Journalism, Democracy and the Role of Doubts: An Analysis of Political Campaign Communication in Austria

Roland Burkart, Uta Russmann


The present study examines 539 press releases of political parties and 369 articles in daily newspapers during the course of the 2008 Austrian National Elections. The theoretical frame of reference is the "Theory of Communicative Action" by Jürgen Habermas resp. his perspective of understanding. Habermas points out four validity claims (intelligibility, truth, truthfulness and legitimacy) each communication partner needs to accept in order to achieve understanding. If one partner has doubts about the fulfillment of these claims, a discourse as a kind of"repair-mechanism" is needed in order to rebuild understanding. Drawing from this perspective, we conceive journalists as public "discourse advocates." The aim of the analysis is to examine the "culture of doubts" in political campaign communication and mass media coverage of the Austrian National Elections. The results show that the overall number of doubts cast in the analyzed news articles is higher than in the parties' press releases. A closer look at the different validity claims reveals that doubts about legitimacy and truthfulness are dominant - and in sum, the quality press poses more questions for discussion. 


Journalism; doubts; Habermas; Theory of Communicative Action; discourse.

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Studies in Communication Sciences | ISSN: 1424-4896