The concept of public sphere and modern mass media

The concept of the public sphere based on the theory by German philosopher Jürgen Habermas is a significant idea in democratic theorizing (Haas, 2004). With modern mass media playing a significant role in informing the public as well as influencing the publics opinion, the media seen by some as a type of public sphere, provides a crucial room for debate to all citizens (Gillwald, 1993). Because journalists, and by extension the media itself, are seen now as a representative of the public, questions arise over whether there’s a wide enough range of opinion to accurately represent the public’s interests (Media Studies, 2018, p.41). The original theory of the public sphere has been critiqued for a variety of reasons and been further developed by Habermas himself as well as other academics (Garnham, 2007, p.201).  

This Essay examines whether or not the concept of the public sphere, as originated by Jürgen Habermas and refined by Curran and Garnham, is useful in critically analysing and making suggestions to reform modern mass media. 

The concept of the Public sphere 

According to Habermas’s theory, the public sphere is “a realm of our social life in which something approaching public opinion can be formed.” (Habermas, 1964, p.49). He states that it emerged as a neutral sphere for private individuals to come together and debate the needs of society in the 18th century. Habermas claims that with the guarantee of freedom of assembly as well as the freedom of expression, citizens will behave as a public body (p.49). Several aspects are seen by him as vital to the existence of a Public sphere: The accessibility to all citizens, said acting as private individuals arguing in matters of general interest instead of their private concerns and the sphere being established in every conversation by the public (Media Studies, 2018, p.42). According to his theory, the public sphere is separate from private interest since it is based in “rational discourse, political views and decisions being open, not to the play of power, but to that of argument based upon evidence” (Garnham, p.41) and the concern with the public good. The success of the public sphere does depend as mentioned previously on the citizens access to said, but its autonomy and the rule of law amongst other factors as well (Soules, 2007). Habermas states that the Public sphere requires “specific means for transmitting information and influencing those who receive it” (Habermas, 1964, p.49). It depends therefore not only on the quality of discourse but also the number of participants in a debate.  

The idea of ‘the public’ involves people in general rather than referring to a particular group. It appears in concepts like public opinion or public education and stands in contrast to private health and private education amongst other things. The public sphere is supposed to provide a public opinion based on an informed debate. Important to note here is that according to Habermas, in order for a public opinion to be formed, the availability of a record of state-related and judicial activities to the public is crucial. 

According to Habermas, the conditions for liberal democracy were provided by the competitive market capitalism in Britain at that time. The political class the philosopher is referring to when speaking of the bourgeoise had as Habermas puts it “both the time and material resources” (p.40), to create institutions such as newspapers, universities and publishing enterprises. Within these institutions public opinion could be formed. However, citizen interacting in the newly created sphere were likely to be well educated, wealthy males, assuming their interest equivalate the public good (Meehan, 2019). This period in the eighteen-hundreds Habermas’s characterized as ‘the golden age of the Public sphere’ therefore had severe restrictions on who would be included the Public sphere.  The “bourgeois sphere” as it is referred to, accordingly was exclusionary, which goes against Habermas’s own requirement for the success of a Public sphere, which states that said has to be accessible to anyone. According to Nicolas Garnham, Professor at the University of Westminster, this exclusion could be viewed “as a case of the imposition of “ruling ideas” in favour of the interests of the ruling class” (Meehan, 2019). However, as James Curran, Professor of Communications at the Goldsmiths University of London explains, the “public sphere cannot be established (. . .) by enabling those who were formerly excluded (. . .)” (Curran, 1991, p.83-84) but has to be revaluated. The same goes for the role of the media has in relation to the Public sphere and contemporary society. 

Habermas’s liberal model of the public sphere is idealised. It is not reflected in the reality of international modern democracies (Media Studies, 2018, p.43). Instead, it is more of an ideal portrait for a modern democracy. According to Garnham the Public sphere should be seen not as a concrete space or a set of specific practices but a perspective on the modern world (Garnham, 2007, p.203). He states that the fact that according to Habermas’s definition, every participant in the public sphere would have to have access to all information and take part in every debate is unrealistic (Garnham, 1986, p.44). Nevertheless, Garnham points out that Habermas’s theory is valuable for a number of reasons: Among others, it underlines the importance of an independent sphere to democratic politics and emphasises the gravity of rationality and universality in democratic practice. The access to information is crucial for making polictical decisions (Mehann, 2019). 

Habermas’s original theory has been criticised, explored and reviewed since it was first published in 1964. The main points that have been discussed in relation to the original theory, are as mentioned his idealisation of the bourgeois Public sphere as well as the division separation of private and public and his concept of discourse ethics as a test for undistorted communication (Garnham, 2007, p.207). An additional argument that has been made is his claim of the existence of a singular public sphere instead of multiple ones which is seen as a utopian ideal (Grbeša, 2004, p.112). 

Shanto Iyengar, Professor of Political Science at Stanford University and Curran argue, that while the theory of public sphere has provided a useful basis to critically analyse the media, it is vital to take the changes in society into account (Iyengar and Curran, 2009). One of their concerns is the commercialization of television in many countries as response to more channels and therefore greater competition, deregulation as well as a decline of public service broadcasting. According to Iyengar and Curran, this resulted in television being adapted to consumers’ needs rather than that of the citizen. The active citizen is turned into a passive spectator (Grbeša, 2003, p.112). 

Habermas acknowledged in his recent works the attempts to modernise the original idea according to today’s social circumstances (Garnham, 2007). The public sphere has to be seen in a national as well as international context based on globalisation and the rising connectiveness of individuals in general. 

According to Habermas himself, the capitalist competitive market which initially set out the conditions for the public sphere to form, is also contributor to the deuteriation of rational-critical discourse and the public sphere itself (Garnham on Habermas, 1986, p. 41). He claimed that the unbalanced distribution of wealth throughout society and the rising costs of entry into the Public sphere led to an unequal access to it (Garnham on Habermas, 1986, p. 41). However, the medias ability to initiate public debate has been recognized (Grbeša, 2003, p.110) and according to researchers like Garnham and Curran plays and an important role in sustaining said. 

