The role of Media in Increasing Civic Participation in Public Life

The project “The Role of Media in Increasing Civic Participation in Public Life” is financed by the Balkan Trust for Democracy and is implemented in partnership with the Centre for Liberal Strategies. Its duration is from April 2013 to January 2014. The goal of the project is to strengthen the role of media for influencing stronger citizen’s participation. The objectives are to track the process of civic activation in the election campaigns and what motivates people to vote; to outline the role of media for encouraging civic participation during the election process, to promote the importance of independence and objectivity of media coverage during elections, and to propose measures for improving the media coverage during elections for promoting active citizenship and informed voting.

More than twenty years after the fall of communism, the credibility of media as a “fourth power” in the country has been undermined. Despite the big amount of print and electronic media in Bulgaria, there is apparent lack of true diversity of media content. This leads to a growing tabloidization and substitution of serious political and analytical problems with amusing formats, thus restricting the opportunities for a useful, informed and rich in points of view public forum concerning issues of public interest and importance. In the same time, there is a tendency for politics to be everpresent in the programs of the major national TV channels, including in the morning ones, thus leaving the impression of “permanent political campaign” among population. As a result of this over-presentation, there is a big “noise” of communication and citizens feel tired and even bored with politics, parties and related topics. This affects their interest in and willingness to participate in political processes.

The role of media becomes even more important during election campaigns, when their task is to inform the public, so that it can make an informed choice. Most people share, and analyses confirm, that media are important for raising the knowledge about parties and their programs. However, during elections media, and especially the public ones, are not allowed to discuss party programs, candidates, their positions, etc. outside the strictly-defined formats of “election campaign chronicles, TV clips and disputes” and the allotted to them air time. In this way, the public is deprived from an objective, impartial, politically plural and independent information on the political programs and the candidates. As a result, voters are left confused with which party what policies proposes or supports and what the difference between the party programs is, and most often make uninformed choice during elections. In the long-term, voters tend to withdraw from politics and disinterest in elections and parties, which makes electoral manipulation easier.

With the present project we aim at strengthening the role of media for influencing stronger citizen’s participation and informed voting. We will analyse to what extend media encourage and support the informed choice, and will study how the opinion towards certain topics of public interest changes during the elections and what the role of media in it is. We will also outline the role of media for creating opportunities for informed debate and informed decision-making and will propose measures for improving its role for promoting active citizenship and informed voting. To achieve these, we will step on the Glasovoditel and Glasosleditel online tools, which aim at improving the quality of the political process, widening the informed public participation in politics in Bulgaria and activating citizens to participate in the elections and deepen their knowledge on parties, their agreements and disagreements.

We will share the analyses with NGOs, media and other key stakeholders, so as to further strengthen the role of media as “media for citizen”, to support the change in the current situation of decreasing citizen’s participation in the political processes, and to facilitate future development of the Glasovoditel and Glasosleditel online tools.