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Assessment of Conflicting Findings on Media Influence on Policy

Executive Summary

The objective of this report is to assess the conflicting findings on media influence on policy making, compare and summarize those developing corresponding conclusions and recommendations on media impact on policymaking. The researcher used literature review as the main method of investigation using both online and printed materials. The factors of influence and roles of media in policymaking process have been defined. They have also been separated into two groups: positive (large-scale) and negative (minor) influences of media. Due to the democratic regime of the majority of world countries, the independence and degree of media influence was originally taken as an advantage. Certain tendencies in media development have been distinguished: TV and radio broadcasting, as well as newspaper or magazine publishing, were found to be less independent than Internet, and therefore their influences on policy making are considered more distorted. On the other hand, the lack of regulation and administration makes Internet an unreliable source of information. It was also proven that media is more effective in altering new nonrecurring issues rather than the ones traditional or large-scale for this particular country. Recommendations on balancing positive and negative views of the media were offered.

Background Information

In today's conditions of enormous demand for information media is a way for citizens to learn how the government acts in detail, and the governments receive feedback on whether each policy is accepted positively or not. Contemporary media plays a very special role in modern communication and interaction among the human society members. To some extent, various kinds of media have become as usual and necessary as everyday food consumption or clothing, and it is hardly an exaggeration. Thanks to media functioning, the boundaries of each region or country are becoming smaller every day. Media - whether it is Internet, television, radio broadcast or newspaper publishing - connects millions of people. The role of World Wide Web is exquisite as it is also able to establish and strengthen personal connections between users all over the globe. Modern social networks such as Twitter, Facebook or Orkut have transformed into a combination of personal interaction and information exchange because an average user may have both his or her friend's tweets and the latest news from New York Times on his RSS. Neglecting the benefits of Internet and other media society members become left behind by the others and miss an important part of life (Compaine, 2002).

Media may be compared to a giant mirror that reflects on almost each significant event, so that everyone who looks into the media mirror knows exactly what has happened in the society. On the other hand, the community needs to work on the clarity and impartiality of the media mirror, so that no information or detail is distorted. Media producers carry the responsibility to convey the truth and reveal untwisted information to common citizens. That is where the problem of commercialization arises - at times media representatives are more interested in the larger volume of sales than in truthful details. That is why the priority is mostly given to "hot news" that can improve the ratings of a website (a TV channel or a newspaper) and therefore make it more profitable.

The roles of media are not limited by personal connections and information sharing as media also affects the individual's mindset to a great extent too. Media is not only about dry facts - great space for opinion shaping and viewpoint sharing is also available. For example, if a young person keeps on reading newspapers or Internet blogs that inspire patriotic feelings or responsibility towards his community, at some point this young person will take after the ideas expressed in media (Compaine, 2002).

Terms of Reference

The purpose of this report is to assess both positive and negative influences of media on policy making, compare them, distinguish potential opportunities and threats of each distinguished influence and propose recommendations on balancing positive and negative sides basing on the achieved conclusions. Media influence is considered as an inevitable phenomenon with its individual peculiarities.

This report is necessary because it assesses the findings on the extent media influences policies, explains such and provides corresponding recommendations on how to balance conflicting sides of this issue. This report was commissioned as an academic assignment - master's degree course paper. This paper has been assigned to me because I showed profound interest for this topic as well as my professor. I was asked to assess the conflicting findings on the media influence on policy. The assignment should have included positive and negative, smaller and larger influences of media on policy highlighted in articles, reports, interviews and other academic and non-academic resources. These influences should have been investigated in order to answer the question: to what extent media actually influences policy making and policy changing processes and how can this influence be characterized? The problems of negative or insignificant media influence needed to be analyzed and categorized. Corresponding solutions to the problems needed to be developed.

Procedures

This research was conducted in order to define the degree of influence media has on policy making especially focusing on the contradicting evidence found in academic literature. The list of more and less influential factors, positive and negative outcomes of media influence, as well as conclusions and recommendations also belong to the objectives list. In order to give a detailed answer to all those questions, the researcher opted to get accurate and reliable information and viewpoints of many researchers who concentrated mostly on the interpretation of the obtained facts. The scientists were chosen based on their popularity, trustworthiness and number of published articles. The selection was independent and reliable as all the chosen researchers had their individual point of view that enables this report to be balanced and argumentative.

The research question of this paper was sharpened and specified with the help of studying additional literature. This topic was chosen because of its specificity and deepness. Moreover, it was not difficult to find a variety of information sources that corresponded to the objective of this research. There were multiple methods available to complete the research objective but most of them were rejected because these instruments were time-consuming and expensive. Moreover, they will not provide as much profoundness. That is why an online research method combined with library research was chosen. It corresponds to the original aim of this report as it takes into account various viewpoints and opinions expressed by many scientists.

The major method used in this research is studying online pieces of writing that helps to get detailed and deep information about the issue. It is a great push at the very start of the project. Although these sources are available to the wide publicity not so many researches have been done so far in the sphere of balancing different opinions on media influence in the sphere of policy making. Moreover, the information is update, and many new details are uncovered. However, the researcher has to be careful with the information retrieved from articles and reports because at times their degree of subjectivity is high, and if there are not many sources, the results are not be representative of the scientific community. This issue was fixed by choosing a load of 35 bibliographic sources. It is essential to remember that this is secondary data, so certain valuable variations have to be considered.

