State-media-relations theory hopes to explain variability in news content in open media systems according to the effects of professional journalistic norms and political and economic pressures felt by news organizations. According to the indexing model, variability in critical engagement of government policies rises and falls according to the degree of official public debate on an issue. As oppositional voices are silenced by political pressure campaigns of various types, oppositional frames in news content will diminish. As controversy among officials expands, so, too, will controversy in the news. Several alternative models of state-media relations, as well as their possible limitations in terms of applicability to non-American political systems, require further exploration; especially as to its relevance in the 21st century political and technical environment.
Elizabeth Ann Stein
Considering incidents that make headline news internationally, given the modern information and communication technology revolution, the facility of citizens to rapidly mobilize represents a considerable threat to autocratic survival. While the speed with which popular movements emerge has increased exponentially, and the news of their existence spreads faster and farther, civil unrest has threatened the stability and survival of dictators for centuries. The paranoia and machinations of dictators depicted in films, such as the portrayal of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland, while sensationalized, capture the astounding array of threats with which unelected leaders must concern themselves. On the one hand, they must worry about insider threats to their standing, such as conspiratorial plots from people within the dictator’s own circle or mutiny among government soldiers. On the other hand, dictators also must monitor threats originating from non-regime actors, such as new alliances forming among once-fragmented opposition groups or the possibility of sustained insurgency or a popular revolution. From force to finesse, autocratic leaders have developed a broad and evolving range of tactics and tools to diminish both internal and external domestic threats to their reign. The success of dictators’ endeavors to insulate their regimes from forces that might challenge them depends on accurate and reliable information, a resource that can be as valuable to the leader as would a large armory and loyal soldiers. Dictators invest significant resources (monetary as well as human capital) to try to gather useful information about their existing and potential opponents, while also trying to control and shape information emitted by the regime before it reaches the public. New information and communication technologies (ICTs), which have drawn a great deal of scholarly attention since the beginning of the 21st century—present both risks and rewards for dictators; inversely they also create new opportunities and hazards for citizens who might utilize them to mobilize people opposed to the regime. While civil unrest could encompass the full range of domestic, nonmilitary actors, there also needs to be a specific focus on various forms of mass mobilization. Historically, more dictators have been forced from office by elite-initiated overthrows via coups d’état than have fallen to revolution or fled amid street protests. Civil unrest, in its many forms, can affect autocratic survival or precipitate regime breakdown. While mass-based revolutions have been a relatively rare phenomenon to date, the actions of many 21st-century dictators indicate that they increasingly concern themselves with the threats posed by popular protests and fear its potential for triggering broader antigovernment campaigns. The ease of access to information (or the lack thereof) help explain interactions between authoritarian regimes and citizens emphasizes. The role of information in popular antigovernment mobilization has evolved and changed how dictators gather and utilize information to prevent or counter civil unrest that might jeopardize their own survival as well as that of the regime.
Catie Snow Bailard
Information and communication technologies (ICT) are rapidly, profoundly, and simultaneously changing three structural properties that define contemporary communication systems. How we encode information, the means for transmitting this encoded information, and the networks that determine who can send and receive that information have changed dramatically with the advent of the Internet and mobile technology. Although the political events, outcomes, and behaviors precipitated by the political opportunities created by these ICTs are neither uniform nor automatic, this dramatic reshaping of contemporary information landscapes does have clear consequences for the quantity and range of information available to citizens across the globe. There are also evident effects on the communication costs that are integral to political organization. Additionally, there are indisputable implications for the informational relationship shared by governments and their citizens. Each of these sets of effects creates new opportunities for accountability and transparency in the electoral process and for the processes of governance more generally, in the context of developed democracies but also in developing and non-democratic countries.
The German sociologist Niklas Luhmann has provided one of the most elaborate theories of society available, as well as numerous works on specific aspects of society. Commonly labeled as “systems theory,” this is but a shorthand description of Luhmann’s theory. In fact, the theory rests on at least three main theoretical pillars. In addition to systems theory, a theory of social evolution and a theory of social differentiation play important roles. The present article introduces these three pillars and describes Luhmann’s theory of politics in this context. It outlines the crucial difference between a theory of politics as part of a theory of society on the one hand, and political theory as a reflective theory within the political system on the other hand. More specifically, it introduces Luhmann’s accounts of the notions of “political power,” “differentiation,” “the state,” “political steering,” and “the self-description of the political system.” The contribution concludes with some observations on the fact that Luhmann’s theory has tended to overlook the dimension of international politics, but that his theory provides opportunities to account for it in innovative ways.
James T. Hamilton
This is an advance summary of a forthcoming article in the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics. Please check back later for the full article.
If most voters remain rationally ignorant about the details of public policy, how can politicians be held accountable for their actions? Information markets offer an unprecedented amount of data today to help people in their roles as consumers, workers, and audience members. Yet the stories that help voters hold politicians accountable face a number of hurdles in the market place. Investigative work about public affairs topics is expensive, uncertain, and not always highly demanded. Attempts by candidates to convey ideas through the media faces a conflict between what approaches motivate the marginal voter and what topics are of interest to the marginal viewer. Research in media economics offers evidence on what types of political information gets produced, what the impact of accountability journalism is on the functioning of government, and where market failures exist in the coverage of politics and policy.
