Free to Air: An examination of the role played by a radio phone-in programme, Liveline, in the democratic process
Byrne, Frank (2011) Free to Air: An examination of the role played by a radio phone-in programme, Liveline, in the democratic process. PhD thesis, Dublin City University.
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The radio phone-in, Liveline, attracts a daily listenership of over 400,000. The topics aired in the programme regularly feature in the newspapers on subsequent days or they become the subject of parliamentary questions in the Dáil or of reactions by government ministers. The programme is seen to offer a place for 'ordinary' voices and opinions in a mass media setting which is usually the preserve of broadcasting professionals, politicians, journalists and expert commentators.
In this thesis I examine how Liveline functions in Irish democracy - as a source of information, as a popular platform and as an agent for debate. While it may be shown to be successful in some or all of these areas, it is
at the same time a media product where the immediate goals are to interest and entertain the audience and thereby to attract advertising revenue.
In order to address that tension between the civic and the commercial I firstly explore those fields of theory that shed light on the connections between communicative agency and democratic effectiveness. One such is the concept of a public sphere where citizens may assemble in public to discuss issues of common concern in a dispassionate and rational way with a view to arriving at a consensus and decisions for action.
In the light of criticisms that find this approach too idealistic, too restrictive or too exclusionary I consider a wider concept of deliberative democracy where the definition of the political is broader and the range of discursive means to address it is broader also. I pay particular attention to storytelling and emotional expression because of their prominence in the
speech in Liveline.
Becoming a better citizen is more than attracting rights and membership of a defined community; it is also about the identity we construct for ourselves within a civic culture and the practices we engage in to reinforce and revise that role. I examine how Liveline functions as a resource for this purpose by analysing the discourses of the programme over the course of a month. I also examine how the work of the programme team, especially the host, shapes the discursive context. I suggest that generally, media research tends to disregard the production process as irreparably ideologically loaded or ratings driven. In this thesis, based on analysis of programme discourses and leaning, to some extent, on evidence from my own experience as a radio producer, I contest this. I suggest that Liveline, with its complex three-way set of communicative relations - a cross collaboration between the host, the callers and the listening public - affords, a model, a location, and the resources which contribute to enabling contemporary citizenship.
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