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Policymaking and the Media

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Policymaking is a political process which is affected by various social and economic factors (Hofferbert, 1974; Mazamanian & Sabatier, 1989) and media systems play an integral role in shaping the social context in which policies are developed. Through the media, citizens learn how government policies will affect them, and governments gain feedback on their policies and programs.

Media systems act as the primary conduit between those who might want to influence policy and the policymakers – controlling the scope of political discourse and regulating the flow of information.

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Textbook policymaking follows an orderly sequence where problems are identified, solutions devised, policies adopted, implemented, and lastly evaluated. In reality, the policy process is more fluid, where policies are formed though the struggle of ideas of various advocacy coalitions (Sabatier, 1991) in what has been described as a policy primeval soup (Kingdon, 1995).

The policies, on which the media focuses can, and often does, play an important part in determining the focal issues for policymakers (Hilgartner & Bosk, 1988; Linsky, 1986; Pritchard, 1992; Soroka, 2002).

One of the fundamental roles of the media in a liberal democracy is to critically scrutinise governmental affairs: that is to act as the ‘Forth Estate’ of government to ensure that the government can be held accountable by the public.

However, the systematic deregulation of media systems worldwide is diminishing the ability of citizens to meaningfully participate in policymaking process governing the media (McChesney, 2003, p. 126). The ensuing relaxation of ownership rules and control, has resulted in a move away from diversity of production to a situation where media ownership is becoming increasing concentrated by just a few (predominantly western) global conglomerates (Bagdikian, 2004; McChesney, 1999).

Obvious problems arise for democratic processes, when huge media conglomerates also fulfil the role of powerful political actors; their close links with the corporate economy are widely considered to limit their ability to investigate the government and represent all points of view. Consequently, in the same way that Habermas (1989) described the colonisation of the public sphere by large corporations, the political sphere is now being colonised by the media, and politics has begun re-orientating itself to satisfy the logic of media organisations (Meyer, 2002, p. 1). Therefore, the media are active participants in the policymaking process and the ability to stimulate change or maintain the status quo depends on their choice of subject (or policy issue) and how they frame it. Active (investigative) reporting attempts to shape policy outcomes, but this does not necessarily mean that it always represents the most successful approach for gaining policy changes (Spitzer, 1993, p. 7). In fact, sometimes passive (straight) reporting can have a greater influence on policy choices.

When this occurs, media independence is largely bypassed, as the news generated depends solely on the information released (as public relations material) from legitimate news sources. For example, White House staff routinely make ‘leaks’ – expressively to influence policy decisions (Davis, 1992, p. 143; Hertsgaard, 1988, pp. 122-123; Robinson, 2001, p. 948). Linsky noted that journalists regard “leaks… as indispensable to their work” and that they are aware of their use by officials in return for scoops (1986, p. 202).

The media may also influence policy outcomes through their ability to exclude certain policy options from the media, which “sets the boundaries for ‘legitimate’ public debate” (Borquez, 1993, p. 34). Such analyses have led some researchers to posit that the media has a powerful monolithic influence on all policy processes, while others suggest it plays an insignificant role in policy making processes; a more likely scenario is that its degree of influence varies considerably, being issue based in nature (Hawthorne, 1993).

This leads to the question, which policy issues will be most effected and which least effected by media coverage? It is one of the key questions that this paper sets out to explore; however, due to the broad scope of this critical review, it necessarily passes over the literature fairly briskly to allow ample discussion of both domestic and foreign policy making processes, which are discussed separately in turn. The media’s role in domestic policymaking Media selection of ‘legitimate’ policy actors

The media acts as a powerful political actor, with its interests strongly tied to the status quo and that of other corporate policy actors, instead of the general public. Journalists and editors shape policy agendas by actively filtering issues, so that reporting conforms to their dominant news values – selecting what issues are covered and which sources are used (Sahr, 1993, p. 155). This tends to confine policy debate to the strict boundaries of current ‘accepted wisdoms’ set by the major political parties or institutional policymakers.

