Newspaper campaigns, publics and politics

Birks, Jennifer (2009) Newspaper campaigns, publics and politics. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
Download (1MB) | Preview
Printed Thesis Information:


This thesis examines the practice of campaigning journalism, where a newspaper seeks political influence and claims to do so on behalf of its readers or a wider public. It is a production and content study of campaign journalism in the Scottish press, examining the journalists’ orientation to their readers, both in terms of social responsibility toward them in facilitating their citizenship, and in terms of accountability or answerability to them as their quasi-representatives. The study also analyses the newspapers’ representation of the substance and legitimacy of public opinion to politicians at the Scottish Parliament, in particular the governing Scottish Executive (now Scottish Government), and the framing of politicians’ obligation to respond to public demands as formulated by the newspapers. In short, it seeks to investigate newspapers’ democratic claims to be the voice of ‘the public’.

Existing literature indicates that a key legitimation of campaigning journalism is that the newspaper is acting on behalf of a public or publics. However, it is not clear how these claims are substantiated. Existing mechanisms of accountability and normative conventions of responsibility are based on the liberal model of democracy, whereby the press are responsible for informing voters. In campaigning, the press instead adopt the language of representing group interests or protest politics that would fit with a corporatist or participatory model of democracy. These alternative models presuppose active or at least attentive publics, and newspapers’ interaction with and representation of them in this sense. This would fit with popular notions of Scottish political history as characterised by activism, and the aspirations of the Scottish Parliament.

However, the campaigns instead addressed an imagined public that were conceived of as a market, and represented ‘the public’ as a passive and powerless aggregate of interests. Despite campaigning being taken up on behalf of disadvantaged groups, those affected were only given a voice to express their feelings as victims, and political advocacy was largely reserved to the newspaper rather than extended to associations and organisations in civic society. The neo-liberal assumption of private (not political) self-determination and freedom as the defence of property and other personal interests meant that affected individuals were portrayed as passive and vulnerable ‘victims’ whose freedom and agency were oppressed by criminal perpetrators. Where social welfare was addressed it was dissociated from taxation, and portrayed in terms of consumer preferences. Publics were otherwise addressed and portrayed as an aggregate mass of instrumental interests and fearful, defensive feelings, not as associative or discursive.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Media, newspapers, local press, democracy, Scotland, Scottish, campaigns, the public, public opinion, civic society, protest, drugs, credit, health, antisocial behaviour, asylum
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
J Political Science > JC Political theory
N Fine Arts > NE Print media
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Sociology Anthropology and Applied Social Sciences
Supervisor's Name: Greg, Dr. Philo
Date of Award: 2009
Depositing User: Dr Jennifer Birks
Unique ID: glathesis:2009-747
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 06 May 2009
Last Modified: 18 May 2015 10:42

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year