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The media as watchdogs, agenda-setters and gate-keepers

SHOWCASE | June 05, 2008

Harvard and the World Bank host academics seeking to determine the press’s role in governance and in strengthening democracies.

By Andres Cavelier

CAMBRIDGE, MASS.—Harvard University and The World Bank have undertaken a major research initiative geared at further understanding the role of the news media in shaping governance policies and strengthening democracies around the world.

To kick off this effort, both institutions held a three-day conference where the media were defined as fulfilling three essential roles: watchdogs, agenda setters and gatekeepers, according to conference organizers Pippa Norris, Harvard Kennedy School of Government professor, and Sina Odugbemi, program head of the World Bank’s Communication for governance and Accountability Program.

During the workshop, held here May 29-31, government and media academics from the United States and abroad presented 13 papers, generating a preliminary 309-page report titled “The Role of the News Media in the Governance Report Agenda.” A final report will be forthcoming in the Spring of 2009.

The workshop was geared to senior policy makers at governments and private and non-profit organizations that regularly have to deal with the media to advance their goals. During the discussions, several participants suggested incorporating to the analysis the rapid technological and business changes affecting the media today.

Ellen Hume, research director of the Center for Future Civic Media at MIT, said civic and citizen media should be taken into account when discussing the powers of the media, while Andrew Puddephatt, founding director of Global Partners and Associates, questioned whether in 10 years the media will continue to be “gatekeepers” – in light of the changes the Internet has inflicted on journalism.

Norris and Odugbemi defined “watchdogs” as journalists keeping a “skeptical eye on the powerful, guarding the public interest and protecting it from incompetence, corruption and misinformation”; ‘agenda setters’ as those raising “awareness of social problems, especially vital issues such as news reporting of major disasters or crisis which require urgent action”; and ‘gatekeepers’ as serving “the classical agora where journalists and broadcasters bring together different interests, political parties, and social sectors meet to debate issues of public concern.”

Other invited speakers included Sheila Coronel (Columbia University), Susan Moeller (University of Maryland), Ronald Inglehart (University of Michigan), Marius Dragomir (Open Society Foundation) and Silvio Waisbord (George Washington University).

For more information, you can visit http://www.pippanorris.com/

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