Modern mass media and the concept of the Public sphere 

As mentioned, the media play a crucial role in maintaining and especially informing the public sphere. It is not only the media and society but the media in society that one has to consider when analysing the relevance of the theory of public sphere today. The media does not separate itself from society. However, some still argue that the media takes the role of the public sphere itself, since citizens reading the newspaper or watching the news on television would allow them to step into a public realm. However, the fundamental principles to the public sphere to be universally accessible and independent is not fulfilled in this case (Gillwald, 1993, pb .71) since the accessibility of newspapers and news programs are not universal in our current capitalistic competitive market system. The potential of mass media to contribute to the public sphere by informing or initiating is however significant (Grbeša, 2003, p.115), especially in the case of public service broadcasting and the Internet. Both are relatively easy to access with the later even more than the former. 

The role of Public Service Broadcasting 

While Habermas argues that the competitive market as well as broadcasting partially caused the decline of the public sphere, academics such as Garnham claim that public service broadcasting contributed substantially to its existence (Grbeša, 2003, p.116). However, he also explains that the commercialisation of public information has damaged the democratic function of the media (Gillwald, 1992, p. 72). According to Marijana Grbeša, Associate Professor at the Faculty of Political Science of Zagreb University, public service broadcasting the public had restricted access to information and the public sphere itself. Unlike the profit interest of commercial broadcasters, the focus of public service broadcasting lays in its universal availability to the public (Gillwald, 1992, p.116). 

There is an imbalance of access to information within the society (Garnham, 1986, p.38), which ideally could be solved through a major publicly-owned public service broadcasting network providing every citizen with mixed quality programs including well researched, balanced news under minimal regulations (Curran,, 200). Curran along with other academics found in a study on public broadcasting and its influence on citizens knowledge of different news topics in the US, the United Kingdom, Denmark and Finland (Curran, J. et al., 2009) that Public service broadcasting provides a higher accessibility for the public to leading channels and through that promotes a higher engagement with and consumption of television news. Through doing so, it minimizes the knowledge gap between individuals that would, based on their socio-economic background, be information rich or information poor otherwise. Public service broadcasting therefore provides a basis for a more coequal society (Curran,, 2009, p.22). 

As Garnham mentions, the increase in private ownership of the media as well as the style of consumption results in a deviance between information rich and information poor individuals. First are provided with high quality informative Journalism while the other is faced with mostly entertainment services (Garnham, 1986, p.38). Information in itself is increasingly handled as an item of value (Mehann, 2019) linked to significant profits. As Garnham argues, the public sphere is an integral part of a democratic society and to defend and expand said, it is necessary to re-evaluate the public service model (Garnham, 1986, p.53). Especially in correlation with Currans finding in the cross-nation study, to provide equal access to the Public sphere and close the mentioned knowledge gap a national and international publicly-owned service broadcasting network would significantly contribute to informed debates and the Public sphere itself. 

The potential of the World Wide Web in relation to the public sphere 

As Garnham explains, “public communication lies at the heart of the democratic process” and the equal access to vote is equally substantial as their access to information (Garnham, 1986, p.37). The free market according to Curran should promote a free-thinking democracy (1991, p.97). For said to be possible it is necessary that one can freely express what they think to whomever it may concern. The right to publish could be seen as a safeguard to this freedom of expression (Curran, 1991, p.97). The World Wide Web offers a variety of platforms to share and debate. The rapid growth of the internet and therefore the simpler access to information, has fuelled a significant amount of research on its hypothetical influence on democracy (Grbeša, 2003, p.118) and raised expectations on the possibility of reassessing public debates (Gerhards and Schäfer, 2010, p.155). It is not only an easily accessible medium but provides the infrastructure for debate as well as information seeking and therefore opens up options for the development of an international civil society and public sphere. However, it is relatively unstructured in comparison to mediums like newspapers and television in relation to public discourse. There is no central platform to host debates or distribute information. Websites such as OpenDemocracy (a United Kingdom-based political website, founded in 2001), which encourages democratic debates and is mainly funded by the FordFoundation (an American private foundation aiming to advance human welfare) demonstrate the opportunity the World Wide Web offers in organising a global civil society (Curran, 2005, p.144). An international version of this website published by national public service broadcasters could provide a unique channel for debate and discussion online. Through the funding of high-quality journalism, the hosting of discussing and the provision of access to its sources, such a platform could have a significant contribution to a global civil society (Curran, 2005, p.144) and the Public sphere. 


While Habermas’s original theory of the Public sphere is too idealistic, through the inclusion of critical remarks by academics such as Curran and Garnham it ultimately provides a useful concept to deal with the possible contribution to the common good and democracy modern mass media could have in relation to the public sphere. Despite the problems raised with the original concept it is possible to consider and translate the theory into modern democratic society.  

Public service broadcasting offers the opportunity to close an existing knowledge gap between privileged and unprivileged individuals and can contribute significantly to informed debates in a discourse rather than class based Public sphere. The media in general provides a vital platform for public debate to private citizens and the possibility to formulate an informed public opinion (Curran, 1991, p.83). Society as a whole can “collectively determine through the processes of rational argument the way in which they want to see society develop, and this shapes in turn the conduct of government policy.” (Curran, 1991, p.83). As mentioned before, the access to information is crucial for making political decisions (Mehann, 2019). The media not only provides the platform for the Public sphere but also the information needed for a rational discourse and these informed decisions, crucial to our modern democracies. A diversity of perspectives and values in news coverage as well as entertainment can enable citizens to “reinterpret their social experience, and question the assumptions and ideas of the dominant culture.” (Curran, 1991, p.102-103).  

In conclusion, the concept of the Public sphere can certainly be useful to analyse and make suggestions to reform and develop modern mass media. One has to keep in mind however that the capitalistic competition-based market system influences the distribution of information in the Public sphere significantly. The ideal of the Public sphere has to be tempered with the realistic conditions of the free market. An independent Public sphere is how crucial importance for modern democratic societies. An interesting perspective on modern public sphere could be the rise of alternative journalism.


