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IP 22 (Phase I): Explaining differences in political news - a comparative analysis across four Western democracies and four decades

The mass media play a crucial role in democratic processes through the images they convey of political actors, issues and institutions. But how do we explain differences across nations in the way that news provides citizens in democratic societies with the necessary information for critical public debate? What are the factors that shape the news and facilitate or limit a critical public debate?

The research project aims at explaining and predicting differences in news content with regard to factors inherent in the political system, political culture, media system and media culture of a country. The countries selected are Western democracies with highly industrialized societies that differ in their media systems’ relation to the market and state: United States and Great Britain, representing the ‘liberal’ Anglo-American model of journalism, and Germany and Switzerland, representing the ‘democratic-corporatist’ media system.

The underlying assumption is that differing structural conditions favor different patterns of journalistic behavior and values. While the researchers do not expect the news media to be undemocratic in any of these countries, they expect them to reflect different democratic expectations and norms. The findings will gain important insights into what kind of institutional context facilitates a richer diet of political news, and what kind of factors contribute to a poorer, less desirable diet of political news, thereby posing challenges to democracy.

More information on the project:

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Project leader:
Prof. Frank Esser, University of Zurich

Katharina Hemmer, University of Zurich
Bernd Spanier, University of Zurich