Citizens in the European Public Sphere: An Empirical Analysis of European Union News
The European public sphere is a communicative space where EU politic, polity and policy issues are discussed. Generally, the mass media can be seen as the most important forum of the public sphere in today’s society. The starting point of the “Citizens in the European Public Sphere” project was that extant research, so far, has neglected one key actor in European political communication: EU citizens. This project has made the case that the visibility of EU citizens in the European public sphere is important, as it can help facilitate an exchange between decision-makers at the EU level and the ordinary citizens of the EU member states. The empirical part relied on secondary analysis and was based on a large-scale content analysis of TV and newspaper articles gathered during the 2009 European Parliament election.
The results showed that EU citizens are not a marginal actor group, but they are visible in 30 per cent of the EU-related news coverage. Yet, the image of the EU citizenship that becomes visible via the news media is mainly one that remains nationally entrenched. Subsequent comparative analysis of these results in the light of different normative public sphere theories showed that one can distinguish between a discursive-horizontal and an elitist-vertical level of the European public sphere. The explanatory part of this study revealed that the visibility of EU citizens is influenced by characteristics at the news story, the media outlet, but also the member state level.