Curran, J. (1991). ‘Mass Media and Democracy: A Reappraisal’, In Curran, J and Gurevitch, M. (eds) Mass media & society. London, pp. 82-111. Available at: [Accessed 05.12.2019] 

Curran, J. (2005). ‘Mediations of Democracy’, In Curran, J and Gurevitch, M. (eds) Mass media & society, 4th ed, London, pp. 82-111. Available at: [Accessed 09.12.2019] 

Curran, J. et al. (2009). Media System, Public Knowledge and Democracy: A Comparative Study. European Journal of Communications, 24(5), p.22. Available at: [Accessed 09.12.2019] 

Garnham, N. (1986). The Media and the Public Sphere. Communicating Politics: mass communications and the political process, Peter Golding, Graham Murdock, Philip Schlesinger (eds), Leicester University Press. Available at: [Accessed 03.12.2019] 

Garnham, N. (2007). Habermas and the public sphere. Global Media and Communication, 3(2), pp. 201–214. Available at: doi: 10.1177/1742766507078417 [Accessed 03.12.2019] 

Gerhards, J. and Schäfer, M. S. (2010). Is the internet a better public sphere? Comparing old and new media in the USA and Germany. [online] New Media & Society, 12(1), pp. 143–160. Available at: doi: 10.1177/1461444809341444 [Accessed 11.12.2019] 

Gillwald, A. (1993). THE PUBLIC SPHERE, THE MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY. [online] Michigan State University. Available at: [Accessed 05.12.2019] 

Grbeša, M. (2003). Why if at all is the Public Sphere a Useful Concept?. Politička misao, XL (5), pp. 110–12. Available at: [Accessed 11.12.2019] 

Haas, T. (2004). The Public Sphere as a Sphere of Publics: Rethinking Habermas’s Theory of the Public Sphere. Journal of Communication, 54 (1), pp. 178–184. Available at: [Accessed 10.12.2019] 

Habermas, J. (1964). The Public Sphere: An Encyclopedia Article. Sara Lennox, Frank Lennox. New German Critique, 3, pp. 49-55. Available at: [Accessed 03.12.2019] 

Habermas, J. (1989). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society. Thomas Burger, Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, p. 30. Translation from the original German, published 1962. Available at: [Accessed: 05.12.2019] 

Iyengar, S. and Curran, J. (2009). Media Systems, News Delivery and Citizens’ Knowledge of Current Affairs. [online] Stanford University and Goldsmiths, University of London. Available at: [Accessed 05.12.2019] 

Meehan, N. (2019). The theory of the public sphere. Dublin: Griffith college. Available at: [Accessed 11.12.2019] 

Media Studies 101 – A Creative Commons Textbook (2018). [online] Media Texthack Team, p.p. 42-43. Available at: [Accessed 12.12.2019] 

Soules, M. (2007). Jürgen Habermas and the Public Sphere. [online] Malaspina University-College. Available at: [Accessed 05.12.2019] 

Note: This was originally published as an academic essay. References have remained in the text to ensure correct citing.

The difficulties of reporting reality

To make a competent decision, people must have access to reliable and accurate facts. Usually, it is the news media and therefore the journalists that take on offer these in modern democracies. Journalism is reporting the truth, not on a philosophical or scientific basis, but in a functional form. It is necessary to verify collected facts and disclose them in an understandable and fair way. Verifying information is what distinguishes journalism from propaganda, advertising or entertainment. Transparency is key, with sources as well as methods used, to give the readers the opportunity for a critical, informed discourse. A Journalist should value the public interest and the truth most and make it priority in their everyday work. 

Traditionally, the democratic role of the media is the one of a Watchdog of the state. Its task is to monitor said and expose the abuse of official authority without fear or holding back. It is important to take shareholders as well as other types of authority into account. The media acts as a check on “abuse of all sources of power in both the public and private realms (Curran and Gurevitch, 2005, p.124). As Cohen argued, mass media “may not be successful much of the time in telling people what to think, but is stunningly successful in telling its readers what to think about” (1963, p.13). Media plays a crucial role in engaging the public in the democracy it exists in. 

“Journalism is in essence (…) a struggle over what information becomes public and what remains in the private realm (…)” (Borersma, et al., p.388). While sources certainly provide the writer with a publishable story, the Journalist or their editor ultimately decides who will be given a stage in the news and how an event, a story and its developments are framed. The dependency of Journalists and sources on each other is an integral part of the profession (Borersma, et al., p.389). Investigative reporting can help to shape the public policy (Lanosga and Martin, 2018, p.1690). It is not easy however, as a journalist to be reporting on reality – in reality. 


One example for this is can be found in the movie ‘Spotlight’, directed by Tom McCarthy and written by McCarthy and Josh Singer. It tells the story of the investigative reporting unit ‘Spotlight’ at the Boston Globe which uncovered a scandal back in 2002, involving widespread paedophilia by priests and its cover up by the church. McCarthy and Singer interviewed the members of the original Spotlight team at the Globe, as well as their editors and reviewed the articles that were written by the unit in efforts to highlight the importance of investigative reporting.  

The movie emphasizes how difficult uncovering and reporting a story as this abuse scandal can be. Not only do reporters work against those who want to keep the truth hidden from the public, but the process can demand a lot from the investigators – emotionally as well as mentally. As mentioned before however, it is a public service for Journalists to report and uncover the truth. ‘Spotlight’ shows that while reporting reality might not be glamorous, it is crucial for our society that Journalists work towards uncovering abuse of power. 

Martin Baron, former executive editor for the Boston Globe, played in the movie by Live Schreiber, mentioned a letter he received from Father Thomas P. Doyle during a speech in 2016. Father Doyle wrote that “This nightmare would have gone and on were it not for [him] and the Globe staff.” (quoted by Baron, 2016). Baron explains that the truth is not meant to be hidden, supressed or ignored. 

At a crucial point in the movie, a lawyer representing the victims explains: “If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a village to abuse one.” (Mitchell Garabedian in Spotlight, 2015, 00:57:40). The amount of people and power involved in stories like these, which need to be uncovered, is often very big. Working with a small team and in some cases even as a single person against a mainstream opinion, against people in power, can be very difficult. 

