What Functions Do the Media Serve in Democratic Politics?

Even when post-communist countries embrace the idea of democracy, strict laws often prevent the media from reporting on political activities.

In Central America, the opposite issue occurs. A select group of powerful families owns most of the media in the region. Their approach to reporting can threaten the democratic governing gains that take shape.

Some countries have media that gets entirely controlled by the government. Then there are the platforms in the United States that have massive access and freedoms to report on almost anything.

What functions do the media service in democratic politics?

Media Does More Than Reporting the News

The media has a surprising amount of power in the Democratic process. Most people get their information from journalists than from any other resource. That means it shapes the way that people think and feel about the world.

In the American version of media, you can see organizations taking one political side over the other by slanting reports in one direction or the other. MSNBC tends to side on the side of liberalism, while Fox News is the typical standard-bearer for conservatism.

Media bias can be a significant issue, although the biggest complaints usually involve a liberal perspective on those with conservative views. 

The issue involves a misperception of the journalism type used to convey information. Four different options are available: partisan, objective, interpretive, and yellow.

It is not unusual to see a conflation of partisan journalism with the objective form.

Journalists cannot report on every possible news account. That means reporters and editors determine what items rise to newsworthy status. By choosing the stories presented to the public, an agenda of importance gets set that shapes public debate. This function is a form of signaling that can influence the government at the highest levels. 

William Randolph Hearst used his newspapers in the late 19th century to talk about how cruel the Spanish were with their colonial governing practices. When the USS Maine exploded mysteriously, the press blamed Spain for the issue. It would result in the start of the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The media sees their role in a Democracy as holding people accountable to their role in government. Reporters work to find the truth, expose hypocrisy, and keep things fair and balanced. That structure works if their own bias doesn’t come into play when presenting information to the public.