Public Trust

Viorela Dan
Freie Universität Berlin
Viorela Dan
Freie Universität Berlin
Jens Seiffert
Open Panel

Abstract

In Germany, recent developments have intensified the discussion around a new and improved form of government. Thus, the current representative democracy is frequently contrasted with a ‘new’ deliberative, bottom-up democracy. By offering more chances to get involved in political decision-making processes, a bottom-up approach appears convenient for the upgrowth of the public trust. These two competing views are pitted against each other in the media, along with the question regarding which form of government is more trustworthy. Each view’s proponents work towards highlighting certain aspects and promoting their particular interpretation (Entman, 1993), thus towards ‘framing’ it. Controversies over the ‘right’ framing, aka framing contests, belong to daily practice in the political arena. Yet, competing with an “official” interpretation of an issue—i.e. coming from the executive branch—, can prove to be very difficult. Among others, this originates in the media’s hesitation to provide the citizens with broad information independent of the executive branch, so that they can build their own counterframes of the respective events (Entman, 2004). In this study, we will investigate the extent to which the German press offers a balanced counterframe to its readers, thus empowering them to make an informed evaluation of the current changes in democracy. Thus, the research question we pursue is: How does the German press frame the representative democracy versus the deliberative democracy? To this end, we will analyze the evolution of public trust around ‘Stuttgart 21’ in leading German print outlets. Our sample encompasses roughly 1.000 press articles from national and regional newspapers, and from news magazines. ‘Stuttgart 21’ is the name of a costly railway project currently under construction in southern Germany. It has been highly controversial, since many citizens perceived the political decision to renew the infrastructure as arbitrary and felt left out. / / Bibliography: Entman, R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 51-58. // Entman, R. M. (2004). Projections of power: framing news, public opinion, and U.S. foreign policy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.