Harvard-World Bank Workshop Focuses on Mass Media and Democratic Governance

May 30, 2008
by Jake Ackman

CAMBRIDGE, MA - The role that the mass media play in fostering global democratic governance was the subject of deliberation Thursday-Saturday (May 29-31) at a workshop co-hosted by the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy and the World Bank’s Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP).
Titled “The Role of News Media in the Governance Reform Agenda,” the workshop began with discussion of the ideal role of the news media in the public sphere. Two of the conference organizers – Pippa Norris, Paul F. McGuire lecturer in comparative politics, and Sina Odugbemi, CommGAP program head – presented their paper that proposes a normative framework for evaluating how well the news media operates in a democracy.
Norris and Odugbemi cited three vitally important roles that journalists play in strengthening democratic governance: the watch-dog role that acts as a check on abuse of power by the state; the agenda-setter role that informs the state of social needs; and the gate-keeper role that ensures a public agora with diverse perspectives. Journalists are limited, the authors explained, primarily by restrictions imposed by the state and from economic pressures from the market.
Discussant Thomas Patterson, Bradlee professor of government and the press, delivered critique of the paper, suggesting a more thorough explanation of the standards for the three roles that journalists play, while commenting that the paper assumes journalists should be completely autonomous, which could allow them to gain power without responsibility.
Other workshop participants offered their perspectives on the issue. Ellen Hume, a former Shorenstein Center fellow, remarked that a lack of media literacy could prevent the global public from becoming part of the larger discussion of democratic governance.
Several other papers – focusing on related issues of media and democracy – were also presented at the conference. Attendees included journalists, political scientists and other academics, media critics, and students.

Image of Pippa Norris at conference

Pippa Norris (R) Paul. F. McGuire lecturer in comparative politics, delivers remarks as discussant Thomas Patterson (L) Bradlee professor of government and the press, listens.

Image of Sina Odugbemi of the World Bank

Panelist Sina Odugbemi (R) of the World Bank deliver comments as other panelists listen.

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