Can the traditional media still fulfill their role as watchdog in a direct democracy when social media increasingly set the pace? A panel with four prominent speakers at this year’s Aarau Democracy Days came up with some interesting insights.
It was a frank but fair exchange of opinions between Susanne Wille, a renowned political journalist at Swiss public television SRF, the media entrepreneur and private media pioneer Roger Schawinksi, Peter Wanner, chairman of the AZ Medien publishing house, and Iwan Rickenbacher, communications expert and former political party manager.
The event in the Swiss town of Aarau at the Centre for Democracy Studies was opened by a German communications expert from Hamburg University. Katharina Kleinen-von Königslöw presented new research results about the rapidly changing media and the impact of digitalisation on media use.
Here’s a selection of statements, originally in German, by the five participants at Thursday’s event.
“Digitalisation has speeded up the media and brought more diversity and sovereignty. But an increasing number of ‘disconnected citizens’ use the larger offering and the new freedoms for non-political information.”
Katharina Kleinen-von Königslöw, Hamburg University
“My job has changed a lot through the presence of social media. Major debates on social media start right after my report has been aired. Television viewers give both criticism and praise. It is the duty of journalists to engage in these debates on social media.”
Susanne Wille, journalist SRF public TV
“For those who get their information exclusively online, Facebook and the 20 Minutes freesheet have taken over the role as medium of integration from Swiss public television SRF.”
Katharina Kleinen-von Königslöw
“The motives for working as a journalist have remained the same: to inform, research, ask critical questions and create transparency. And to entertain people.”
Iwan Rickenbacher, communications expert and former party manager
“It’s dreadful to read readers’ feedback. The media have a responsibility to set limits. Serious media have started doing this but more needs to be done.”
Roger Schawinksi, media entrepreneur and private media pioneer
“The biggest responsibility lies with Facebook, which even allows crime. It has to intervene more strongly: not through censure but through curation.”
Peter Wanner, chairman of the AZ Medien publishing house
“Democracy means giving space to different opinions. Social media allows me to hear these opinions more clearly and gets us journalists more in touch with voters.”
“It is a journalistic craft to generate clicks. Well-researched stories are also published on online media, but they have to be sold well. It takes great skill to write good titles and do good storytelling. But many are not yet up to the job.”
“Nobody can afford to ignore the interest of the greater public because nobody has sovereignty of interpretation or the absolute power in their own distribution area. This promotes quality.”
“It is a core task for the media to create transparency. Particularly in a direct democracy, because it is a demanding system.”
Katharina Kleinen-von Königslöw
This report is published in the context of the 9th edition of Democracy Days organised by the Centre for Democracy Studies in Aarauexternal link.
The two-day event on March 16/17 focuses on the role of the media in a direct democracy.
#DearDemocracy, the democracy platform of swissinfo.ch, is a media partner of the event.
Adapted from German by Urs Geiser, swissinfo.ch