Social inequalities appear in various dimensions. Inequality in the access to the means of individual and mass communication constitutes a field that has not yet been fully explored by sociological research. This paper gives a historical overview of communications inequality in Hungary starting from 1847, the year of the establishment of the first telegraph station, till the new communication technologies of the present. Drawing on the results of researchers from Wilson to Keane and van Dijk, the study extends the notion of digital divide into a broader 'communication divide', showing how inequalities in access to the different means of communication may distort the elementary preconditions of the 'public sphere' (Offentlichkeit). Through secondary analysis of recent empirical research data, the author suggests that in Hungary there is a hard core of communication 'have-not' (with only 3 terrestrial TV channels and no Internet connection) which constitutes approximately one third of the population. While other strata have acquired more and more technologies and even gadgets, this one third of 'have-not' has not diminished over the last few years. One of the aims of the study is to suggest a communication policy approach where market mechanisms keep their proper place in introducing and spreading innovations, but social policy measures help to narrow the ever-recurring divide between the 'have' and the 'have-not'.
Financed by the National Centre for Research and Development under grant No. SP/I/1/77065/10 by the strategic scientific research and experimental development program:
SYNAT - “Interdisciplinary System for Interactive Scientific and Scientific-Technical Information”.