The conservative nature of these perceptual screens is strengthened by the media’s ‘need’ for concision, which is especially dominant on television, with its appetite for sound bite politics. Creation of credible policy frameworks influence journalists in much the same way, leading them to rely on institutional actors (encountered on daily beats) who support their perceptions of a successful policy framework. Development of such close relationships with sources is very important to the policy process, and often results in what is described as “coalition journalism” (discussed later).

Support for policies is also reinforced by, (1) credentialing supportive sources and disregarding opposing sources, (2) using labels to shorthand information about policies by placing them within frameworks (with their associated assumptions), and (3) by the way sources are then “in a sense forced, to reflect these perceptions” accepting the commonsense interpretation of these policy frameworks to protect their own reputations in the mass media (Sahr, 1993, p. 158).

Outsider groups find it difficult to voice opinions in the media and even when they do, official sources are contacted to ‘balance’ these stories to ensure ‘objectivity’. These, often resource-poor groups, are compelled to use the media as a means of gaining recognition as trusted policy actors. However, due to the media’s reliance on established sources they may need to resort to different methods to capture media attention – which may cause distractions to their legitimacy, as the news may focus on a group’s event and not its politics.

Media stereotypes of policies, individuals or groups can influence their respective abilities to determine policy outcomes (Martin, 2004, pp. 8-11; McLeod and Hertog, 1999, pp. 312-313). Furthermore, even if certain policies turn out to be successful, they may still be subjected to unnecessary reform, if their legitimacy has already been undermined in the media by the creation of negative stereotypes (Ellwood, 1988). Schiraldi and Macallair (1997, p. 410) also illustrated the vulnerability of juvenile crime policymaking in San Francisco to media manipulation…by election-minded politicians”, showing how difficult it is for citizen campaigners to reframe official policy frames once they have been adopted by the media. Affecting policy outcomes Even if the media can set the actual policy agenda in some circumstances, this does not necessarily mean that they influence policy. Political rhetoric may appear to signal media impact, but if it does little more than pay lip service to media coverage, effecting only minor policy outcomes, then to what degree has the media really affected the policymaking process?

Mortensen and Serritzlew examined local media influence on policy outcomes in Denmark, and demonstrated that media coverage actually has “limited consequences for actual policy decisions” even when “policy agenda and political discussions are affected by the media” (2004, p. 16). Reiterating this point they concluded that “the media are important for understanding the political agenda and the framing of decisions about special [or sensational] issues, but ‘normal’ politics and the broader policy priorities [or governmental issues] are largely unaffected” (Mortensen and Serritzlew, 2004, p. 7). This partly confirmed the results of Soroka’s (2002) study which suggested, that media influence is strongest with ‘sensational issues’, and weakest in ‘governmental issues’, which are predominantly policy-driven. Likewise, Protess et al. (1987) demonstrated that when a policy issue is ‘nonrecurring’ in terms of media coverage (a sensational issue), media power to influence public opinion (but not necessarily policy outcomes) is greater than with ‘recurring’ policy coverage (which are more synonymous with governmental issues).

Taken together, these results present an interesting paradox for democratic governance, one in which media coverage of policy issues does not appear to affect most of society’s actual decision-making. Media relations with policymakers In the past it was believed that the media’s influence on policy occurred in a straightforward fashion, with journalists clearly separated from the governing processes. Media investigations (initiated by popular public sentiment) prompt widespread changes in public opinion, citizens then rganise and collectively pressure the government, which capitulates to popular pressure and makes the appropriate public policy reforms. This simple linear model has recently been described as the ‘Mobilisation Model’ – while in the past it has been referred to as a ‘Popular Mobilisation’ or ‘Public Advocacy’ (Protess et al. , 1991, p. 15). This model assumes a strong democratic role for citizens in policymaking processes, a role which has been disputed by a number of political scientists (e. g.

Key, 1958; Schattschneider, 1975), who suggest that special interest groups and other political elites dominate the policymaking processes, not the public. Protess et al. (1991, p. 19) support these contentions and suggest “that policymaking changes often occur regardless of the public’s reaction” to active (investigative) reporting. By including ethnographic studies of journalists and policymakers in their study, they were able to show how prepublication collaboration between the two groups (journalists and policymakers) may be the real driver of policy agendas, not public opinion.

