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Community Media: Theory & Practice, Vol. 5 - 1998, No. 2

Democratic “Talk,” Access Television and Participatory Political Communication

, pages: 21-34

This study draws on the participatory political philosophy of Benjamin Barber to assess the contribution of public access cable television to political communication in the United States. In contrast to neo-liberal political theory which views government-mandated media access as infringing on the speech rights of media owners, Barber’s participatory democratic theory positions direct and widespread access to the media as a vital aspect of democratic processes. Barber puts forward a set of concepts which describe the various functions of democratic “talk” and which provide a theoretical framework for understanding some of the ways in which access television functions as a political communication resource. Using interviews and original source materials, the study examines the political uses of access television by radical media projects, a type of media seldom granted access to commercial or public television. In their attempts to organise and empower communities that have been under represented or excluded from mainstream political discussions and debates, these projects perform many of the functions Barber attributes to democratic “talk.” Conclusions drawn from the study suggest that access television hosts a range of democratic speech which is largely absent from professional media industries and which merits the support and protection of democratic states.

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