The public space belongs to the public

McQuail seems to identify journalism as a constitutive factor to the public space in modern society (McQuail 2005, p.5). Although the author seems to attempt at defining the ways in which the media influences the public, he does not, however, provide a positive definition of the term ‘public space’, nor does McQuail explicate how journalism constitutes the public space in any way (p.20-21).

I find this statement, neither backed by empirical evidence nor by a conceptual framework of any kind, highly dubious. Moreover, we can grasp the magnitude of McQuail’s error when we turn to scholars who have put great effort into conceptualizing the public sphere. For example, Hannah Arendt. She envisions a public space where subjects debate and argue about their differing opinions. Through dialogue, the public will find common ground in the fact that what separates us, brings us together at the same time.

In this picture painted by Arendt, inspired by the Ancient Greek agora, there is no place for the journalist in a defining or constitutive sense. The public sphere would need a competent moderator at most, but the journalist does not have any specific function in the public sphere at all.

While Arendt’s ideas are hard to implement on a mass society-wide scale, we could find examples of (digital) ‘tables’ on a smaller scale (by ‘tables’ I’m referring to the metaphor used in the article). For example, Facebook is improving their services to cater to groups that provide conditions for impartial dialogues in a constructive environment.

While Arendt would applaud these developments, other thinkers like Habermas have a different opinion on the matter. This only shows the complexity of the debates surrounding concepts like the public space. Therefore we should never jump to conclusions and aim to suspend our judgments at all times.

By Victor Berndsen

Word count: 300


McQuail, Denis. “What is Journalism? How is it Linked to Society?” Journalism and Society. London: Sage, 2005. 1-26. Print.

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