The objective of the research is to find out the ways media influences policy making and policy changing processes in the society. The chosen method is descriptive, which is appropriate to fulfill the objective, as it helps to gather current issue information. Literature reviews were also used in the research because academic writings provided ready-to-use information, statistics and opinions relevant to the topic. Therefore, they gave a better picture of how the issue has already been investigated and to what conclusion different scientists have come in terms of the main subject of the research. A range of scientific writings was studied, including magazine articles, trade publications, reports and other kinds of published materials that were chosen. This search method was chosen due to its low costs and convenience. Web resources were given preference compared to library searches because of the need to save time. However, a combination of the two was very important to insure information accuracy.

After the data gathering stage was finished, the researcher proceeded to the analysis stage. The data gathered with the help of literature study was then computed for interpretation. The results are recorded in a logical manner and processed in a way that would make readers understand the major issues and peculiarities of the chosen topic. The information was adapted to the requirements of scientific style, but the accuracy and deepness were kept. The research was primarily based on the descriptive methods. The contemporary academicians determine descriptive methods as the methods of gathering information about the current condition of the issue. The descriptive approach implies that the researcher analyses the information but avoids personal interpretation or judgments. The goal of the paper is to verify and compare the existing interpretations of the question in academic literature and work out corresponding recommendations devoted to the topic (Valdez 2010). The advantage of descriptive approach is low costs and little time involved. However, it is still quite practical and reliable in allowing for additional flexibility and provoking newer questions that can be investigated in further research work.

Descriptive method of research is mainly focused on describing the issue and its degree for the current circumstances. The peculiarities of the questions are studied in present time, while the causes of them are also discussed. Descriptive research is meant to gather and analyze accurate information obtained from people about life situations, processes, and events. In this method, it is important for the researcher to shape some view of the problem before the investigation starts, and it was guaranteed by studying the literatures and other publications dedicated to this issue (Valdez 2010). The researcher did not have much personal experience in this issue, and it could also be interpreted as an advantage, meaning that the personal judgments and subjectivity would not become obstacles on the way to clear and accurate information interpretation. This method of research was applied by the author to get primary data and formulate corresponding conclusions and recommendation for further research.

One of the methodological issues faced by the researcher was the need to avoid any personal judgments or ethical stereotypes. The information retrieved had to be interpreted and adjusted to fit into the requirements of the scientific paper, but the challenge was to stay accurate and reliable at all stages of the information adaptation. It was also essential not to look at the question through the prism of the researcher's personal experience with media or policy making, because the background and values of the researcher could be a lot different from the ones expressed by the scientists, and therefore could not add objectivity to the process. However, the researcher preserved the accuracy of the collected data and arrived at a clear conclusion that supported several scientific discoveries and opinions in this sphere.

Findings

The first finding of this report is that the direct connections between policy making and media influence have not been covered a lot in the academic literature. This issue was primarily discussed as one element of some more complicated topic (like policy making in general). One general point that every researcher agrees on is the importance of media influence in the process of policy making. The first publication devoted to media impact on policy was written in 1986 by Martin Linsky. However, even today the majority questions related to this topic have not yet been answered. The main problem is that no practical research has been conducted to distinguish the degree and factors of influence media has on policy, as well as positive or negative outcomes of this impact. Michael Barker (2005) argues that media is responsible for shaping the social environment and context in which any policy or governance is shaped. But before separating various influence factors Baker calls to remember the peculiarities of policy making process - it reality, it is more flexible and dynamic than theory orders it to be. Every new policy is a result of struggles and fights, advocacy and idea formation. The focus of the media defines the central issues that the policymakers have to pay attention to. On the other hand, a group of researchers argue that the role of media in policy making is still insignificant because it is not the publicity that makes the final decision (Mortensen & Serritzlew, 2004). Only public protest may stop policy makers, and it is a very rare case as mass protest should appeal to the majority of country citizens (Robinson, 2000). A "golden medium" researchers group claims that the degree of influence depends on the nature of the policy issue.

It is important to distinguish domestic and foreign policy making because if the first one is mostly influenced by the media reviews of the country of origins, the second one is also affected by the reviews provided by foreign media representatives (Robinson, 2001). Media influence is mostly related to the public debate influence as media generally stops its direct impact by this stage, and then the publicity is the key political actor (Sray, 1995). In domestic sphere, it is evident from many research studies and reports that media is more likely to impact unusual issues than traditional strategies (Bennett, 1990). As for foreign policymaking, so-called "CNN effect" does work only when the policymakers are not sure about their decision (Auerbach & Bloch-Elkon, 2005). Due to the close connections to corporate economy and business, media representatives tend to miss those policies that will significantly influence the lives of the citizens while focusing on the ones that sound attractive because of their nonrecurring nature (for example, gay/lesbian rights discussion may have more focus than the new offered economic strategy of the country) (Bachrach & Baratz, 1962). Media remains a system that has to be balanced and co-exist with other neighboring systems (Hatchett, 1996). It means that even if one investigative journalist does issue a scandal story about policies or policy makers it will be soon eliminated as this journalist may be fired, the newspaper will lose financial support from the dissappointed sponsors, part of the subscribers will give up on it, etc. (Herring & Robinson, 2003).