The mediatisation of Politics

Quite recently, we heard about the “Judicialisation of Politics” – that is the situation in our country, where the political players are increasingly unable to settle political disagreements between themselves, and resort to the courts to do so. In one instance – when the constitution was pellucid on the process by which the GECOM Chair was to be appointed – the CCJ was forced to return the matter to them.
The politicians are unwilling to concede that their roles, as determined by the votes of the citizens of Guyana, are not only different in substance from those of the judiciary, but that the political process is intended to confer legitimacy to decisions reached on nettlesome issues. Our situation is different from some jurisdictions, where the “judicialisation of politics” arises from judiciaries that insert themselves into certain issues that are meant to be within the bailiwick of the elected politicians. That is rightfully called “judicial overreach”.
But there is a similar phenomenon of confusion of institutional roles that has developed in the relationship between the media and politics over the past few decades, which has morphed from “mediation” and then “mediatisation”. This needs to also be factored into our consciousness about societal changes. From the very beginning of the media, as pamphlets in the 18th century, the practitioners were called the “Fourth Estate” and were considered as an indispensable aspect of modern governance. The press, which would be joined eventually by radio and TV, would “mediate” the activities of the Government and state to the “people”. The media then, in curating what they considered “news” for the next two hundred years, engaged in “mediation” of what the people were to know. This is a tremendous power, and it obviously has far-reaching consequences.
One consequence was the ongoing feedback effect between media and political logics. As one scholar pointed out, there is “the distinction between ‘politicised media’, seen as an imbalance in the direction of a circumscribed media system, and ‘mediatised politics’, seen as a situation in which politics has ‘become colonised by media logics and imperatives’. The challenge is that politics also has its own internal logic – the drive to agglomerate ever greater support for one’s party’s position, to secure their votes at elections. The question is: to what extent does the present media logic trump and colonise political logic? According to one theorist, “Media logic consists of a form of communication; the process through which media present and transmit information. Elements of this form include the various media and the formats used by these media.” These formats are constantly changing as the medium develops and proves McLuhan’s point that “the medium is the message.”
The mediatisation of politics can be seen from four aspects. The first aspect of the mediatisation of politics is the degree to which the media constitute the most important or dominant source of information on politics and society. A second aspect is the degree to which the media are independent from political institutions in terms of how the media are governed. A third aspect is the degree to which the media content is governed by a political logic or by media logic. A fourth aspect, finally, is the degree to which political actors are governed by a political logic or by media logic.”
Politicians are fully aware of the power of the media, and therefore customise their message to satisfy this media logic. For instance, “if conflict has important news value when journalists produce news content, then clearly outlining an enemy becomes part of the rules of the game for a politician who is seeking visibility in news media.” With the rise of social media and its free-wheeling, personalised style that direct its attention to specific audiences, no holds are barred, as there is no appreciation of overarching societal obligations in this new media logic.
In Guyana, we have already seen politicians who would cater to this common lowest denominator logic of mediatisation of politics, which will inevitably further fracture our society.