Dr. Drissia CHOUIT

Moulay Ismail University


Reading 3.1.

Media and Democracy


Adapted from:

Banda, Fackson. Civic Education for Media Professionals: A Training Manual. France: UNESCO, 2009.



Defining Democracy

The concept of democracy is heavily contested. However, it is one of the most used terms. Almost all regimes lay claim to some form of democracy. Because of the real possibility of misusing this word, it is important to be clear about what it means.


This unit will be confined to a generic conception of democracy as a form of civic life. But first, one needs to place the concept within its historical context. The term is derived from the Greek words "demos" or ‘people’ and "kratia" meaning ‘authority’ or ‘rule’. Therefore, democracy can be defined as a form of rule derived from the people. It must be pointed out that the term demos, within the context of the Greek city-states, referred to the lower classes, which constituted most of the population. Over time, ‘the people’ has come to mean the whole population or the citizenry of a country. Therefore, the concept of democracy is based upon the principles of the sovereignty of the people. The people cannot give up their sovereign power, nor can they give up their inherent liberty to give and withhold their consent to government. In effect, they have inalienable ownership of their government. The people do not in fact surrender their power; they merely delegate it to others who serve as their trustees.


Since it is founded upon the sovereignty of the people as a whole, the concept of democracy at its most basic level includes majority rule and respect for those in the minority, because they are a part of the whole society. All members of the polity possess a political status of equal citizenship. To the extent that any individuals or groups of people in a political community are excluded from full participation in civic life or are unfairly targeted for negative or detrimental treatment, a political system is not fully democratic. Of course, no existing or historical political order fully realizes the basic idea of democracy, but these standards can be used to evaluate a country as being more or less democratic.


Indices of Democracy:

  • Popular sovereignty: All legitimate power ultimately resides in the people.
  • The common good: The promotion of what is good for the polity as a whole and not the interests of a portion of the polity at the expense of the rest of society.
  • Constitutionalism: The empowerment and limitation of government by an enforceable written or unwritten constitution. Constitutionalism includes the idea of the rule of law. Constitutionalism respects the principle that a law should be considered illegitimate if it is incompatible with the constitution.
  • Equality: The right of all persons in a society to be treated equally.
  • Majority rule/minority rights: The rights of the majority to rule, constrained by the rights of members of the minority to enjoy the same benefits and share the same burdens as those in the majority.
  • Justice and fairness: Governmental decisions about burdens and benefits should be based on criteria that are not partial to specific groups. These procedures must be derived through procedures that reflect ‘fair play’ or ‘fundamental fairness’.
  • Political rights for citizens: The authority to control government and hold it accountable as embodied in political rights, such as freedom of speech and of the media; the right to association, assembly, demonstration, and petition; and the right to vote in open, free, fair, regular elections.
  • Independent judiciary: The judicial system providing decisions on an impartial basis in accordance with the law is the supreme criterion of judgement. As such, the judicial system must operate independently of any other agency of government (separation of powers), social organisation, or corrupting influence.
  • Civilian control of the military and police: The military and police must be subject to the control of civilian authority.
  • Political competition: Different political parties and organised groups should be able to compete for power and influence in society.
  • Political and societal pluralism: There should be multiple, alternative sources of information and vehicles for the expression of interests and ideas in society.
  • Freedom from fear: The right of individuals and groups to be secure under the rule of law from exile, terror, torture, invasion of privacy by state actors, and arbitrary or unjustified detention.


The Role of the Media in Civic Life

The role of the media in civic life may be framed in terms of what Peter Dahlgren refers to as the ‘empirical dimensions’ of civic culture. These are discussed below.

  • Relevant knowledge and competencies: People must have access to reliable reports, portrayals, analyses, discussions, debates and so forth about current affairs. Here the media’s role is central. The sources of knowledge and the materials for the development of competencies must be understandable, communicated in ways that connect with different groups of people.
  • Loyalty to democratic values and procedures: Democracy will not function if such virtues as tolerance and willingness to follow democratic principles and procedures do not have grounding in everyday life. The media can reinforce the commitment to democratic values by giving sustained attention to them.
  • Practices, routines, traditions: Democracy must be embodied in concrete, recurring practices – individual, group, and collective – relevant for diverse situations. Such practices help generate personal and social meaning to the ideals of democracy, and they must have an element of the routine about them, if they are to be a part of a civic culture. The interaction among citizens is a cornerstone of the public sphere, and the kinds of established rules that shape such interaction either promote the practices of public discussion or contribute to their evaporation. Across time, practices become traditions, and experience becomes collective memory; today’s democracy needs to be able to refer to a past, without being locked in it. The media obviously contribute here by their representations of ongoing political life, including its rituals and symbols, yet increasingly also take on relevance as more people make use of newer interactive possibilities and incorporate these as part of their civic culture practices.
  • Identities as citizens: How we define citizenship is inseparable from how we define democracy and the good society. One can say that the formal status of citizenship conceptually frames much of political life in modern democracies. The media can do much to strengthen public perceptions of what it means to be a citizen in a democracy. The media can reinforce notions of participation, accountability, solidarity, tolerance, courage, etc. which define democratic citizenship.



Useful Videos:


  • VI EAVI International Conference: Media, Education and Citizen:


        EAVI IV – A Panel on Citizenship, Media and Human Rights


  • EAVI Channel – Active Citizenship and Participation through the Media


  • The Guardian

        Video: Edward Snowden warns about loss of privacy in 

        Christmas message





Last Updated





02.06 | 08:01

thank you so much professor for these important points.

25.05 | 04:35

Copy this link, paste it in your browser, then click on it

25.05 | 04:23

Already done!

25.05 | 04:22

No. This website provides some units of the course + complementary information and resources. You have to combine both e-learning platform and this website.