Kill the Messenger

An example on just how difficult and also dangerous this can be, is shown in the movie ‘Kill the Messenger’. It is based on a book by Nick Schou and ‘Dark Alliance’ by Gary Webb himself, which focuses on the CIA involvement in Contra cocaine trafficking in the US. Webb published a three-part series on said topic in 1996 and in response was heavily criticised by major news outlets like the New York Times. Not only based on the story itself and the sources. The series was one of the first to ‘go viral’ online, when the internet was still very young. It first was celebrated then condemned and criticised. Webb killed himself in 2004. 

Webb in the movie is being warned at multiple points throughout the movie, to consider the consequences of him continuing the investigation and ultimately publishing his findings. With investigations into corruption or drug trafficking and similar cases, Journalists may risk being kidnapped, jailed or even killed. Their families are exposed to dangers as well (Baron, 2016). 

The movie makes it very clear that it is not always obvious where the line between a theory and the truth lies (Dockterman, 2014) and shows just how difficult it is to gain the needed sources to back up a story sufficiently. When suggesting his informant, former CIA agent James Cullen to go on record, said replies “And end up dead? No.” (James Cullen, Kill the messenger, 01:23:01). Even when getting access to an important source, it is not a given that it can be used to its full potential. 

Abscence of Malice

The 1981 movie ‘Absence of Malice’ links to the ethical conflict and question of disclosing damaging personal information and the public’s right to know. The consequences of publishing a story and especially a source which might be crucial to back it up, can reach far. As mentioned before, the decision on what information is released to the public and what is kept in a private realm lies with the Journalist or their editor. The responsibility that comes with obtaining sensible information is something investigative journalists are faced with regularly. To summarize the problem, once a story is out, it can’t be taken back. Especially in the digital age, where stories can be published and stared in an instance. 


Webb claimed in a speech in 1999, “You can’t believe the government. On anything.” and that “The media will believe the government before they believe anything.” (Our hidden history, 00:20:40, 2016^1). The fact that Governments now are more eager to pursue leaks as well as whistle-blowers (Lanosga and Martin, 2018, p.1691) can pose a serious problem to Journalists investigations. One of the biggest challenges in today’s media is that lies are recognized as truths. The almost unlimited amount of choices consumers has, leads to many confirming their pre-existing views instead of challenging them. Many media outlets and the journalistic profession are objects of suspension and those who are supposed to be checked by the media, politicians for instance, use this exact circumstance to their advantage (Baron, 2016). 

An additional problem for journalism in mainstream media is the constant seek for profit. The question of who breaks a story early is very significant. The Spotlight team for example was concerned that their competitors would run their story first. Mostly because that would influence the outcome and consequences their work could have when only being published after throughout investigation. However, in reality the profit and advertisement that comes with publishing a story first, may me placed above the duty of reporting the truth thoroughly and aiming to do the best for the public good. In retrospect, all big uncovered stories seem to be obvious. However, most of them start with a small hint, a coincidental finding of proof or one source stepping forward. The decision of following such a lead is not only depending on resources, often the potential profit but also the possible risks for the reporters themselves.

To summarize this essay, journalists are faced with a variety of challenges and risks linked to their profession. Their duty to report the truth, to report on reality and uncover abuse of power in private and public realms as well as the medias role as a check to those in power, holds a lot of responsibility. The mistrust of today’s society in the media as well as the attempt of politicians respectively to use the mistrust and the media in general to advertise themselves poses a serious problem. The role of journalism in democracy is crucial and despite everything more than worth of the risks and challenges. 


Baron, M. (2016) Speech by Martin Baron, editor to The Washington Post. 29.09.2016, The Times Centre, New York, Available at: 

Broersma, M., den Herder, B. & Schohaus, B. (2013). ‘A QUESTION OF POWER’, Journalism Practice, 7(4) [online], pp. 388-395. doi :10.1080/17512786.2013.802474. 

Cohen, B. C. (1963) ‘The press and foreign policy’, Princeton University Press, Princeton, p.13. 

Curran, J., Gurevitch, M (eds). (2005) ‘Mediations of democracy’, Mass Media and Society 4th edition, Hodder Education, pp. 122-149. 

Dockterman, E. (2014), ‘This Is the Real Story Behind Kill The Messenger’ [online], in: Time, History. Available at: 

Iyengar, S. and Curran, J. (2009), ‘Media Systems, News Delivery and Citizens’ Knowledge of Current Affairs’, Stanford University and Goldsmiths, University of London. 

Kill the messenger (2014), motion picture, directed by Michael Cuesta. United States: Bluegrass Films, The Combine, available at: 

Lanosga, G. and Martin, J. (2018) ‘Journalists, sources, and policy outcomes: Insights from three-plus decades of investigative reporting contest entries’, Journalism, 19(12) [online], pp. 1676–1693. doi: 10.1177/1464884916683555. 

Our hidden history (2016) Gary Webb: The CIA, the Contras, and Crack Cocaine. Available at: 

Spotlight (2015), motion picture, directed by Tom McCarthy. United States: Participant Media; First Look media; Anonymous Content; Rocklin/Faust Productions; Spotlight Film, available at: 


1) The interview in this video was recorded inp 1999 for Alternative Radio. Gary Webb spoke in Eugene, OR. 

This article was originally published as an academic essay. References have remained in the text to ensure correct citing.

The Medias role in the acknowledgment of the problematic of the environmental crisis

“Climate change is one of the most serious challenges to society (Höijer, 2010, p. 717)”. Ten years ago, the IPCC of the United Nations declared, that in the last ten decades, the increase of temperature on earth is at 0,74° (Höijer, 2010, p. 717). Risks that are identified by world-wide scientific communities include “heavy rains, floods and storms, rising sea-water level, forest fires, fatal heat waves, noxious insects, microbial and fungal diseases, and effects on vegetation and animal life (Höijer, 2010, p. 717).” During the last decade, climate change came into the focus of society through the rising media coverage (Höijer cited Boykoff, 2010, p.717). However, the coverage of climate change varies in different countries (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1034). “The environment beat is a relatively new journalistic field, having emerged in the 1960s, when growing awareness of social and environmental issues spurred the start of the environment movement (Bourassa, et al., 2013).” 

