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Europe's Search for an 'Attentive Public': Public Communication, Media and Legitimacy

Paul Statham

This paper draws on original empirical research (media analysis; interviews with journalists and civil society actors; focus groups with the general public) to develop a thesis and examine the relationship between the public and the European Union through mass mediated public communication. It refers to the situations before, during and after the Constitution event. To some extent the media fills the 'gap' for the missing 'attentive public' through its own opinion mobilisation. If anything, media mobilisation appears to have induced passivity for the elite-dominated project among the general public. Hence the 'policy and opinion elite' is effectively able to play to its own version of the European project represented in the media discourse, which reinforces its legitimacy, while Europe remains off the radar of the general public. The flaw in this 'proxy' public legitimacy supplied to elites by media discourse is that it is trumped by direct calls on the people that result in an expression of popular will. Nothing exposed this more than the failed referendums for the 2005 Constitution Treaty. The paper outlines the prospects for an 'attentive public' over Europe, before, during and after the Constitution event.

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