These collaborations were seen to have a significant affect on policy outcomes. They illustrated how prior knowledge of upcoming media attention often enabled policymakers to exploit negative media attention as “policy opportunities”. In this way, policymakers are able to manage their media coverage to maximise positive publicity for their policies. This is achieved by ensuring they were seen as part of the solution, even when they were responsible for the problem (Protess et al. , 1991, pp. 245-246).

This symbiotic relationship, entailing active collaboration between journalists and policymakers to determine policymaking agendas has been described as “coalition journalism” (Molotch et al. , 1987) and would seem to stand in total opposition to the commonly perceived adversarial nature of investigative journalism. Guzzardi referred to the bond as The secret love affair between the press and government, asserting that the media had become a vital “force for legitimizing governmental institutions and free enterprise” (1985, p. 2).

Both parties gain by participating in “coalition journalism”; journalists obtain credentialed information and recognition by providing an ‘important’ legitimate story, while policymakers obtain publicity for their policy agendas. Perhaps the only loser is the public, who ends up losing challenging adversarial forms of journalism. In the light of this Protess et al. (1991, p. 251) suggest that the “linear Mobilisation Model” be replaced with the more adaptive “Coalition Model” of investigative reporting. Contrary to popular beliefs, Protess et al. 1991) also discovered that the amount of time being spent by muckraking journalists on investigative reporting is not declining. However, they reported a trend towards shorter investigations which, taken together with cuts in funding for longer term investigative reporting, is placing increasing pressure on journalists to replace adversarial journalism with coalition journalism. Investigative journalism is becoming less visible in the public sphere, as its work becomes more widely dispersed, conventional and less adversarial – staying closer to the borders of the dominant policy discourses (Protess et al. 1991, p. 252). A further outcome of these changes is that as shorter investigative pieces are cheaper to produce, media outlets have less incentive to actively pursue policy stories for the duration of policy processes. Dominant news values, such as ‘timeliness’ further strengthen such practises by working to constantly change those issues on the public agenda, preventing any form of sustained media attention to most issues (Borquez, 1993).

Media corporations may set policy agendas, but as the duration of policy attention cycles continues to decrease, influence of policy outcomes will be increasingly left out of reach of the public, and safely in the hands of established policymakers. So as coalition journalism becomes more institutionalised, the general public is being pushed further towards the margins of the policymaking processes, left ever more prone to manipulation from both the media and policymakers.

Medler and Medler (1993) illustrated how easily the media (television in this case) can mislead viewers regarding the success or failure of environmental policies: creating unwarranted pressure for policymakers, who may feel the need to alter effective policies to safeguard their public standing, or preventing other policymakers from seeking solutions to ineffective policies. These media effects on politicians would be amplified if timed to occur just prior to elections, especially if the politician(s) in question did not have clear public support. Critically, to comprehend the complex media-policy nexus, it is ecessary to understand which societal players are actively working to influence the media agenda. The importance of government’s media management has already been mentioned in this respect, but not the other dominant actor in most policymaking decisions: corporations. Corporate management of the media agenda Lawson Lucas Mendelsohn (LLM) is one of largest lobbying firms in the UK with many powerful clients including the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and News International: “Neil Lawson advised Tony Blair on campaign strategy, Ben Lucas conducted Blair’s political briefings and Jon Mendelsohn handled the.. rime minister’s contacts with business” (Palast, 2003, p. 278). Their massive financial resources and familiarity with key policymakers make them a perfect example of how asymmetric policy influence can be. Lawson and Lucas told undercover reporter Greg Palast how LLM recommends the indirect route of lobbying policymakers by “creating an environment” for clients by “placing things with columnists we know the chancellor [or relevant policymaker] reads” (Palast, 2003, p. 280).