This Document is about how the environmental crisis is covered by the media around the world, takes a look at how the topic is convicted and which role a countries status plays in the way the climate change is handled in their news media. Additionally, it takes a short look at the influence of sceptical voices. It also handles the stylistic patterns used in reporting, and the role of social media concerning the topic climate change. The main statement is that Media plays a crucial role in the acknowledgement of the problematic of the environmental crisis. 

Reporting on the environmental crisis in different countries 

When observing the reporting on climate change in various countries, it is possible to see that “climate change has become headline news in some countries but has received comparatively little coverage in others (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1029)” which has an influence on the public’s awareness of the topic. 

It appears, that climate change moved beyond being an issue only to rich countries (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1029). A Study by Barkemeyer, Figge, Hoepner, Holt, Kraak and Yu has shown, that the 

“quality of a country’s regulatory regime is positively related to levels of media coverage of climate change” and that the “Country-specific unemployment trends are negatively related to levels of media attention to climate change (2017, pp. 1044-1045).” This means, that if the regulatory regime of a country is of higher quality, the climate change is more likely to be a topic in their news and being reported on more frequently. Also, higher unemployment rates are a negative factor. This factor seems to crowd out climate change as a top-class issue in newspapers (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1037). However, neither the degree of how high the risk of climate change related threats is in a country, nor the policy efficacy concerning climate change, are related to the degree of media attention to it. Also, the religious denominations seem to have small but no significant influence on the coverage the environmental crisis (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, p. 1046).  Based on the findings of a study by McCombs and Shaw, Mass media influences the publics opinion but also matches it to its audience’s interest (1972, pp. 186-187). The study also showed that that if a topic is covered in the media more frequently, the public regards it as more important which in this case means, that climate change appears as a more important topic to those societies, in which countries news report on the issue more often. 

The attention on climate change in different countries varied during decades (Holt & Backemeyer, 2012, pp. 14-15). Downs theorizes an issue-attention cycle, that influences public attitude and behaviour (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Downs, 2012, p.6-7). Downs explains, that a problem, that is covered by the media, goes through five stages based on the public’s interest and concern. The first stage is the Pre-problem, in which the undesirable condition is without a lot of public attention. Stage two is the alarmed discovery or the euphoric enthusiasm, which is the result of dramatic events of which the public becomes aware. The third stage is the realization of the costs that are acquired to solve the problem. This includes financial costs as well as personal sacrifices. In stage four, the intense interest of the public gradually declines though the wide spreading acceptance of difficulty and costs. The last stage is the post-problem phase in which the interest in the topic falls to a low stage again (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Downs, 2012, p.6-7). This cycle has been considered as applicable to the  

coverage of the environmental crisis in news media (Holt & Barkemeyer cited Dunlap, McComas and Shanahan, 2012, p.6). However, Reiner Grundmann and Mike Scott (2012, p. 232) argue, that the real rise of the climate discourse only began after 2005. This is because of the abrupt growth of attention the topic experienced in the very same year, which is claimed by Grundmann and Scott “attributed to several high-profile interventions from advocates of ambitious climate policies (2012, p. 227)” in 2005. “When elites have consensus, the public follows suit and the issue becomes mainstreamed.  

When elites disagree, polarization occurs, and citizens rely on other indicators (…) to make up their minds (Grundmann & Scott cited Brulle, Carmichael, and Jenkins 2010, p. 233)”. If a certain topic is addressed by the countries elites, the public regards it as important and the topic becomes mainstream. If elites disagree on that certain topic, society gets polarized and the citizens rely on other sources like political parties or the credibility of the sources to make their opinion. The news media contributes as one of these sources to the public sphere. The phenomenon especially seems to apply to the coverage of the climate change in the USA and is a possible explanation for the low salience on US`s political agenda (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226). Additionally, in the United States sceptical voices have an additional influence (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226). 

Influence of sceptical voices 

Grundmann and Scott point out, that in general, in news reporting concerning the climate change, advocates dominate over sceptical voices (2012, p. 226). This is, based on their study, at least the case in the United States of America, in France, Germany and the United Kingdom. However, the “US press gives nine times more attention to sceptical voices compared to Germany, and four times more than the UK (Grundmann & Scott, 2012, p. 226)”. Anyhow, the scepticism on climate change in the United States has a long tradition (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 498). In comparison to before though,  

the “manner in which the scepticism is expressed in US print media has changed (…) (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 508)”. While former coverage was dominated by the denial of the existence of global  

warming and its causes, todays claims focus on needed or unneeded actions to fight climate change (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 508). This form of scepticism is dangerous since it is not easily identifiable as such at first sight (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509). To stop climate change, action needs to be taken immediately and the media giving sceptics a platform to legitimate their claims, could “contribute to the failure to ratify international agreements and hinder the implementation of a national climate change policy in the United States” (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509)”.  

In comparison to the United States and India and Australia, however, an analysis study by Metag, Füchslin and Schäfer, showed that “the German population has the biggest group of Alarmed people (…) (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446)”. The alarmed public seeks for clues in the mass media and speaks about climate change more generally, while doubtful members of the society seek for less information on this issue (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446). 

Beside mainstream media, Climate change denial books as a source for information on the topic, influence opinions on climate change. The books make scientifically inaccurate claims which are “amplified in conservative media and the blogsphere, potentially reaching significant segments of the general public (Dunlap & Jacques, 2013, p. 713).” Regardless of the medium however, the disproportionate coverage of sceptical claims in mass media can lead to the questioning of taking actions against climate change (Boykoff, 2013, p. 811).  

Stylistics in the coverage of climate change 

As Metag, Füchslin and Schäfers claim in their study, informed, concerned and cautious groups of the society have to be addressed differently than doubtful, disengaged or dismissive groups (2015, p. 448).  

