The initial model of this so called public sphere was derived from Jurgen Habermas’ ‘The Structural transformation of the Public Sphere’ (1962). Basically, the Public Sphere is a metaphoric space which allows for public discussion of current issues (McKee, 2005). This idea involving the exchange of public opinion on common concerns aids in establishing and reaffirming moral codes of behaviour in society.
Habermas’ model was heavily criticised for representing the members of the discussion as mainly propertied white men, excluding any other members of society (i.e. women, working class, people different ethnicity, etc.). However, in today’s cultural context the public sphere not only encompasses a broad range of the public but ‘new’ forms of media are further participating. In turn, it appears to me that various media forms are becoming a vehicle for public debate. You could even say that by me writing this blog, I am actively contributing to the public sphere. How exciting!
It came to my understanding that this new mediated public sphere has become ridiculed for degrading the substance of public discussion (McKee, 2005). Fragmenting the facts and focusing rather on entertainment. On the other hand, the argument that I agree with, that this mediated public sphere is actually an effective tool of bringing topical issues to the forefront of the public’s mind.
Take the program The Biggest Looser: The Next Generation (Australia), the fact that a program about the weight loss journey of everyday citizens is even aired on TV already outlines the colossal concern for obesity in society. Certainly for me, after watching an episode I’ll discuss what I saw with my family and eventually this discussion extends to outside the home – at school, at work, with friends, then to a stranger on public transport. Eventually, this common social concern about obesity is built into our daily talk. This was facilitated by a program. Even if one doesn’t watch The Biggest Looser a simple advertisement for the show, like the following, is enough to inspire talk.
The role of the media in this assists in how the public sphere organises society and critiques what is acceptable (McKee, 2005). It isn’t fair to say that this mediated public sphere is completely objective. Producers of commercial media (or any media for that matter) do have an agenda. They are essentially “mediators” directing where discussion leads and what views are privileged. Nevertheless, the contribution of opinions from the community still plays a large part and is essential in the public sphere.
Certain forms of media, like serious current affairs programs such as 4 Corners are deemed more legitimate for inspiring informed public debate. However, I ask you next time you view a popular media source, be it a fashion magazine or the latest series of Big Brother, look for the public issues that are explored. I assure you, they’re there and perhaps it will allow you to become more active within the public sphere.
Thanks for reading,
Citation: McKee, A (2005), ‘Introduction to the public sphere: an introduction’ in Public Sphere: An Introduction, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 1-4, 10