The role of the public sphere in society

The public sphere is a mental environment where people engage in interpreting both the reality around them and the processes which occur there. Such interpretations, in turn, have an impact on the course of future events and processes. Thus, the public sphere serves to update people on world events and on the development of society, whilst the public is able to apply its own attitudes to the shaping of opinions which form the public sphere, as well as to the actual processes and decisions involved.

In a democracy, a working public sphere is at least as significant as a country’s gross domestic product; it is a measure of mental wealth and freedom. The public sphere relies on the premise that society, and processes and decisions within it, is not only shaped by practical and real events, but also by opinions, symbolic acts and interactions that occur within it.

A shared and efficient public sphere is a pivotal characteristic of European public culture. Mature democracies are distinguishable from pseudo-democracies by an effectively operating public sphere, by the open display of issues within that field, and by the creative application of analysed experiences. Decision-making is based not on the transient interests of arbitrary interest groups and on foreign businesses, but on the common interests of the society`s members.

It is vital for the Estonian public sphere to develop the capacity to deal with issues of real significance to all its people, and promote active discussion of these issues. To that end, it must employ experts to keep the decision-making processes under public control. Estonia also needs to develop fora and seek the advice of specialists who are genuinely able to represent popular interests. For a small country, the operation of its public sphere  is not only a pragmatic but also an existential need. The necessity to conceptualise and debate over the functioning of society is vital as there is little scope to squander scarce human resources on ‘experiments’.

It is in the interest of a democratic society to keep its public sphere open and operational. In contrast, totalitarian societies are characterised by the limited scope of their public spheres, and only persons, texts and interpretations satisfying the interests of the delimiting authority are being permitted to function in such public spheres. As a strategy of limiting interpretations, censorship operates in these societies.

The quality of its public sphere has become recognised as a comparative indicator of a society’s democratic well-being. A closed society cannot have a wide and efficient public sphere, just as a democratic society cannot function without one. In the modern world, different media channels and internet applications increasingly provide broad opportunities for the operation of the public sphere.

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