Science communication in general is expressed with certain stylistic patterns which serve to enhance the newsworthiness of for example the topic climate change (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 69).  

To engage readers in general, most news outlets try to present the topic as unheard of or surprising with for example new discoveries (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 76).  

Another stylistic pattern are the superlative, comparatives or quantifiers (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 77). The third most found pattern is the factor of lacking time to solve a problem and the impact the problem, for example climate change, has (Molek-Kozakowska, 2017, p. 78). Problematic in this context is that “climate change (…) as a phenomenon (…) lacks the required immediacy, and thus salience, for promoting action (Hanson-Easey, et al., 2015, p. 233). The last stylistic pattern Molek-Kosakowska found was the evaluation of positivity and negativity that is used instead of neutrality to engage the readers (2017, p. 79). 

One other possibility to comment on climate change while entertaining the audience is satire (Kalviknes Bore & Reid, 2014, p. 454). The benefit of the usage of satire on the topic of climate change is, that it can promote engagement and give a positive side to climate change instead of just work with shocking representations (Kalviknes Bore & Reid, 2014, pp. 463-468). This means that through satire in the media, the problematic of climate change and the active and positive engagement with it, can communicated. 

The Role of the Internet and Social media  

Additionally, to the traditional forms of print media and the television format, Social media platforms and the Internet in general are important new ways to change politics and the political economy concerning the conversation about nature (Bücher, 2014, p. 726) and to engage the public in a discussion about climate change. An analysis by Veltri and Atanasova showed that the four thematic arrays concerning climate change in posts on the social media platform twitter are “calls for action and awareness of climate change, its consequences and causes, and the policy debate about climate change and energy (2015, p. 732).” People’s attention towards pro-environmental messages is linked  

with their perception of others attention and believing in similar messages (Liao, et al., 2015, p. 55), which means that the connection to others through social media is a possibility to spread to knowledge  

about the problematic concerning climate change.  

As Kalviknes Bore & Reid already determine, satire can help to create a positive engagement with climate change. “Conflict in online discussions of science has the potential to polarize individuals’ perceptions of science (Anderson & Huntington, 2017, p. 598)”. The discussions about climate change, may be susceptible to the use of sarcasm (Anderson & Huntington, 2017, p. 600). On twitter for example, concerning climate change, sarcasm is often used to express a negative thing in a positive term (Anderson & Huntington cited Kunneman et al., 2014; Riloff et al., 2013, p.602). This means, that not only print media or shows can use sarcasm to engange their audience in the topic of climate change, but also it can also made use of this stylistic in online media channels to engage the audience.  


While climate change moved beyond being an issue to rich countries (Holt & Backemeyer, 2012, p. 1029), with higher quality of a regulatory regime in a country, and lower unemployment rates, it is more likely to find climate change as a topic that is frequently covered in their news (Barkemeyer, et al., 2017, pp. 1044-1045). Based on the findings of the study by McCombs and Shaw, Mass media influence the publics opinion but also matches it to their audience’s interest (1972, pp. 186-187). In this case their findings show, that climate change appears as a more important topic to those societies, in which countries news report on the issue more often. 

Climate change scepticism is handled different in different countries. Giving the sceptics a platform to engage with the audience however, could “contribute to the failure to ratify international agreements and hinder the implementation of a national climate  

change policy (…) (Schmid-Perti, et al., 2015, p. 509)”. The alarmed public seeks for clues in the mass media and speaks about climate change more generally, while doubtful members of the society seek for less information on this issue (Metag, et al., 2015, p. 446). Therefore, the media has to find a way to engage especially these group of the society in the topic og climate change. This could, for example be done through satire, through which the problematic of climate change and the active and positive engagement with it, can be communicated. “Fair, precise, and accurate media coverage of climate science and politics will not be the panacea for challenges associated with anthropogenic climate change (Boykoff, 2013, p. 811)”. However, the media plays an important role in “framing the scientific, economic, social and political dimensions through giving voice to some viewpoints while suppressing others, and legitimating certain truth-claims as reasonable and credible (Anderson, 2009, p. 166).” 

Unfortunately, media firms seek to expand profits in the expanding ecosystem which is why Journalists are challenged with covering climate change in a profitable context to bring it in front of the audience (Gibson, et al., 2015, p. 429). It was failed to connect on a personal level with the audience (Happer & Philo, 2015). Nonetheless, the public’s recognition of a problem is the first step in creating a policy to address it (Saphiro & Park, 2014). 


Anderson, A., 2009. Media, Politics and Climate Change: Towards a New Research Agenda. Sociology Compass, Issue 3(2), pp. 166-182. 

Anderson, A. A. & Huntington, H. E., 2017. Social Media, Science, and Attack Discourse: How Twitter Discussions of Climate Change Use Sarcasm and Incivility. Science Communication, Issue 39(5), pp. 598-620. 

Barkemeyer, R. et al., 2017. Media coverage of climate change: An international comparison. Environment and Planning C: Politics and Space, Issue 35(6), pp. 1029-1054. 

Bourassa, e., Amend, E. & Secko, D. M., 2013. A thematic review and synthesis of best practices in environment journalism. Journall of Professional Communication, Issue 3(1), pp. 39-65. 

Boykoff, M. T., 2013. Public Enemy No. 1? Understanding Media Representations of Outlier Views on Climate Change. American Behavioral Scientist, Issue 57(6), pp. 796-817. 

Bücher, B., 2014. Nature 2.0: Exploring and theorizing the links between new media and nature conservation. new media & society, Issue 18(5), pp. 726-743. 

Dunlap, R. E. & Jacques, P. J., 2013. Climate Change Denial Books and Conservative Think Tanks: Exploring the Connection. American Behavioral Scientist, Issue 57(6), pp. 699-731. 

Gibson, T. A., Craig, R. T., Harper, A. C. & Alpert, J. M., 2015. Covering global warming in dubious times: Environmental reporters in the new media ecosystem. Journalism, Issue 17(4), pp. 417-434. 

Grundmann, R. & Scott, M., 2012. Disputed climate science in the media: Do countries matter?. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 23(2), pp. 220-235. 

