Eike Mark Rinke, Hartmut Wessler, Charlotte Löb, Carina Weinmann
Deliberative qualities of generic news frames: Assessing the democratic value of strategic game and contestation framing in election campaign coverage

Political Communication, 2013: 30, Heft 3, S. 474-494
ISSN: 1091-7675

News frames are patterns of news construction journalists rely on to present information to their audiences. While much of the research on news frames has focused on their identification and effects, less work has investigated the specific contributions these different frames make to democratic life. Value judgments about distinct news frames are often not generated in a systematic fashion, not grounded in democratic theory, and/or not supported by empirical evidence. In this article, we address these problems by arguing for and extending normative assessment as a standard operating procedure to determine the democratic value of political communication phenomena. We demonstrate the usefulness of normative assessment by showing how two important generic news frames (politics as a strategic game and as a substantive contestation) contribute to a deliberative public discourse prior to a general election. Using data on television news coverage of the German federal election campaign in 2009, we investigate how these frames are related to the inclusiveness and civility of public discourse and the extent to which it features exchanges of substantive reasons for political positions. Results show that mediated democratic deliberation suffers consistently from strategic game framing, while contestation frames make ambivalent contributions. Implications for political communication scholarship as well as journalistic practice are discussed.