Published online by Cambridge University Press: 24 May 2010
The proliferation of powers of oversight leads to what might be called democratic competition. The electoral-representative system must contend with various forms of counter-democracy. The resulting rivalry is partly functional: parliamentary control versus control by independent authorities, for example. But it is also a rivalry between actors of different types: elected representatives versus militant organizations and the media. Conflicts arise over representativeness and legitimacy. The resulting tension between constitutional powers and the media is not new, moreover; it has historical precedents.
The pen and the podium
If “the people are public opinion,” as was said in 1789, then there can be conflict over how public opinion is represented. On the one hand, the people choose their representatives by voting. On the other hand, people have opinions, and public opinion finds its expression, however imperfectly, through various organs. Thus the deputy and the journalist are potential rivals. The French Revolution was an extraordinary laboratory in this regard, and by studying it we can gain a better grasp of the nature of the rivalry between the pen and the podium. In 1789, the French took to speaking and writing even as they were taking the Bastille. They believed that their new freedom of expression was just as important as the freedom to choose their own representatives. Under these conditions, newspapers established themselves as true political institutions with a duty to observe, censure, and denounce.