Hanson-Easey, S. et al., 2015. Speaking of Climate. Science Communication, Issue 37(2), pp. 217-239. 

Happer, C. & Philo, G., 2015. New approaches to understanding the role of the news media in the formation of public attitudes and behaviours on climate change. European Journal of Communication, Issue 31(2), pp. 136-151. 

Höijer, B., 2010. Emotional anchoring and objectification in the media reporting on climate change. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 19(6), pp. 717-731. 

Holt, D. & Backemeyer, R., 2012. Media coverage of sustainable development issues – attention cycles or punctuated equilibrium?. Sustainable Development, Issue 20(1), pp. 1-17. 

Kalviknes Bore, I.-L. & Reid, G., 2014. Laughing in the Face of Climate Change? Satire as a Device for Engaging Audiences in Public Debat. Issue 36(4), pp. 453-478. 

Liao, Y., Ho, S. S. & Yang, X., 2015. Motivators of ProEnvironmental Behavior: Examining the Underlying Processes in the Influence of Presumed Media Influence Model. Science Communication, Issue 38(1), pp. 51-73. 

McCombs, B. E. & Shaw, D. L., 1972. The Agenda-Setting Functionf of Mass Media. The Public Opinion Quarterly, Issue 36(2), pp. 176-187. 

Metag, J., Füchslin, T. & Schäfer, M. S., 2015. Global warming’s five Germanys: A typology of Germans’ views on climate change and patterns of media use and information. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 26(4), pp. 434-451. 

Metag, J., Füchslin, T. & Schäfer, M. S., 2015. Global warming’s five Germanys: A typology of Germans’ views on climate change and patterns of media use and information. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 26(4), pp. 434-451. 

Molek-Kozakowska, K., 2017. Communicating environmental science beyond academia: Stylistic patterns of newsworthiness in popular science journalism. Discourse & Communication, Issue 11(1), pp. 69-88. 

Saphiro, M. A. & Park, H. W., 2014. More than entertainment:. Social Science Informations, Issue 54(1), pp. 115-145. 

Schmid-Perti, H., Adam, S., Schmucki, I. & Häussler, T., 2015. A changing climate of skepticism: The factors shaping climate change coverage in the US press. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 26(4), pp. 498-513. 

Veltri, G. A. & Atanasova, D., 2015. Climate change on Twitter: Content, media ecology and information sharing behaviour. Public Understanding of Science, Issue 26(6), pp. 721-737. 

Civil Society, Austerity & Europe in the modern world

In Germany, the civil society organisation Campact is opposing TTIP, the controversial trading agreement between the European Union and the United States. With Demonstrations, petitions and other actions, this Organization attempts to influence and stop the negotiations on the trade agreement and tries to gather supporters through elucidating the problems surrounding TTIP to the German citizens. 

“Civil Society is a modern concept although (…) it can be traced back to Aristotle” (Mary Kaldor, 2003). While the term changed during the decades, it remained a core meaning: A civil society is an on a social contract basing society, through which individuals are able to act publicly (Mary Kaldor, 2003). 

Over the past decades, many civil society organisations were founded, that attempt to represent and stand up for the Civil Societies interests. Civil society organisations are separated from the market, have a specific, organizational identity and altruism respectively moral highground (Rooy, 2004). They play an important role in today’s politics and society and motivate “individuals to act as citizens in all aspects of society rather than bowing to or depending on state power and beneficence” (Rooy, 2004). 

The German civil society organisation Campact located in Berlin, Germany, has set itself the goal of giving people the opportunity to become politically active over the Internet. They take action through online petitions which are send to political decision makers, and demonstrations and focus on environmental topics and trade agreements. The Organization was founded by Christoph Bautz and Günter Metzges in 2004 and is financed through donations and contributions (Campact, a)). 

Campact as an Organization started off with a campaign for more transparency at the side incidents of politicians in 2005 and a big demonstration against GMO in 2006. These actions were followed by a vary political decisions like the publishing obligation for additional income from politicians and the ban on GM Corn, Campact claims to be responsible for (Campact, 2017).  

From 2009 on, the Organization also participated in the demonstrations against nuclear power and made the climate protection a concern for themselves (Campact, 2017).  

In 2010, with 77.000 E-mails, Campact activists showed their protest concerning cutting budget for the energetic building renovation. The organization claims that these E-mails were the reason for the committee to increase the budget with additional 400 million Euro instead of cutting it. This action was the first one on climate protection, Campact regards as a major success (Campact, 2010). 

In the following years, the Organization focused on the trading agreements and on climate protection.  

The structure of Campact is like most other CSOs, a horizontal one. Though, there is a hierarchy in Campact. It consists of the Board of Directors and the team leaders, who are in charge of another small group of people. Nevertheless, the fact that the organization only employs around 47 people and the departments are communicating and working together to manage the organization, nearly everyone is equally involved in the organizations business (Campact, a)).  

The Board of Directors consists of 3 people, Christoph Bautz, Daphne Heinsen and Dr. Felix Kolb who lead the Organization. Subsidiary to these, team leaders are in charge of the different divisions of Campact. 

The Organization like many other civil society groups, employs campaigners who are in charge of planning campaign work and contribute to campaign strategies and projects. Also, the CSO has a department of campaigners for their online petition forum, who are only responsible for the campaigns that concern the forum WeAct (Campact, a)).  

Though the fact that campaign mainly works online, the organization has a vary of different positions surrounding their online presence. There are people in charge of Campacts different social media platforms and additional staff who work as editors for the Newsletter and website (Campact, a)). 

Most of the employees at Campact are in charge of organizing and campaigning. Still, though the fact that the organization is growing and requires increasing maintenance within its own structure, the organization employs a range of technicians and accountants (Campact, a)). 

Besides all these positions, which are inherited by salaried employees, Campact has an undefined number of volunteer workers, who support the organization at campaigns and petitions. 

Campact influences current political topics with the help of online petitions and demonstrations. The Organization confides politicians with the collected signatures and organizes demonstrations and actions that are aimed at increasing the media coverage of a given topic. With the help of studies by various experts and easy to understand explanatory videos, people are brought closer to the given topic (Campact, 2016). 

