Modern society witnesses a global tendency to increased consumption of television news. Over the last thirty years the proportion of Europeans reading newspapers daily doubled, and the proportion of those watching TV news daily increased from 50% in 1970 to three-quarters in 1999 . However this leads to the so-called information gap. Consumers of political news remain knowledgeable of political processes. Those attracted by the scandalous side of the media get what they are looking for.
Moreover, political awareness is a rather relative question. The proponents of the mobilization theory state that due to extensive coverage of political events mass media are expected to have a positive impact on the political activeness of the citizens. But in fact modern media usually only simulate coverage of political events creating their own political reality in return. In fact, citizens’ political awareness constitutes their awareness of the private life of a politician or a public person.
Thus, the purpose of this article is to identify the main dimensions of political transparency and the means of its implementation through mass media.
Theory of political communication uses a concept of framing borrowed from Psychological Sciences and defined as “an impact on problem understanding in groups” . Erving Goffman, who studied this phenomenon extensively, believed that when an individual becomes aware of an event his response is likely to be limited by certain framework or interpretation schemes – the so-called \”primary framework\”.
Framing occurs when a question is posed in a way that envisages a specific response, when a respondent is pushed to accepting a certain point of view. In the context of mass media this means that while presenting an event the media disregard some aspects but emphasize the others, thus emphasizing only certain aspects of reality. Framing ensures simple and straightforward interpretation of an event. Therefore, while organizing daily reality news frames simultaneously become its part and its packaging. This reality created by the media tends to promote negative mass mobilization.
In this context, attention should be drawn to the study by American legal scholar Jack Balkin who distinguishes between three dimensions of political transparency that according to him include political values of openness and democratic accountability. The first one is information transparency, i.e. awareness of government actors and their decisions, access to government information. Information transparency is facilitated by the public demand for explanation of the government actions. The second one is participation transparency, i.e. the ability to participate in political decisions either by transferring the authority to representatives or by direct participation. The third one is accountability transparency, i.e. the ability to force the government to be accountable either before the law or before the public opinion .
In theory mass media should promote political participation and political mobilization of citizens by increasing transparency of the political system. Mass media should help citizens understand the actions of the government, participate in political decisions and force politicians to be accountable before citizens. Mass media should play the role of public space, should become a forum for discussion, etc.
However, in practice the effect of the media activity is fully opposite. By means of mass media democratic governments and politicians simulate transparency through political rhetoric and manipulation. This transparency has nothing to do with the core political values of democracy. It serves as a distraction, which draws the public\’s attention away from really important issues. This transparency is an important part of negative mobilization.
The media destroy the values of political transparency, while claiming that they protect them. Often transparency is interpreted as the opposite of secrecy. However governments and politicians can manipulate the information flow and its forms in order to achieve the same purpose as the policy of secrecy. There are two basic strategies: distracting the public\’s attention and creating a new political reality that gradually displaces and substitutes the other political reality and political issues.
The very metaphor of political transparency implies existence of a certain mediator by means of which the processes are observed. Therefore, this mediator should be transparent, separate from both sides and should not distort the nature of the processes under observation. All this proves to be malfunctioning if the mediator is television and the processes are related to state governance. Television creates its own political reality, its own public space. This reality produces and displays itself so that television coverage of political processes becomes a part of those political processes, and thus political media discourse gradually replaces the politics that it actually has to describe.
In a sense, the stories about backstage political maneuvers, political technologists and PR experts have their share of transparency since they claim to provide the audience with an insider perspective on strategic considerations of politicians and officials. But in another sense, they distract attention from the essence of the political processes. Given the fact that television has some time limits on broadcasting and attention of the audience, insider stories about the strategies of political struggle and the progress of political races replace the stories about the nature of current political processes.
Television has the most significant impact on politics in comparison with all the other means of mass media. The elections are likely to be won not by the party that offers the best program (as nobody reads it anyway) but by the one whose leader looks best on a television screen. Pre-election campaigns have turned into media shows. Voters make their choices being influenced by television images rather than based on rational ideas. This leads to major changes in the nature of political institutions. The importance of the party leader increases dramatically. It becomes impossible to win the elections without charismatic leadership of this kind. Yes, Barack Obama owes much of his victory to his own charisma and charm.
Moreover television gradually helps to create a new reality that is full of experts in political manipulation, public opinion polls, media experts and consultants. Gradually political life comes in line with the image of politics created by television. Television depicts a world run by experts in political PR and political manipulations, a world that is devoid of specific debate or reasoned analysis. Since television is in the center of mass politics, it gradually helps to reproduce the very elements that it displays. 
Thus, television converts politics into a form of entertainment that can be consumed by the audience.
A media event is a widespread method of manipulating with political transparency. Politicians arrange events that are specifically designed for the media. Typically, those news stories show politicians managing or discussing urgent political matters. Another kind of stories is devoted to politicians together with their families in the course of their ordinary daily activities with no guard. For instance, during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, President Bill Clinton was shown dancing with his wife Hillary during their vacation on the Virgin Islands. It looked like a casual inside story from the private life of the presidential couple, but specialists claimed that this private moment was planned for media coverage [2, p.19].
