Local Political Communication in the Czech Republic: The Role of the Media in Local Information Space
Recent expansion of digital media has considerably changed the media environment which is now more complex and dynamic than ever. Research in political communication attends to the transformation of relationships between different participants in political process, emphasizing the potential of citizen’s engagement into information flows. On local level of political communication this may have even more interesting consequences; the relationships of the participants are closer and the character of local politics is slightly different from the national one. The focus of my dissertation thesis is thus to describe how the various participants of local political communication perceive current role of the media in their locality and how they use them to achieve their goals. First, using the framework of Niklas Luhmann’s systemic theory, the local political communication will be described as a kind of system; this will also request an elaborative discussion about the definition of local media. Then, the situation of Czech local media and local politics will be interpreted with special attention to two phenomena: (1) the network-based organization of Czech local media and (2) the powerful position of municipally-owned official media. The main part of the research will be based on approximately 50 in-depth interviews with different participants in local political communication (including politicians, municipal press agents, journalists, representatives of civic organisations and founders of alternative local media) conducted in at least three localities (it will focus on urban the information space of big Czech cities and their closest surroundings). The key question there is how the aforementioned participants describe their mutual relations and how they think new media technologies changed them. Related to this, the concept of professionalization of local political communication will be discussed since the first data show this would be quite frequently mentioned issue. The perception of the potential of digital media for local democracy and the engagement of citizens will be analysed as well. The project will integrate a range of approaches from the public sphere theory via the participation theory and sociology of journalism to the theory of alternative media. It will enrich these approaches with the local point of view and evaluate the described phenomena in a broader context of the system they belong to. The results will provide a general understanding of the topic which is still quite unexplored, and thus they will open a space for a further research of some specific aspects of local political communication.