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abstract

Should media communication be left to the market, or rather (partly) removed from the market? This question is discussed by reconstructing an often-found ‘standard argument’ in the literature on the subject. This standard argument states that some form of market-independent media provision is required since markets will fail to deliver a specific kind of high-quality content conducive to the democratic process. This paper argues that the standard argument is defective in several respects. By doing so, it reevaluates the way we think about the contribution of the media towards democracy and the role that the market is to play in this respect. First, the paper argues that the standard argument's normative premise should not be couched in a welfarist theory but in terms of the capabilities that the media should strive to realise. Second, it sets the normative expectations of the media's contribution towards the public sphere and democracy at too high a level. Third, the standard argument's diagnosis of the market's failure incorrectly assumes that the market can never generate the demand for high-quality content. An alternative, more circumscribed claim about the market's failure is presented, resting on two more contingent types of demand failure.