View All

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. Almond (1960) distinguishes three types of 'public opinion': a 'general public', an 'attentive public' and a 'policy and opinion elite'. Here the 'attentive public' are an educated minority who follow abstract policy concerns, whom the elite plays to, and who also pass on views to the general public. Applying this formula to Europe, the 'attentive public' has been very much smaller than for national domestic politics. This is supported by empirical findings. A consequence of this very small 'attentive public' from civil society over Europe is that the mass media takes centre stage as the actor representing the public. 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.



The abstracts and papers on this website reflect the views and opinions of the author(s). UACES cannot be held responsible for the opinions of others. Conference papers are works-in-progress - they should not be cited without the author's permission.