BCM310: Emerging Issues in Media and Communication chapter 4 The Public Sphere

Date: 20 March 2014

Blogpost 2

BCM310: BCM310: Emerging Issues in Media and Communication, Chapter 4 The Public Sphere of Imagination

In the fourth week, for BCM310, we discussed the topic of public sphere, what public sphere is, how it affects Media and Communications and vice-versa.

To me, the Public Sphere is all around us. It is both ideal and actual; a place where the public congregate and express opinions on issues of interest, whether sensitive or of trivial popular cultural nature (Berkowitz 2009, pp290–292; McGuigan 2005, pp427–443).

According to Jurger Habermas, the structural transformation of the public sphere from 1962 to 1989 saw the shift from feudal monarchical society to enlightenment values (McGuigan 2005, pp427–443). The public sphere represents the ideal state where citizens meet to discuss societal needs (McGuigan 2005, pp427–443). Habermas opined that, by mid- 20th century, commercial interest and public relations have diluted and distorted press freedom and open debate. Initially, the public sphere included coffee shops and bars. Later, newspapers provided an opportune forum for discussion among the bourgeois (McGuigan 2005, pp427–443). Today, social media like video sites and blogs such as YouTube and WordPress provide a convenient and real-time realm for discussion, enabling the prodigious proliferation and growth of the public sphere.

The public sphere can be viewed from a “literary” lens and “cultural” lens. The former covers public opinions, public agenda and media agenda. The latter encompasses videos, public comments, movies, television series and even songs.

From a literary lens, the Apocalypse, a hotly-debated media topic, is a phantasmagoric vision of the end of time. The Tsunami which claimed thousands of lives and the recent mysterious disappearance of Flight MH370 have prompted us to view life differently, besides spawning much discussion. Hollywood creates entertaining apocalyptic films (e.g. Left Behind) and TV series (e.g. The Walking Dead) to be used as a media agenda. Stephen D. Reese asserts that “The powerful can manipulate the media, but under some conditions media assert their own power and agenda” (Anderson 2011, pp309-340). To me, the media profit from our fear of Doomsday, playing on people’s emotions and inquisitiveness to see how an Apocalypse can occur and how they can survive it. Apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic films generate much debate within the public sphere on whether the end is nigh or will it herald the revival of the world and humanity and whether we will attain utopia or plunge into dystopia. This is a vivid illustration of the role of media in influencing the public sphere.

From a cultural view, the war on terror by the west and America has greatly influenced the media. Once again, Reese’s comments come to mind. Through the control of both the public sphere and media by the powerful, namely the USA and its allies, the enemies are portrayed as oppressive brutes bent on crushing the freedom of others (Calabrese & Burke 1992, pp52 – 73; McGuigan 2005, pp427–443). And that their cause is the only right cause. The hit post-9/11 TV drama series “24” exemplifies America’s obsession with the war on terror. It alludes that all Muslims, particularly those from the Middle-East are vicious terrorists. The media has clearly attempted to portray America as the ‘good guy’ (Calabrese & Burke 1992, pp52 – 73; McGuigan 2005, pp427–443; Tenenboim-Weinblatt 2009, pp367-87). They glorify America by showing how the American hero, Jack Bauer, always manages to save the day (Tenenboim-Weinblatt 2009, pp367-87).

(500 words)



Anderson, J, A 2011, Communication Yearbook 14, Issue 14, Routledge, Third Avenue, New York, accessed 27/3/2014, http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=3VqLAgAAQBAJ&pg=PA309&dq=stephen+d+reese+communication+yearbook+14&hl=en&sa=X&ei=sphCU_vWNIiKrgfNn4DYCQ&ved=0CD0Q6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=stephen%20d%20reese%20communication%20yearbook%2014&f=false.

Berkowitz, D 2009, “Journalism in the broader cultural Mediascape,” Journalism, vol.10, no.3, pp290–292, accessed 20/3/2014, http://jou.sagepub.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/content/10/3/290.

Calabrese, A & Burke, B, R 1992, ‘American Identities: Nationalism, the Media, and the Public Sphere’, Journal of Communication Inquiry, vol.16, no.2, pp52 – 73, accessed 20/3/2014, http://jci.sagepub.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/content/16/2/52.

McGuigan, J 2005, ‘The cultural public sphere’, Cultural Studies, vol.8, no.4, pp427–443, accessed 20/3/2014, http://ecs.sagepub.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/content/8/4/427.full.pdf+html.

Tenenboim-Weinblatt, K. 2009, ‘Where Is Jack Bauer When You Need Him?” The Uses of Television Drama in Mediated Political Discourse’, Political Communication, vol.26, no.4, pp367-87, accessed 20/3/2014, http://www.tandfonline.com.ezproxy.uow.edu.au/doi/pdf/10.1080/10584600903296960.


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