In addition, LLM runs a captive think tank, Nexus, to give their views (or their clients’ views) legitimacy, and uses the Socialist Environmental Research Foundation, which acts as “a purchased front for retailers” (Lucas cited in Palast, 2003, p. 280). Such services clearly provide a useful means, by which powerful businesses can influence the policymaking processes through the media. However, as public relations researcher Aeron Davis notes, corporate influence on business news is even more far reaching in its effects: …the advantages of large corporate elites in business news…appear far greater than for political elites in mainstream news. As a result, journalists are left in the position of reporting outcomes or recording those conflicts that financial elites choose to play out in the media. ” (Davis, 2002, p. 175) Powerful well funded corporate public relation campaigns work to forward pro-business policy outcomes by “excluding the media, the general public and rival elites from knowledge of elite policy-making processes” (Davis, 2002, p. 179).

In fact, corporate and government public relations practitioners interviewed in the same study said that 50% or more of their activities involved preventing media attention (Davis, 2002, p. 179). When conflict in the policymaking process is reported, it is mainly because discussions spill over into the public sphere, forcing those parties involved to release selected information to the media. However, the information that is released often limits the extent to which the policy issue can be placed in context and the degree to which it can be understood.

Major reasons for this are (1) journalists tend to be limited in what they can reveal about negotiations due to their strong reliance “on small circles of public relation practitioners and elite sources”, (2) information that is reported is targeted at specific decision-makers, so is often “exclusionary in its style and content”, and (3) ‘news values’ do not favour the reporting of complicated policy issues, which has led to reduction in the reporting of such issues, and where they are covered, context is often lost making their relevance to longer patterns of change harder to determine (Davis, 2002, p. 179).

This all works to ensure that “macro-level trends are lost in coverage of the isolated micro-level event”, so even when critical researchers emphasize the significance of such macro trends this “rarely result[s] in more significant media campaigns or public outcries” (Davis, 2002, p. 179). This process is highly visible in the way that the mainstream media will occasionally attack lobbying, corruption, and certain taxes, but won’t really criticize the underlying institutional problems associated with them. Undercover reporter Greg Palast found systemic evidence of corruption in New Labour (UK), and courting of lobby firms for favours.

Yet despite the press taking up the story for a week after his expose (in the Observer July 1998), the only person to be penalised was one lobbyist. There was no immediate parliamentary investigation and no calls from the media to demand the government to open its records (Palast, 2003, pp. 299-300). When the prime minister eventually called for an investigation, the Parliamentary Committee on Standards of Conduct concluded – after declining to use the evidence gathered by the Observer’s investigations (which included tapes, faxes and witness statements) – that: “We may have serious problems but they are not f the gravest nature” (Palast, 2003, p. 302). Davies (2002, p. 179) concludes “that, for much of the time outside electoral campaigns, the role of the media in policymaking is more connected to the manufacturing of elite rather than mass forms of consent. ” Most corporate public relations resources aim to influence decision making through the business and economic press, which serves to “repeat the ‘mobilisation of bias’ (Bachrach and Baratz, 1962) identified in policymaking itself” (Davis, 2002, p. 180).

This claim substantiates Hawthorne’s (1993) finding, that the primary target of media coverage was an elite audience, who could directly influence policy, and the secondary target was public opinion. Manufacturing of elite consent also seems to be the main purpose of coalition journalism which primarily serves policymakers and media interests, before the public. Media corporations, acting as powerful corporate bodies, engage with credentialed policymakers to set both policy agendas and the legitimate terms of discussion.

If there is sufficient disagreement, as to the terms of the debate among major political parties, then a fierce public debate can ensue under such limited conditions (confined that is within conventional truths). However, where ‘official’ opposition voices are united, it is unlikely that the media will challenge them, and policy issues will be strongly framed to support official policy positions (see Herman and Chomsky, 1988). Powerful interests may still challenge official positions, but this will take place through more formal lobbying channels, well concealed from the prying eye of the media.

The media’s role in foreign policymaking Understanding the influence of the CNN effect Many studies have concluded that the media has a pivotal role in shaping government’s foreign policymaking processes through a phenomena referred to as the CNN effect (reviewed by Gilboa, 2005). This effect does not refer to the sole influence of CNN on policymaking, but rather on the power of global media networks to determine political processes through selective coverage of certain issues.

