This study investigates further the relationship between exposure to specific news media outlets and changes in political knowledge in France. Previous studies have been conducted in the United-States and demonstrated that citizens gain their political knowledge more through reading newspapers than watching television. However, unlike the United-States, France owns a strong public broadcasting system. This paper aims to investigate whether the findings would be the same in France. It provides new insights on political knowledge regarding the use of French news media. Drawing on the European Parliament Election 2009 voters Study, it examines the ability of the news media to supply political information to the public and analyzes its relation with political knowledge. The difference between public and commercial channels in providing political knowledge is considered. Although the literature is divided, the findings indicate that both the use of broadsheet newspapers and television news are positively related to political knowledge. The public broadcasting service leads to higher level of political knowledge in comparison with the commercial one.
Key words: Television use; newspaper use; public broadcasting service; political knowledge.
According to Jerit, Barabas and Bolsen (2006), “in a democracy, knowledge is power”. Indeed, political knowledge is a prerequisite to ensure a quality citizenship in a healthy democracy (De Vreese, Claes & Boomgaarden, 2006). Likewise, Berelson (1952) defines the ideal democratic citizen as “well informed about political affairs”. In order to be an active citizen, it is necessary to be knowledgeable and informed about politics (Le Hay et al., 2011). Indeed, information leads to knowledge and participates in the empowerment of citizens (Baker, 2002).
However, for some pessimistic scholars, people tend to have a low political knowledge about politics (Kinder, 1998), and even “know nothing” about politics (Bennett, 1988; Putnam, 2000). But, a non-informed mass can be easily manipulated, threatening the democracy (Kinder, 1998). Therefore, a lack of political information and knowledge can be perceived as worrying since a minimum amount of political knowledge is required for a quality citizenship (Berelson, 1952).
One of the most prominent sources of information for citizens is the media. Indeed, media ease citizens in the exercise of their citizenship by providing them information (Couldry & Langer, 2006). The availability of information given by the media contributes to the enhancement of the political knowledge of citizens (Delli Carpini & Keeter, 1996; Luskin, 1990; Althaus, 2003; Jerit et al., 2006). Media need to help citizens to become informed voters, by providing reliable knowledge in order for them to make the most informed political choices (Aalberg et al., 2010, Holbert, 2005).
Research on public opinion and political behavior of citizens is a key element to understand the patterns...