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Prof. Dr. Olaf Jandura Social Cement for the Community This year's congress of the Austrian Sociological Association in Vienna chose - influenced by the various successive and juxtaposed crises of recent years as the conference theme - the phrase "critical times". Parallel to these crises, various social diagnoses, such as the divided society (Kaube and Kieerling 2022), the crisis of liberal democracy (Zielonka 2019), political polarisation (Roose 2021) or the new class society (Reckwitz 2018) characterise processes of social change that describe and problematise a division of society into different political camps. Such multiple divisions can be a threat scenario for democracy if no compromise can be reached in the conflict over different and partly opposing claims and interests of different social groups (Habermas 1996).

The foundations for such a compromise are (1) the knowledge of divergent claims, (2) the acceptance of these and (3) the will to reach agreement by the citizens. The perception of the different claims in society only becomes possible for everyone through public communication in different arenas of the political public sphere. However, this is linked to precondition-rich conditions. At the level of the accidentally emerging encounter publics, the exchange with citizens with other positions and views is to be sought. However, if one remains in one's own milieu, which is usually homogeneous in terms of attitudes, one will also find one's own views shaped by similar life situations and professional situations (Geiling and Vester 2007) in the conversations about politics.

Empirical research shows that interpersonal communication, "hearing the other side" (Mutz 2006), tends to be overestimated as a way of obtaining information about competing political positions (e.g. Ksters, Jandura 2018). At the level of public gatherings, it is also a good idea to attend events organised by parties, associations or societies where positions that contradict one's own opinion are discussed. This is another way to facilitate co-orientation in society. However, here, too, empirical evidence shows that, at least before elections, only a small proportion of the electorate attends campaign events, and if this is the case, then mostly only those of their own political camp (Schulz 2022). Rather and better compared to the encounter and assembly public, plural information on relevant societal issues and positions is most likely to succeed via the mass media (Castro et al. 2018: 552), if the relevant societal discourses are depicted in them (Jarren and Donges 2011).

Among the services of political journalism for society is to convey knowledge about socially relevant issues, to prepare and make identifiable different arguments and positions on these issues (Wei et al. 2020) and thus to provide factual, social and temporal co-orientation in society (Wei and Jandura 2017). Thus, media provide an arena for the pluralistic exchange of different positions (forum function), legitimise political power on the basis of transparency and rationality in decision-making (legitimation function) and ensure that citizens can perceive themselves as members of society (integration function) (Wei et al. 2016).

For a long time, these services were provided in a stable and clearly assignable manner by the traditional mass media such as the daily and weekly press and radio, which - also due to the lack of alternative offerings - achieved a very high reach and thus broad impact and binding power (Jarren 2019: 67). The digitisation-induced strong differentiation of offerings, which is described with the change from a "low choice" to a "high choice media environment" (van Aelst et al. 2017) and the increasing importance of social media offerings for information use (Newman et al. 2022: 11) offers citizens a new, multi-layered and multi-faceted freedom of choice.

If one follows the debate on the future of public broadcasting, the position is sometimes taken that this high degree of freedom of choice alone will ensure that citizens are sufficiently informed to participate in politics (Imhof 2013) (Barwise and York 2020). However, this argumentation fails to recognise that, from a democratic theoretical perspective, political reporting is subject to performance requirements (Althaus 2012), which cannot or should not necessarily be provided by commercial offerings and/or offerings with a decidedly distinct editorial line due to their specific selection routines (e.g. Curran 2002, Wei et al. 2016). These offerings are not society-wide, but often promote integration in specific social milieus and are thus often suitable as forums for internal communication (Jarren 2000) within them. In such forums, topics and positions are negotiated from an ideologically homogeneous perspective, proposals of political opponents are sometimes delegitimised with iliberal forms of brutalising political language and/or discourse alliances are formed with political actors who are congruent in their opinions (inter alia Ksters et al. 2021).

However, such a debate culture stands in the way of compromise-building in society as a whole and can lead to social polarisation (Rosconi 2022). Especially against the background of such differentiating information environments and the continuing processes of societal pluralisation, public service media, which do not assume the role of aggregating and mediating claims, but rather the role of mediator in societal conflicts (Ksters 2020), are more important than ever. The aim of this mediating role is to overcome social divisions and to ensure social and political integration. For this purpose, quality standards based on publicity theory must be applied to reporting. The various proposals developed in communication studies (e.g. Strmbck 2005, Jandura and Friedrich 2014) can be condensed into four dimensions that can be applied independently of the guiding concepts of democratic theory: Relevance, plurality, classification and journalistic professionalism (Stark et al. 2021).

In the relevance dimension, the content is examined to see what significance the topic has for society as a whole or relevant subgroups of society. The higher the relevance of the reporting, the more likely it is to succeed in drawing the audience's attention to the important controversial issues. The plurality of reporting can be determined by means of various criteria. For example, the diversity of topics is used to analyse how broad the spectrum of topics covered is. A focus on one topic or a few topics bears the risk that relevant issues are disregarded. The recording of the plurality of actors allows conclusions to be drawn about who holds spokesperson positions in the reporting and how these are distributed. Questions about the visibility of government and opposition parties, civil society actors or individual citizens can thus be answered. By recording the diversity of positions, it can be measured whether the actors who have their say are also given the opportunity to present their own positions or whether they are only allowed to take a destructive stance on other actors' proposals for solving problems.
Ideally, all these plurality indicators are closely interlinked; a broad diversity of topics also leads to different actors having their say in media coverage and this increases the likelihood that citizens will be informed about the different positions in society. The dimension of classification performance addresses the question of the extent to which reporting contextualises events and thus goes beyond mere event reporting (Stark et al. 2021). Inseparably linked to the quality dimensions presented so far is the fourth dimension, the recording of professional standards of journalism. This refers to the preparation and presentation of content that enables a social negotiation process. This includes the substantiation of positions, the reference to them as well as the handling characterised by a high degree of civility (Wessler 2018, Jandura and Friedrich 2014). If political reporting fulfils the aforementioned criteria of relevance, plurality, classification performance and journalistic professionalism oriented towards the criteria of the deliberation process, this contributes to social integration. The reliable empirical bases on the quality criteria mentioned so far are still rather scarce (Udris et al. 2023, Seethaler 2015). In this respect, public service broadcasting should also regularly assure itself whether this required content quality is made available to the audience.