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Law & European Studies What role do the mass media play in the political process in constitutional democracies? Is this to be welcomed?

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Laura Barrie Law & European Studies What role do the mass media play in the political process in constitutional democracies? Is this to be welcomed? When the Polish Union leader Lech Walesa was asked what effect Radio Free Europe had had on Solidarity's activities in Communist Poland, he responded, "Would there be earth without the sun?" A spokesman for the democratic "No" opposition that upset the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in a plebiscite remarked, "In fifteen minutes of television time, we destroyed fifteen years of government publicity for the dictatorship." The Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin, stated that Tiananmen Square illustrated the "chaos" that will result "if the tools of public opinion are not tightly controlled in the hands of true Marxists." In an address at Harvard University, Alexander Solzhenitsyn declared that "the press has become the greatest power within the Western countries, more powerful than the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary."' Leaders of every nation, north and south, rich and poor, free and not free, acknowledge the power of the mass media to influence and shape the politics of their nation. ...read more.


Before the guns of August 1914 began, national leaders essentially depended upon personal couriers. Shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1920, diplomats and politicians began to realize that it was possible to communicate directly with the people through radio. Television broadcasting took a little longer, emerging after the Second World War. The coronation of the Queen initiated thousands of television set purchases in Britain; it was at this time that it too became part of the mass media. It has evolved to become the most powerful tool, for many viewers, television reality is the only reality. If television is not there to record and transmit, the demonstration did not happen, the candidate did not speak, the election did not occur. Due to its sheer power Governments have attempted to control television by various methods, some countries, like Israel and South Africa, have even attempted to do without television at all. Even traditional socialist countries such as Scandinavia, initially followed a policy of controlled television programming, believing that they knew best what people should watch. Even here in Britain television is still in some regards controlled. ...read more.


Governing parties, in particular, devote considerable attention to informing, cultivating and seeking to influence journalists whose reports achieve national coverage. The humble government press office, now populated by highly paid spin-doctors, has never been more important. With such an important role in today's society should they be more closely monitored to prevent unscrupulous stories or political coverage? Is there a need for more ethics in the mass media? Or does the mass media confront the truth and demand answers? Lincoln understood how essential the press is to politics and government commenting: 'with public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed. Consequently he who moulds public sentiment, goes deeper than he who enacts statutes or pronounces decisions.' Given this power to affect success or failure, the standards and decisions of journalists warrant as much attention as those of lawyers physicians, business leaders, union leaders or academics. It will not suffice for journalists to promise fairness, balance and accountability. One must ask the question what philosophy is going to guide their fairness and sustain that accountability, not just to readers, viewers, peers and employers, but to society. Bibliograpy: Comparative Government & Politics Rod Hague & Martin Harrop. Mediapolitik Lee Edwards. Collected Works Of Abraham Lincoln vol.3 Rutgers University Press. How The Press Affects Federal Policy Making Martin Linsky. 1 ...read more.

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