The Organization has a vary of online petitions on their website. These provide information on the topic itself, the demands of Campact and the campaign partners. The petition shows a signature goal, requires name, address and E-mail address of the signing and will be send to decision-making politicians or responsible company CEO (Campact, b)). 

Campact starts campaigns when issues get on the political agenda and decisions are in the balance (Campact, 2016). Since Campact has not committed itself to a specific topic, the organization regularly makes alliances and cooperates with other organizations. 

To start a new campaign, the organization is conducting a study though mail, with at least 1000 newsletter subscribers on how they find the topic in question. Based on this survey, a team advises on the topic and submits it to the board, which then decides on the start of a campaign. This decision is also influenced by partner organizations and their advice. Followed by this decision, the team of campaigners develops the demands and strategies for the campaign (Campact, 2015). 

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership 

The transatlantic trade and investment partnership is a trading contract between the European Union and the United States of America. The negotiations around the agreement started in 2013 and are currently on hold. TTIP got under critique because of its lack of transparency and especially because of the special suit rights of corporations which gives corporations the right to sue a state based on the lost profit that is estimated due to a certain law that limits the companies’ ability to trade. Besides this, the trade agreement could also influence the import restrictions on certain goods like genetic modified food or products that are currently banned in Europe based on the amount of certain chemicals in it (Finnegan, 2017). 

Campact is the opinion that TTIP undermines the rule of law and democracy in general. Through the fact that the agreement allows foreign companies to sue countries for compensations as high as their estimated profit that is lost due to a certain law, states could be driven to ruin. Based on another trade agreement, the company Vattenfall is already suing Germany for 4,7 Billion euro, because of the Atomausstieg (Campact, b)). 

On their website, the CSO claims, that TTIP even endangers the health of the population. Certain Practices that are legal in the US would probably be permitted in the EU to prevent US companies from suing states with other laws which influence the company’s profit (Campact, b)).  

One example in this case is the environmental-damaging oil production method Hydraulic Fracturing, or for short, “Fracking”. This method uses water, sand and chemicals to frack porous rock and release enclosed natural gas from the deep layers inside the earth. Around 8 million litres of water are used in one round. This corresponds approximately the water consumption of 65.000 people in one day. Additionally, around 200.000 Litres of chemicals and several tons of sand are used each time. The main problem with this method is, that the chemicals compress the water, dissolve minerals and even remain in the leftover fluid that remains in the earth after the process is finished and the drilling hole is sealed. This can contaminate the drinking water which can’t be decontaminated again (Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell, 2013). 

A vary of Documentations already covered the health damaging effects on the US population that emerge through the ground water contamination1

Since Fracking is a common method in the US, companies could sue Germany based on a law that would ban fracking in the country. 

Campact conducted a survey with nearly 40.000 people and has found that high standards, sustainable agriculture and the rejection of the special suit right of the corporations are the most important issues concerning TTIP. The CSO determines, that in general, the EU trade policy has to lead to more decision space for the European negotiation partners, to ensure that they can set social and ecologically boundaries for the economy (Campact, b)). 

Campact so far collected 847.219 signatures on a Petition for a stop of the negotiations for TTIP. The signatures will be send with an appeal to the EU trade commissioner and the president of the European parliament (Campact, b)). 

The first European citizens’ initiative that was planned to be based on a Petition with 2.000.000 signatures, was stopped in 2014. In May this year however, the European court explained that the decision of the commission, which stopped the citizens’ initiative registration of “Stop TTIP”, was void. The planned initiative was not, as formerly claimed, an inadmissible interference in the course of the legislative procedure (Campact, 2017). 

Besides the Petition, Campact organizes a vary of demonstrations in cooperation with its partner civil society organisations which they cover by YouTube Videos and reports on their own website. 

On the TTIP issue, Campact is collaborating with FIfF, AbL, Mehr Demokratie, Berliner Wassertisch, Berlin 21 and DVD2. These Campaign partners each participate in the Petition and the promotion of it and partly have their own campaigns additionally to it. They collaborate at planning demonstrations and for educating citizens about TTIP. 

The CSO Campact and its collaborating campaign partners are opposing TTIP based on its in their opinion negative influence on our democracy. The fact that companies could sue states based on expected lost profits due to certain laws, is proven through court cases that were possible thanks to other trade agreements so far.  

One problem with the objective of stopping TTIP is probably that the usual citizen is not able to understand the agreement and relies on whatever the media dictates. This is the reason why campaigns like the petition, demonstrations and the explanation videos on platforms like YouTube take a very important part in elucidate the society about the transatlantic trade and investment agreement. 


Campact. (24. Februar 2010). Protest zahlt sich aus 400 Millionen Euro mehr für Klimaschutz. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Blog: 

Campact. (14. Oktober 2015). Wie entscheidet Campact. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Knowledgebase: 

Campact. (02. December 2016). Wie funktioniert Campact? Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von 

Campact. (2017). Über uns: Erfolge. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Homepage: 

Campact. (11. Mai 2017). Wir haben gewonnen! Abgerufen am 11. November 2017 von Campact Blog: 

Campact. (a)). Über uns: Das Team. Abgerufen am 09. November 2017 von Campact Homepage: 

Campact. (b)). TTIP stoppen. Abgerufen am 08. November 2017 von Campact: 

Finnegan, B. (2017). Modern Society. Lectures to BA Journalism Year 3. Abgerufen am Oktober 2017 

Kandor, M. (13. Mai 2003). The idea of global civil society

Kurzgesagt – In a Nutshell. (09. September 2013). Fracking erklärt: Chance oder Gefahr. Abgerufen am 10. November 2017 von 

Rooy, A. (2004). The Global Legiticamy Game – Civil Society, Globalisation. and Protest. Palgrave. 


1 See for example the HBO Documentation “Gasland” from 2010. It focuses on different communities in the US which have been affected by Fracking. The Documentation was even nominated for the Academy Award for Best Documentary in 2011.