Ettevõtjate osalemine majanduskriisi teemalises avalikus diskussioonis Postimehe näitel
Participation of Businessmen in Public Debate over Economic Recession By Priit Rum This master thesis studies the public debate in Estonian national daily newspaper Postimees and the participation of private sector representatives in the discussion regarding the economic crisis. The research explains how businessmen presented their viewpoints and how their interests fell into place in the broader process of public opinion forming. The thesis is a part of public opinion studies and disserts the functioning of deliberative democracy in Estonia at the time of economic downfall as seen in the media. The object of study was the collection of newspaper articles in the daily Postimees during the two year period of July 2007 until June 2009. The focus was set on articles containing opinion about the economic crisis or related issues. In total 1042 articles were examined. Out of these 36 articles conveying the opinion of business representatives were chosen as the object of more thorough qualitative research. The second chapter of the thesis introduces the theoretical and empirical basis of the study, explaining the notion of public sphere and its role as a forum for deliberative democracy. The connection between public discussion and public opinion is described and the role of media as agenda setter and facilitator of different interests is clarified. The chapter also gives an overview of interest groups and the effect of crisis upon functioning of the public sphere. Finally previous communication studies about the economic crisis conducted in Tartu University are briefly introduced as well as the development of the Estonian economy in recent years. In chapter three research questions are defined to help resolving the research problem. The chapter also explaines the implementation of the combined content analysis method. Chapter four consists of the results of analysis – the public debate and participation of private sector representatives are characterized. The objective of the thesis was to study the public debate at the time of economic downfall and resolve the research assignment: when and how do businessmen publicly represent their viewpoints and in which way do they influence the public discussion at the time of recession. As a result of the analysis the following conclusions can be made: - During the two years in question in the Postimees daily there were altogether 1042 articles containing opinion about the economic crisis. 377 of these were opinion articles and 110 long interviews. The comments from the editors and editorials counted for half of the studied articles. - In the public discussion process during the development period of economic crisis, there could be differentiated six phases of public debate. - The most active participant in public debate was the newsroom. Economic experts and politicians both took part actively and often. Representatives of the private sector were participating to a lesser extent, but definitely more than columnists, public officials or other groups. - The issues that were on the public debate agenda the longest were: the state of economy; the expenditures of the public sector; cuts of the state budget, the Labor Contract Act; changes in taxation. - Businessmen expressed their opinions more frequently in May and July of 2008, when the budget cuts were discussed. They also expressed their views many a time in September and October of the same year at the time of the international financial crisis and also in the beginning of 2009 – during the period of active debate over solutions to the crisis. - The most important points in the business representatives’ agenda were business environment, the Labor Contract Act, budget cuts and the image of entrepreneurs in society. - Private sector representatives framed the crisis in their texts most often as a product of the economic cycles, which brings hardship and challenges. - The most popular questions raised by the private sector were regarding the ‘euro’ as a objective, the governments‘ vision for the future and solutions to the crisis. - The private sector was the spokesperson of the following positions: o The social benefit system needs reform o A new Labor Contract Act is desperately needed o Laying off of workers is needed for restructuring of business o It would be a mistake to raise taxes o The public sector should cut back on wages o The government doesn’t listen to the advice of businessmen enough - The private sector acknowledged the crisis in economy in summer of 2008 – later then experts or the journalists. - The interest groups represented business interests consequentially and professionally. - Business representatives participated in the debate rather less actively and more reactively as others, but in their articles they were promoting discussion. - Opinions of the private sector were best supported by politicians from two coalition parties and the National Bank of Estonia. - The public discussion in Estonia functioned rather well and the media fulfilled the normative functions set to it by the society. It must be admitted that these results do not claim to be undeniable as the method used in this thesis depends substantially on the interpretations made by the researcher; nevertheless they are indicative of some general tendencies in the society and the public sphere. The present thesis gives a base for further research. There is lots of room to extend the study – in the future different participants in the public discussion process could be researched more thoroughly, different periods and more recent events regarding the recession could be studied. The economic recession is yet to end in Estonia, but it could be said that the state and the society has managed relatively well in dealing with this crisis.