This is particularly important, as most of the public rely on the media for access to foreign policy information (Brown and Vincent, 1995). Gilboa notes that: “The [CNN] concept was initially suggested by politicians and officials haunted by the Vietnam media myth, the confusion of the post–Cold War era, and the communications revolution. Despite evidence to the contrary (Hallin, 1986), many leaders still believe that critical television coverage caused the American defeat in Vietnam.

Since then, many have viewed the media as an adversary to government policies in areas such as humanitarian intervention and international negotiation. ” (Gilboa, 2005, p. 37) To determine whether the media has the power to influence policymaking, Robinson (2000) devised the ‘policy–media interaction model’ (Table 1), utilising the theoretical framework of press–state relations outlined by Hallin (1986) and Bennett (1990). This model was applied to a number of US humanitarian interventions, which took place in the 1990s.

The results showed, that critical reporting by the media with a strong pro-intervention frame had a ‘strong’ role in shaping the US government policies when policymakers were uncertain about their actions (resulting in the US intervention in Bosnia in 1995 to defend the Gorazde ‘safe area’) but a ‘weak’ role when government policies were already determined (Operation Allied Force in Kosovo March-June 1999). Thus, the power of the CNN effect would seem to vary depending upon the existence of cohesive policies on foreign policy matters.

Table 1. Robinson’s Policy–Media Interaction Model (source: Robinson, 2000, p. 615) | |Government Policy Line |Direction of |News Media Coverage |Policy–Media Relationship | | | |Influence | | | |Media influence |Uncertain |( |Extensive and |In this scenario media influence occurs.

In the | | | | |critical |absence of a clear, well-articulated policy line, the | | | | | |government is vulnerable to critical and extensive | | | | | |media attention.

If news reports are critically | | | | | |framed, | | | | | |advocating a particular course of action, the | | | | | |government is forced to do something or face a public | | | | | |relations disaster.

Here, media can significantly | | | | | |influence the policy process. | |No media |Certain |( |Indexed to ‘official|When the government has clear and well-articulated | |influence | | |agenda’ |objectives it tends to set the news agenda.

Coverage | | | | | |might become critical if there is elite dissensus. | | | | | |With the executive decided on a particular course of | | | | | |action, media coverage is unlikely to influence | | | | | |policy. |

Where the media was commonly reported as driving foreign policymaking decisions such as the US humanitarian intervention in Somalia (Operation Restore Hope 1992-1993 – Gowing, 1994; Mandelbaum, 1994; Strobel, 1997; Shattuck, 1996; Shaw, 1999; Wheeler and Bellamy, 2005, p. 564), critical research has shown the opposite to be the case (Livingston and Eachus, 1995; Mermin, 1997; Robinson, 2001). In fact, before the media really took up the case for intervention in Somalia, the government was persistently trying to raise awareness for it through press releases, which the media paid little attention too.

The media only started to seriously call for intervention, after the leak of the president’s decision to offer US troops to the UN for the intervention (Robinson, 2001, p. 948). Robinson (2001, p. 952) notes that after this leak, the media (New York Times, Washington Post and CBS news) tended to frame their reporting to support the president’s decision by empathising with the Somali people and highlighting the positive aspects of the intervention.

Alternative analyses of the Somalia intervention using a ‘realist’ international relations approach support Robinson’s case, concluding that the intervention was primarily due to American national strategic interests (Gibbs, 2000). Therefore, Robinson describes the medias role as being one of “manufacturing consent (Herman and Chomsky, 1988) or indexing (Bennett, 1990) rather than the CNN effect” (Robinson, 2001, p. 952).

Governments directly benefit from this state of affairs by giving the impression of bowing to public opinion (which they equate with media coverage), despite the fact that their policy decisions may have been made long before media coverage of these issues began (Compaine, 2002, p. 5). Under such circumstances the media acts more as a tool of the policymakers themselves, rather than the public, by reflecting elite interests and opinions and manufacturing public consent (for further discussion see Herman and Chomsky, 1988; Herman, 1992; Paletz and Entman, 1981).