Annelise Russell, Maraam Dwidar, and Bryan D. Jones
Scholars across politics and communication have wrangled with questions aimed at better understanding issue salience and attention. For media scholars, they found that mass attention across issues was a function the news media’s power to set the nation’s agenda by focusing attention on a few key public issues. Policy scholars often ignored the media’s role in their effort to understand how and why issues make it onto a limited political agenda. What we have is two disparate definitions describing, on the one hand, media effects on individuals’ issue priorities, and on the other, how the dynamics of attention perpetuate across the political system. We are left with two notions of agenda setting developed independently of one another to describe media and political systems that are anything but independent of one another.
The collective effects of the media on our formal institutions and the mass public are ripe for further, collaborative research. Communications scholars have long understood the agenda setting potential of the news media, but have neglected to extend that understanding beyond its effects on mass public. The link between public opinion and policy is “awesome” and scholarship would benefit from exploring the implications for policy, media, and public opinion.
Both policy and communication studies would benefit from a broadened perspective of media influence. Political communication should consider the role of the mass media beyond just the formation of public opinion. The media as an institution is not effectively captured in a linear model of information signaling because the public agenda cannot be complete without an understanding of the policymaking agenda and the role of political elites. And policy scholars can no longer describe policy process without considering the media as a source of disproportionate allocation of attention and information. The positive and negative feedback cycles that spark or stabilize the political system are intimately connected to policy frames and signals produced by the media.
Jennifer Jerit and Jason Barabas
Issue voting concerns the extent to which citizens reward or punish elected officials for their actions or inaction on legislative issues. There are debates about styles of issue voting as well as whether it takes place in the United States, but nearly all theoretical models elevate the role of political knowledge. That is, voters must know where politicians stand on policy issues as well as their own positions. While there are a variety of ways citizens could learn about policy positions and actions, the mass media are presumed to play an important role. Yet, demonstrating the empirical linkages has been difficult in the past due to ever-present challenges with data and research designs. More research is needed to understand the various mechanisms underpinning representative democracy.
Four potential mechanisms explore the linkages between partian media outlets and attitudinal polarization, as well as discusses how such outlets cause polarization and influence American politics more generally: partisan media outlets can have direct effects on their audience, indirect effects on the broader population, effects on the news media, and effects on political elites. Some challenges and questions remain to be answered in each area in the hopes of spurring more, and broader, work on these media institutions.
Stefaan Walgrave and Peter Van Aelst
Recently, the number of studies examining whether media coverage has an effect on the political agenda has been growing strongly. Most studies found that preceding media coverage does exert an effect on the subsequent attention for issues by political actors. These effects are contingent, though, they depend on the type of issue and the type of political actor one is dealing with. Most extant work has drawn on aggregate time-series designs, and the field is as good as fully non-comparative.
To further develop our knowledge about how and why the mass media exert influence on the political agenda, three ways forward are suggested. First, we need better theory about why political actors would adopt media issues and start devoting attention to them. The core of such a theory should be the notion of the applicability of information encapsulated in the media coverage to the goals and the task at hand of the political actors. Media information has a number of features that make it very attractive for political actors to use—it is often negative, for instance. Second, we plead for a disaggregation of the level of analysis from the institutional level (e.g., parliament) or the collective actor level (e.g., party) to the individual level (e.g., members of parliament). Since individuals process media information, and since the goals and tasks of individuals that trigger the applicability mechanism are diverse, the best way to move forward is to tackle the agenda setting puzzle at the individual level. This implies surveying individual elites or, even better, implementing experimental designs to individual elite actors. Third, the field is in dire need of comparative work comparing how political actors respond to media coverage across countries or political systems.
Toril Aalberg and Stephen Cushion
Public service broadcasters are a central part of national news media environments in most advanced democracies. Although their market positions can vary considerably between countries, they are generally seen to enhance democratic culture, pursuing a more serious and harder news agenda compared to commercial media . . . But to what extent is this perspective supported by empirical evidence? How far can we generalize that all public service news media equally pursue a harder news agenda than commercial broadcasters? And what impact does public service broadcasting have on public knowledge? Does exposure to public service broadcasting increase citizens’ knowledge of current affairs, or are they only regularly viewed by citizens with an above average interest in politics and hard news?
The overview of the evidence provided by empirical research suggests that citizens are more likely to be exposed to hard news, and be more knowledgeable about current affairs, when they watch public service news—or rather news in media systems where public service is well funded and widely watched. The research evidence also suggests there are considerable variations between public broadcasters, just as there are between more market-driven and commercial media. An important limitation of previous research is related to the question of causality. Therefore, a main challenge for future research is to determine not only if public service broadcasting is the preferred news provider of most knowledgeable citizens, but also whether it more widely improves and increases citizens’ knowledge about public affairs.