For the first time, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to two journalists: the Filipino Maria Ressa and the Russian Dmitry Muratov. The recitals of the Norwegian Nobel Committee pointed out that the award was due since journalists were awarded for their efforts to safeguard freedom of expression, which is a precondition for the validity of democracy and, therefore, of lasting peace.
The journalism-democracy link is not new. The questioned concept of journalistic activity as a “fourth estate” and the interpretation of the graphic press originally -and later extended to the media in general- as a political actor and at the same time as a controller of public and private powers, is a constitutive part of the Enlightenment project .
Journalism and democracy
However, from the formal point of view, the consolidation of these assumptions in a theoretical construction is not usual. There are almost no “hard” theoretical frameworks that include to the media and journalism as proper and necessary elements of the validity of a consolidated democratic system. It is easier to count the exceptions.
Undoubtedly, the great attempt to link democracy and journalism is that of Robert Dahl. A leading political scientist of pluralism, a large part of his academic and research activity was dedicated to abstracting the basic characteristics that a democratic system should have in the 20th century. Thus was born his polyarchy, model of democracy of the present.
Idolatry is the enemy of the good work of journalism
From his various books, where the requirements vary, we are left with his minimalist definition that is in an easily accessible book for those who are not immersed in the particularities of political science and sociology. On “Democracy. A guide for citizens”, Dahl defines his polyarchy from the following institutions.
- Elected public offices
- Free, fair and frequent elections
- Freedom of expression
- Alternative sources of information
- Autonomy of associations
- Inclusive citizenship
It is clear that points 3 and 4 (33% of the institutions that make a democracy today) refer to the activity of journalism: freedom of expression and alternative sources of information.
It is particularly noteworthy that journalistic activity is rewarded at a time where the multiplicity of channels to express oneself is the widest in the history of humanity. Today anyone is a journalist and anyone is not. The definitions of what a journalist is, on the one hand, and what is news, on the other, are among the most soapy sticks that exist today in the diffuse borders of what we call public opinion.
The dynamic world of the digital field today offers a very diverse range both to receive information and to be a producer of content that includes what we call journalism.
Media from all over America we call to defend the value of professional journalism in the digital ecosystem
At the same time, the democracy As a political system, it goes through a moment of opacity. The emergence of concepts that make those shades of chiaroscuro, such as “illiberal democracy”, “electoral democracy” or “elective autocracy”.
Let’s see specific cases. According to the V-Dem Institute based in Gothenburg, Sweden, which founds its index of classification of democratic quality of countries based on Dahl’s polyarchy, defines Argentina not as a liberal democracy but with a lower rank, as a “Electoral democracy” (in Latin America only Costa Rica fully enters as a liberal democracy, while Uruguay already does so with harshness). The Philippines and Russia, the countries of the journalists who shared the Nobel, are classified as electoral autocracies.
The questions that exist today are relevant and many. Two of us left here.
- How democratic a country can be without robust and critical journalism.
- How to harmonize increasingly strict and solid classifications from a methodological point of view when some elements at stake, journalistic activity and journalists by case, are difficult to define.
* Christian Schwarz. Dr. in Sociology (UCA). Professor UCA, UNTREF, UCES.
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The Nobel Prize to the rescue of journalism and democracy