A closer look at media power when policy uncertainty exists Looking at the US intervention in Bosnia in 1995 as an example of strong media affects where policy uncertainty existed (Robinson, 2000), even then, the media strongly supported the government’s broader foreign policy agenda, and did little to question the dominant frames set by US policymakers. Prior to Bill Clinton’s inauguration on 20 January 1993, the US ‘elite’ press (New York Times and Washington Post) “reacted only mildly” to the Balkan war (Auerbach and Bloch-elkon, 2005, p. 90).

This served to legitimise the Bush (senior) administrations policies, whose “priorities were the Gulf states and Somalia” with strong opposition to “any further involvement with the developments in Yugoslavia” (Wiebes, 2003). In stark contrast to the Bush administration, Clinton argued during his election campaign “for lifting the arms embargo against the Bosnian Muslims” and “had a much more positive attitude towards the Bosnian issue than… Bush” (Wiebes, 2003), attacking “Bush’s inaction” and charging “him with violating American liberal values in his foreign policy” (Peceny and Sanchez-Terry, 1998).

As might be expected, if the media was to take their lead from policymakers (to manufacture public consent), the start of Clinton’s presidency would have coincided with increased media coverage of the Balkans and indeed, already in his first year as president the elite press began to “intensely” address the issue of the Balkan war (Auerbach and Bloch-elkon, 2005, p. 90). During this time, Clinton’s administration may have exhibited policy uncertainty, but their public commitment to the Balkans clearly raised the media ante, encouraging a stronger media focus on the ensuing developments in the Balkans.

The media acted to exert pressure on the government, to take a firmer position in Bosnia, but they did so on the governments terms, showing strong (almost unquestioning) support to the Bosnian Muslims – who the US continued to illegally supply with arms from Iran and Turkey (Chipoux, 1992; Wiebes, 2003) and with Mujahedin fighters which were “supported by Iranian special operations forces” (Sray, 1995). (See Herman, 2005 for a review of media reporting of the events surrounding the Srebrenica Massacre which led to the US intervention in 1995. The support the media provided to the Bosnian Muslims was strengthened by the Muslim leadership’s utilisation of powerful PR techniques, which helped provide foreign journalists with pro Muslim stories. Early on in the conflict the: “…Sarajevan Muslims realized the importance of both perception management and the need to disseminate their message to the world. This awareness, coupled with the expertise of their PR firms [including US firms Hill & Knowlton and Ruder Finn], resulted in a highly successful psychological operations campaign. Meanwhile, the more rustic Serbs proved no match for this competition. (Sray, 1995) In frustration with the unrelenting pro Muslim media coverage, Professor Jacobsen (Director of the Independent Committee in War Crimes in the Balkans) wrote to the editor of the New York Times, beginning his letter: “Your (deliberately? ) myopic reporting on Yugoslavia mocks your masthead claim to objectively” (Jacobsen, 1994). The ‘objectivity’ of this type of journalism can be seen in the coverage of the three bombings in Sarajevo: in 1992 (the “Breadline Massacre”), 1994 (the Markale “Market Massacre”) and a “Second Market Massacre” in 1995.

All three massacres were reportedly carried out by the Serbs according to US media, despite the fact that UN officials and senior Western military officials claim that there was strong evidence suggesting that the massacres were undertaken by Bosnian Muslims (Senate Staff Report, 1997; Wiebes, 2003, pp. 68-69). But why would US government and media show any favours towards the Bosnian Muslims? A Pentagon source frankly explained the reasoning behind US governments support for the Muslims in Bosnia: “The simple facts are these: we are getting incredible pressure from the Saudis and others to help the Muslim cause in Bosnia.

