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Democratic participation and public access broadcasting: Caller Perspectives on Election Call
Unformatted Document Text:  1 Paper submitted to the Feminist Scholarship Division, ICA, for 2003 conference Democratic participation and public access broadcasting: Caller Perspectives on Election Call Abstract There has been much recent discussion about the changing nature of ’the public sphere’ with the relatively new genre of RealityTV being viewed as a space in which the public can at least perform, if not always engage in meaningful debate. This paper considers the perspectives of callers to a political talk show – Election Call – in terms of why they call in, what they think about their interactions with politicians and how they regard the programme's potential to constitute a public sphere. It also looks at the gendered aspects of caller experiences and beliefs in order to tease out if gender has any influence on the public's practice of politics in this particular context. The programme – Election Call – is a BBC production which has been broadcasting since 1974, going out simultaneously on radio and TV (and the web for 2001), in the days immediately preceding the British general election. I argue that whilst callers mostly felt very positive about the experience of appearing on the show and having the opportunity to put their point of view, and believed that Election Call fulfils an important democratic function, they were much more negative in their assessment of their interactions with politicians, believing that it continues to be difficult to get a straight answer out of those elected to serve and represent us. Acknowledgement I would like to thank my colleague, Stephen Coleman from the Hansard Society and the LSE, for inviting me to join him on undertaking this study and for his professional and personal support throughout. Introduction It has become fashionable, in recent times, to lament the 'death of democracy', for media pundits to frame publics around the world as increasingly cynical about their elected (and non- elected) members who demonstrate their disgust by non-attendance at the ballot box. Part of citizens' disillusion lies, some would argue, in their lack of real knowledge about how the political system actually works. But, as Thomas Jefferson argued, if the public 'are not enlightened enough to exercise their control [over society] with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion.' (Jefferson, 1820, cited in Buchanan, 1991, p.19) So, rather than blame the citizenry for its lack of interest and/or knowledge, the responsible government will seek to empower its citizens through the provision of knowledge, a exhortation which Tony Blair seems to have taken to heart in his promotion of a 'knowledge economy' which

Authors: Ross, Karen.
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Paper submitted to the Feminist Scholarship Division, ICA, for 2003 conference

Democratic participation and public access broadcasting: Caller Perspectives on Election
Call
Abstract
There has been much recent discussion about the changing nature of ’the public sphere’ with the
relatively new genre of RealityTV being viewed as a space in which the public can at least
perform, if not always engage in meaningful debate. This paper considers the perspectives of
callers to a political talk show – Election Call – in terms of why they call in, what they think about
their interactions with politicians and how they regard the programme's potential to constitute a
public sphere. It also looks at the gendered aspects of caller experiences and beliefs in order to
tease out if gender has any influence on the public's practice of politics in this particular context.
The programme – Election Call – is a BBC production which has been broadcasting since 1974,
going out simultaneously on radio and TV (and the web for 2001), in the days immediately
preceding the British general election. I argue that whilst callers mostly felt very positive about the
experience of appearing on the show and having the opportunity to put their point of view, and
believed that Election Call fulfils an important democratic function, they were much more negative
in their assessment of their interactions with politicians, believing that it continues to be difficult to
get a straight answer out of those elected to serve and represent us.

Acknowledgement
I would like to thank my colleague, Stephen Coleman from the Hansard Society and the LSE, for
inviting me to join him on undertaking this study and for his professional and personal support
throughout.
Introduction
It has become fashionable, in recent times, to lament the 'death of democracy', for media
pundits to frame publics around the world as increasingly cynical about their elected (and non-
elected) members who demonstrate their disgust by non-attendance at the ballot box. Part of
citizens' disillusion lies, some would argue, in their lack of real knowledge about how the political
system actually works. But, as Thomas Jefferson argued, if the public 'are not enlightened
enough to exercise their control [over society] with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to
take it from them but to inform their discretion.' (Jefferson, 1820, cited in Buchanan, 1991, p.19)
So, rather than blame the citizenry for its lack of interest and/or knowledge, the responsible
government will seek to empower its citizens through the provision of knowledge, a exhortation
which Tony Blair seems to have taken to heart in his promotion of a 'knowledge economy' which


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