OPINION

Controlling the media

Conservative ministers are mulling ways to handle what has become the most powerful shaper of public opinion: the media. The government’s attempt to ban media owners from having access to state contracts, by introducing the so-called «main shareholder» law, was blocked by the European Union, but similar efforts continue. The power of the media is such that they often set the agenda which the government and opposition parties follow – not always willfully. In fact, media have always interfered in politics, since long before the television age. The press played a major role in the French Revolution and in the subsequent uprisings that swept the Continent. During the Cold War years the various media were careful not to attack the state and its institutions, such as the Church and the armed forces, that acted as a counterweight to the communist threat. However, after the collapse of the communist system, which was succeeded by growing deregulation of the economy and of traditional nation-state structures, the media swiftly adapted to the new landscape. The gradual crumbling of the traditional nation state was disguised by vainglorious politicians who could not bring themselves to admit that the game was increasingly out of their hands. The media ceased to be an extension of political parties and acquired a new role as advocates of civil society – hence their accusatory style. Moreover, unlike governments, the media are animated by a modernizing drive. Thus any governmental attempt to control the media is futile. In fact, it is doubtful that they can even functionally coexist. After all, the media are a vehicle for a dangerous message – pulling the system in the direction of the citizens, as old barriers are shattered.