They remind us that the Islamic world provides us with all the oil we want at relatively low prices, that Islamic states have billions of petrodollars to invest in “friendly states” and offer a potential market of over one billion people for the goods and services of “friendly countries”; and finally, that the peace process between Israel and the Islamic world “should go better if Israel’s main friend was also a friend to Islamic countries. When you weigh these facts against what 8 million Serbs can do for America’s interests, its clear what direction our policy is going to take. (Cited in Hatchett, 1996) The media’s siding against the Serbs naturally follows from their adoption of the US government’s official foreign policy position. Therefore, if the media did strongly influence US foreign policy decisions regarding Bosnia (in 1995) as Robinson (2000) suggests, then it still did so on the government’s terms. Instead of simply acting to manufacture public consent to align with US policy lines, as the US media did in Somalia, the media’s role in Bosnia was more complicated (although the end result was still the same).

Working within government led frames of reference, the media acted to highlight weaknesses in the US governments uncertain policy line toward the Balkans, and catalysed the development of firm policy objectives that drew from the conflicting policy preferences emanating from the Clinton administration. It served “mainly as a supportive arm of the state and dominant elites, focusing heavily on what is serviceable to them, and debating and exposing within accepted frames of reference” (Herman, 1993, p. 5). If the media was really being critical of government policy, there would have been a much wider debate surrounding the war; instead it was highly partisan and played up to the Clinton administration’s geostrategic objectives (even if they were apparently poorly formed). This certainly calls into question the real ability of the media to effectively question or significantly influence foreign policy making, and fulfil its democratic function to the public. Government domination of the policy agenda

Compared to domestic policymaking there is relatively less public interest in foreign affairs, which makes it relatively easy for government policymakers to dominate the media’s agenda (Manheim, 1997, p. 383). From the wide array of ‘potentially interesting’ international stories going on at any one time, governments can actively distract media attention away from sensitive foreign policy initiatives (of which coverage might invoke more critical public reactions) by concentrating their PR machineries on less controversial policies.

As noted before, in cases of policy certainty within any given government, the national media are extremely unlikely to challenge the government or focus any form of prolonged attention to the policies. Instead, as Chang concluded, the media is most likely to have an influential role in foreign policymaking when debates “spill from the closed circle over into the public domain” – which usually occurs when there is policy uncertainty within the political elites (1993, p. 4). Conclusions Despite the evident importance of foreign policymaking for democracies worldwide the media’s apparent role in ‘manufacturing consent’ may be more easily understood, when it is considered that “the foreign policy establishment represents the most elite group within the government” (Malek and Wiegard, 1997, p. 7). Foreign policymaking also rates low on most citizens concerns, making it easier for corporate and government policymakers to control.

The same is not true for domestic policymaking, where the level of interest and diversity of voices heard by the public is much larger. In practice though, the media’s role is still much the same, with elite domination of critical policymaking agendas. Policies that will directly and adversely affect people’s lives slip though unnoticed, with little media coverage, or never come up on the public (or media) agenda at all, due to the success of internal PR and lobbying activities (Davis, 2002, p. 75; for details of forgotten stories see www. projectcensored. org). Even when politically sensitive stories break into the media, revealing the true extent of politicians’ conspiratorial dealings, they often seem to safely disappear (a bonus for politicians, but not democracy), barely registering on the public’s consciousness. A current example is the leaked ‘Downing Street Memo’ (dated July 23, 2002 – see www. downingstreetmemo. com) which was first reported in the Sunday Times on 1st May 2005 (Smith, 2005).

The minutes of this meeting revealed “that Straw and Blair had conspired to use inspections to lure Saddam into obstructing the UN, providing an excuse for war” (Medialens Alert, 2005 [27th and 30th June]) and then continued to lie about their true intentions: “war is not inevitable” (Straw, 2003) and “I hope, even now, Iraq can be disarmed peacefully” (Blair, 2003). The British (US and Australian) media had access to the memo, but this groundbreaking story was effectively killed to all intent and purposes.

The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland described how “much of the coverage has sought to play down the documents’ importance”; he even went on to suggest that the primary reason for this was that the media had decided that “voters were Iraq-ed out” (Freedland, 2005). How is this possible, how can such an important story literally drop off the public radar? Perhaps as Lee and Solomon surmise: “The world according to the mass media is not supposed to make sense; it is supposed to make money” (1992, p. 333).

