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Communicating Politics: Political Communication in the Nordic Countries (review)

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 83, Number 3, Fall 2011
pp. 439-440 | 10.1353/scd.2011.0023

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by
Communicating Politics: Political Communication in the Nordic Countries. Eds. Jesper Stromback, Mark Orsten, and Toril Aalberg. Sweden: Nordicom, 2008. Pp. 276.

Too few comparative studies focus on the role of the media in Nordic societies. In an edited volume featuring country experts, each of the political communication systems in the Nordic states are examined. The authors explore similarities and differences among the Nordics, as well as contrast these Nordic systems to developments in other advanced industrial societies. While the Nordics conform to theories of "democratic corporatism," they have developed in ways that also mirror what is happening in other societies—from commercialization of the media to a growing professionalism of political communication.

In Nordic societies, four general trends are discernible, according to the authors. First, a highly developed market for newspapers is visible in each society, with varying levels of circulation. Norway ranks second in the world behind Japan in the number of readers of daily newspapers, and Iceland has in general fewer numbers of papers. However, the trends throughout the Nordic area reflect a growing dependence on advertising for political media to survive.

A second feature of Nordic media and political communication systems is a close tie between political parties and the press, referred to by the authors as "political parallelism." This development has become less prominent as more and more news organizations have sought an independent status since the 1970s and 1980s.

Another feature of the Nordics is journalistic professionalism. Declining reliance on party affiliated news sources is correlated with a rise in journalistic professionalism. The press can and does counter the views of political parties in recent decades across the Nordic area. [End Page 439]

A final consistent aspect of Nordic media systems is the role of the state. While levels of involvement have varied, public radio and television have depended upon state subsidies. In recent decades there has been a decrease in state support and a rise in commercialism.

One of the most interesting findings of this study is the ways in which media and politics have evolved throughout modern history, which is traced into four distinct periods: Channels, 1920-1960 (a loyal party press and rise of radio); Arena, 1961-1970 (a loyal party press under pressure and the rise of television); Actor, 1970-1990 (weakening of the party press and the beginning of the television era); Director, 1990 (a domination of television with decreased state subsidies to media) (270).

In each of the country studies provided in the opening section of the book, national variations across systems are analyzed and described in detail. For students in journalism and politics the discussions range from what is appropriate for small societies to the critical nature of information sharing in democratic polities. Even Iceland, with its media based in Reykjavik and lower levels of circulation, is critically evaluated in detail. And both Finland and Iceland were more dependent on private initiatives than the rest of Scandinavia historically—as has been typical of their welfare state developments.

Case studies in the second section of the book look closely at new media developments—including European Parliamentary elections in Sweden, political advertising in Denmark, technological innovations and web campaigning in Finland, tactics and spin in Swedish parliamentary elections, opinions and interpretations in Swedish journalism, the role of Danish documentaries, and how the news is framed in Norway. Each chapter isolates new dimensions of media and politics previously not available in English studies of communications systems.

For scholars in Scandinavian studies, and students in media and communication studies, this is important reading. The "democratic corporatist" systems are undergoing profound changes due to Europeanization and globalization in ways under-explored in previous studies, with careful attention to Nordic distinctiveness.

Christine Ingebritsen
University of Washington