It is a fairly common criticism of deliberative democratic ideals that one cannot involve thousands, let alone millions, of people in a decision-making process and still retain its deliberative character, at least not in any sense as strict as those of the classic expositions of deliberative democratic principles. Various solutions to this scale problem have been proposed, but implicit in most deliberative designs is the media solution. People can watch the debate unfold on television, can listen to it on the radio, can follow it, or even contribute to a limited extent, online. This is supposed to ensure not only that deliberation is subject to the check of publicity, but also that it is dispersed throughout the public sphere.
This is precisely the idea behind James Fishkin's deliberative poll technique, designed to be televised so that deliberation among a few would be brought to ‘an audience of millions’, ‘bridging the gap’ between informed and uninformed opinion, and acting as a ‘catalyst’ to change the nature of discussion on a topic in a broader community. But what happens when we rely on the media to bear the weight of responsibility for generating links between insiders and outsiders in public deliberation? The media are not broad pipes which simply convey whatever is put into them but, like all institutions, shape that input in sometimes significant ways. If we are to understand the value of the media in addressing problems of deliberative scale, we need to understand those institutional effects.
In this Research Note I examine the effects the media had on the kinds of information transferred from deliberators to audience in a deliberative poll that took place in the United Kingdom in July 1998.