Davis warns about the risk of ‘outsider’ groups trivialising their policy goals through the process of reorientating their strategies (through “ideological shifts”) to curry media favour (2002, 2003a, p. 42). For example, these groups may focus on media friendly topics like personal corruption instead of more complicated policy issues like corporate crime or global warming (Davis, 2002, p. 181). Such practises can only serve to weaken our democracies, and therefore the underlying problems need to be addressed urgently – policymaking should not have to conform to media ‘news values’.

Corporate media cannot be relied upon to nourish our democracies while it simultaneously acts to erode our democratic institutions by excluding the bulk of citizens from elite policy discourses in the mass media or private elite communication spheres (Davis, 2003b, p. 684). Herring and Robinison (2003) illustrate how effectively anti-elite ideas are kept out of the media according to Herman and Chomsky’s (1988) ‘propaganda model’, by showing how the model itself has been ignored or dismissed within academia, especially by media scholars.

However, with the rising concentration of corporate ownership of the media and the increasing dominance of what Davis (2002) referred to as PR democracy “if ever there was a time for the ‘propaganda model’ to be included in scholarly debates on media performance, it is now” (Klaehn, 2002, p. 147). The internet may hold some hope for a more democratic media, but to ensure that the internet strengthens democratic processes it is vital, that its power is harnessed through appropriate legislation and regulation.

Unfortunately, the positive realisation of this technology for democracy seems unlikely, as so far the internet “has enjoyed virtually no public debate over how it should be organized and deployed” (McChesney, 1999, p. 122) and the internet may just be seen as a “more effective way to commercialise the public discourse” (Wheeler, 1997, p. 230). Corporate colonisation of cyberspace is already undermining the democratic potential of this resource, marginalising many voices due to the domineering presence of large corporate portals and commercial media sites drawing most of the online traffic (Dahlberg, 2005, p. 60). Increasing market pressures on the internet mean that its democratising power is unlikely to be fulfilled unless there is sustained and coordinated pressure from all its users. This will require more critical approaches to the understanding of the implications of this new technology, as Mansell argues: “Only a tiny fraction of research on new media makes explicit the researcher’s own conception of the way in which power is articulated in society and its consequences.

This unproblematic approach to new media must change in the future if we want to ask questions about how technological mediation is being fostered, about its structures, processes and consequences. ” (Mansell, 2004, p. 102) Founded on the principles of freedom of speech and private ownership, the media has been widely regarded as the ‘Forth Estate’ of government holding the Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive (or Crown) accountable within the democratic process.

This stands at odds with the description provided by the analyses undertaken in this paper, which indicates that the media predominantly serves to manufacture consent rather than deliberation – a finding supporting by numerous recent studies (Boyd-Barrett, 2004; Carvalho, 2005a; Cryle and Hillier, 2005; Doherty, 2005; Edwards and Cromwell, 2005; Klaehn, 2005; McKiggan, 2005; Miller, 2004 – for a comprehensive history of corporate propaganda in Australia and the US, see Carey, 1995). Bearing all this in mind, it is clear that the paternalistic description of the media acting as the Forth Estate urgently needs updating.

How should concerned citizens tackle these serious problems? The answer to this question depends on where one envisages the root causes of the problem to stem from. An analysis that firmly places the blame for democratic failures on the media’s doorstep is in danger of ignoring the reform of deeper (often hidden) institutional structures which drive our current media systems – effectively letting politicians and corporate powerbrokers off the hook. This paper has tried to demonstrate, that this sort of limited approach to media reform would not provide any long-term solutions.

So although positive, it is unlikely that small media reforms (like public journalism) will be enough to reduce the commercial and corporate imperatives driving our existing media systems (Hackett and Zhao, 1998, p. 235). Instead, a fundamental reform of the entire system is needed, together with a wider institutional reform of the very structures the media systems work within, our democracies. This will be a difficult task, due to powerful vested interests benefiting from the status quo, including media, political and economic elites.

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