SACOMM’s Journalism and Media Studies Interest Group (JMSIG) seeks to advance research on the objectives, practices and dynamics of journalism and media studies locally and in the broader African context. Building on the renewed resolve at SACOMM 2015 to have a more active and vibrant interest group, we hereby propose a 1 day panel roundtable to be co-hosted by the Department of Journalism, Film and Television at the University of Johannesburg, Communicatio: South African Journal for Communication Theory and Research(Communicatio) and the Journal of African Media Studies (JAMS).  The roundtable will address questions around normative ideas of the role of the media in society and the news media’s links to the democratic process. The proposed date for this roundtable is 26 February 2016.



JMSIG, Communicatio, JAMS
DUE DATE: 15 December 2015


 The role of the media is highly debated and highly contested all over the world, even more so in the context of societies undergoing social and political transitions. In this respect, the concept of democracy “…looms around discussions of media policy…practically in all platforms, both intellectual and political” (Nordenstreng, 2000: 29). The news media is thought to play a crucial role in building a new democratic society; in giving people a platform to voice diverse opinions; in informing citizens of their rights and responsibilities, and in increasing people’s knowledge about ways for them to participate in government processes and, as such, the media are often considered a vital part of the public sphere (Curran 2000, Dahlgren 2000, 1995). An unfettered press, with unbiased and accurate coverage, is widely considered an important cornerstone of any democracy.
In this regard, it is argued that in a young democracy, additional demands for the media to fulfil the functions of what McQuail (2005:97) labels information, correlation, continuity, entertainment and mobilisation, increase. Equally, the role of the media as a key socialisation and ideological instrument in society is tested. The need for quality information is even higher in the transition period and during the breakdown of the old political and social order (Voltmer 2006:4). The quality of democratic decision-making, it is argued, is closely linked to the quality of information provided by the media (Voltmer 2006:4). This is in its turn linked to the question of access to the media and the view of and quality of democracy.

 The role of the media in defining public understanding and opinion is also becoming more important as people’s ability for first hand experiences decreases with the complexity of modern society (McQuail 2000:158). The decline in some older structures of political and social control and sources of guidance for individuals (political parties, churches, family, community) may well be thought to increase the need for effective institutions in the public sphere to compensate for these losses (Voltmer 2006:4, McQuail 2000:34). Questions have also often been raised about the role of the media, especially the broadcast media, in nation building, and in constructing a common identity, especially in societies where political organisation and state formation have been premised on racial and ethnic divisions as well as exclusion.

However, in later years the centrality of the news media to democratic processes, and in facilitating access to public discourse and civic engagement, has been questioned (cf. Wasserman & Garman, 2013; Couldry, 2009; Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991). Research points to an increased fragmentation of the public sphere (Dahlgren, 2005) as well as an increased audience disengagement within the traditional news media (Wan, 2013) in particular with regard to younger audiences (Wasserman & Garman 2013).  This roundtable aims to address questions around normative ideas of the role of journalism in society and the news media’s links to the democratic process.


JMSIG, Communicatio and JAMS now invites paper proposals for a 1 day roundtable conference on “Questioning the media-democracy relationship in young democracies, post-colonial and transitional societies in the global South.”  Roundtable discussions will discuss the relationship between diverse types of media and journalism, social policy, and citizenship. We therefore invite scholarly papers from diverse perspectives that inspire new theoretical discussions and build from past insights and structures to allow us to confront new realities, challenges, and solutions, focusing on the aforementioned round-table theme. Extended abstracts (800-1000 words) must be emailed to Ylva Rodny-Gumede, viola c milton and Winston Mano by end of day 15 December 2015.
Topics/Questions that could be addressed include:

  • Can the news media rightfully claim its role as the Fourth Estate?
  • What role, if any, do new media platforms play in the media-politics nexus and in the strengthening of democracy (in its many guises)?
  • Can comparative studies shed light on the role of the news in democracy in different regions, nations, and media systems?
  • Are there differences with regards to the role that the news media play (can play) in a nascent democracy/transitional and/or post-colonial society vis a vis more mature democracies?
  • What role, if any, does civil society play in the media-politics nexus with regards to strengthening democracy and democratic participation?
  • How does culture impact on state-media relations and the role that the media play in society in terms of ideological orientations, audience engagement and a public service ethos?
  • Are the theoretical legacies of so-called Western media systems (still) applicable for researching media systems in young democracies/post-colonial/transitional societies?