Scenes of a politician immersed in his work are presented in a somewhat solemn, frankly planned manner, and scenes of a politician’s private life are produced to create an illusion of spontaneous effect. When President Clinton lost the ability to implement wide-ranging reforms since Congress ignored him, he gradually adopted the tactics of small initiatives, such as encouraging introduction of school uniforms. Those initiatives were intensively covered by the media creating the impression of active presidency.
Thus, media events constitute a peculiar form of political exhibitionism which simulates effective management and personal honesty. A media event is aimed at attracting audiences, presenting them a meaningless political image and substituting political analysis.
The problem is also in limited time of most audiences. Oversupply of information leads to filtering of what the media cover and what the audience consumes. Mass media have to choose what exactly to cover among hundreds of possible stories. Individuals have to choose what exactly to watch among thousands of hours of political broadcasting.
The need in filtering enhances the power of media events. Flooding the media with ready press-releases and theatrical performances politicians provide the media with ready material that is easy to edit. Attention of the media is distracted from everything that could be useful in achieving the political goals of participation, information and accountability. Creating a ready-to-use political entertainment politicians effectively restrain the audience from being able to watch something else. In addition, it is easier for mass media to cover prepared events than to search independently for information that also has to entertain the audience. Journalists prefer familiar sources of information.
Thus, media events distract political attention and substitute political reality at the same time.
Of course, a shift of the boundaries between the personal and the public, as well as a change of discourse, were caused not just by the actions of the media alone. In fact, many politicians do a lot in order to change the framework of public discussions. In a world formed by television it is essential to disseminate information together with ethical principles, ideals and moral principles. Public figures aided by television act in front of their audience presenting themselves as those who are trustworthy and close to this audience. A similar scheme works with celebrities – due to the fact that their lives are under constant focus of the media the audience perceives them as members of its inner circle. Television provides public people with personal dimensions, humanizes their images in the eyes of the audience.
Demonstrating their identity in front of a television audience, revealing details of their private life public figures simulate another form of transparency – transparency of ethical ideals. Politicians produce the image of themselves seeming close to ordinary people, open, sensitive, sincere, somewhat weak.
In order to simulate transparency of morality, politicians and public people often destroy the distance between a public person and his personality. With the help of television the connection with audience and voters is created by emphasizing the politician’s emotional proximity and friendliness to voters. The audience learns about politician’s childhood, his family, their difficulties, etc.
The so-called culture of scandal acquires particular importance. News media tend to grasp for scandals – in fact the news flow nowadays is an endless sequence of sensational stories – starting with the murder of fashion designer Gianni Versace and Princess Diana\’s death and finishing with the sex scandal that almost caused Bill Clinton’s impeachment in December of 1998. Talking about Ukraine we can mention journalist’s incursion to the presidential residence in Mezhyhiria and accidental killing of a person by a son of a Member of the Parliament. When a scandal involves government officials the culture of scandal implies constant discussions of criminal or improper actions of such officials.
Thus, mass media claim that they promote information transparency and accountability transparency.
We should note that in fact the culture of scandal is not a culture of increasing political transparency. This is a self-produced, self-multiplied cultural phenomenon. As aptly put by J. Balkin, it is a cultural virus that is being spread like an epidemic in the public sphere. J. Balkin compares scandal to a particularly tenacious weed that gradually replaces all other plants on the lawn. Similarly the culture of scandal gradually replaces all other discourses and threatens to embrace most of the public attention, public discussion and public opinion. It provokes discussion on the details of the scandal, but does not necessarily make the government\’s actions clearer or the officials more accountable for their actions.
It is indisputable that the time the audience spends on following a scandal replaces the time it could be spending on following other events. Instead of creating transparency television creates a new reality with its own priorities where scandal is politically important since it is being discussed and emphasized. This is a shift of political values. The culture of scandal doesn’t simply mask political life, it replaces it.
Thus, political transparency (information transparency, participation transparency and accountability transparency) is implemented through mass media. With this purpose the media produce their own political frame creating a discourse that gradually replaces the policy that it actually has to describe. Coverage of the simulation of events distracts public attention, promoting the process of negative mobilization. Thus, the media create alternative political reality based on a system of stereotypes. Politics is replaced by an alternative reality being left out from the public attention. Existence of this reality implies high activeness of citizens which is expressed through monitoring the political discussions, emotional involvement in the events that are covered by the media etc. But since this activity is limited by the framework of political discourse created by the media, it doesn’t reach the level of a serious political action. In fact, mass media being a communication channel act as an instrument of negative mobilization, lowering the level of political participation of the society.
1. Goffman E. Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience. – Moscow: Institute of Sociology of RAS, 2003. – 752 p.
2. Balkin J.M. Cultural Software: A Theory of Ideology. – Yale University Press, 2002. – 335 p.
3. Postman N. Entertaining Ourselves to Death. – New York: Viking, 1985. – 300 p.
Tetiana Kremin, PhD (Political Sciences), Doctoral Student of the Philosophy Department of Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv