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New Public Spheres, and the Law

Finally, Karl-Heinz Ladeur responds to Wolfgang’s talk at the Berlin Symposium by also highlighting the fragmentation of the public sphere: first, on the one hand, there was a vision of a homogeneous political public organised in concentric circles, whose deliberative processes are facilitated by a supposedly neutral media; on the other hand, there was a view of a cultural public which integrates the imagined nation state with the society of individuals.

But through the gradual transformation of the media, a more active media role came to greater prominence; media were no longer seen as neutral, but as actors in their own right, and the notion of an entertainment public arose. Audiovisual media played an immediate role in the reproduction of everyday life in its fragmentation, and in the presentation of possible social norms – reality TV is the culmination of this process.

The next step from here is the network society: characterised by a multifaceted tendency to undermine borders between public and private, individual and collective. The Facebook style of public demonstrates the diminishing importance of education, and the growing importance of peer groups, in establishing and promoting cultural norms; another form of public is constituted by hybrid public/private fora, where different degrees of publicness intersect with one another; the eBay style of public communication enables the emergence of a new type of common knowledge through technologically supported, aggregated, and institutionalised means, represented by new rule systems; the blog type of public communication combines a superficial version of commentary with a deep impact on professionals at large; further, the Internet is also used to organise public demonstrations (both in western democracies and in autocratic systems).

There is a strong shift towards the discussion of these public/private issues, but other areas must also be considered: the role of search engines in structuring public communication, for example; the impact of semantic processes being used to process data and information; the changing shape of traditional media, partly in response to these other changes (and not least also to the financing problems they raise). Lawyers and social scientists both need to observe these changes closely, and approaches to addressing these issues through legal frameworks need to be considered carefully.