The Roles of the News Media
Pippa Norris Books

John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University


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Public Sentinel:

News Media & Governance Reform

Edited by Pippa Norris

Published by The World Bank, Washington DC

Publication Date: November, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-8213-8200-4. SKU: 18200. US$40.

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To read the policy brief, click here (PDF)

More details are available from CommGAP, The World Bank.,,contentMDK:22343085~page


The world is currently facing serious challenges in advancing democratic governance and human development. Progress is threatened by the deep recession in the global economy, the looming challenge of climate change, and the persistence of deep-rooted conflict and terrorism. Within this environment, what ideal roles should the mass media play as watchdogs, agenda-setters, and gatekeepers to strengthen democratic governance and human development?  Under what conditions do media systems succeed or fail to meet these objectives? And, strategically, what reforms would close the gap between the promise and performance of media systems?

Working within the notion of the democratic public sphere, the report emphasizes the institutional or collective roles of the news media as watchdogs over the powerful, as agenda-setters calling attention to social needs in natural and manmade disasters and humanitarian crisis, and as gatekeepers incorporating a diverse and balanced range of political perspectives and social actors. Each, we argue, is vital to making democratic governance work in an effective, transparent, inclusive, and accountable manner. The capacity of media systems (and thus individual reporters embedded within these institutions) to fulfill these roles is constrained by the broader context of the journalistic profession, the market, and ultimately the state.

Successive chapters apply these ideas to countries and regions worldwide. Media systems are compared in places as diverse as Kenya and Mexico, Iraq and Ethiopia, Burma and North Korea, Egypt and Qatar. The evidence suggests that, in reality, the performance of media systems often fall far short of lofty aspirations, with important consequences for the workings of the public sphere. The report identifies the most effective strategic interventions designed to overcome these constraints. These include policies directed at strengthening the journalistic profession, notably institutional capacity building, such as press councils, press freedom advocacy NGOs, and organizations concerned with journalistic training and accreditation. Other important reforms seek to overcome market failures, including developing a regulatory legal framework for media systems to ensure pluralism of ownership and diversity of contents. Lastly, policies also address the role of the state, including deregulation shifting state-run to public service broadcasting, overseen by independent broadcasting regulatory bodies, and the protection of constitutional principles of freedom of the press, speech, and expression.   

This study brought together a wide range of international experts under the auspices of the Communication for Governance and Accountability program (CommGAP) at the World Bank and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. It provides a fresh perspective on all these issues, covering in a wider range of countries and regions than ever before.  

The report is designed for policymakers and media professionals working within the international development community, national governments, and grassroots organizations, and for journalists, democratic activists, and scholars engaged in understanding mass communications, democratic governance, and development.

The editor, Pippa Norris, is the McGuire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and the author or editor of more than three-dozen books.


About the contributors

List of tables and figures

Preface and acknowledgments

Part I: Introduction: Framing the debate

Chapter 1: Evaluating media performance - Pippa Norris and Sina Odugbemi

Chapter 2: Diagnostic tools and performance indicators - Andrew Puddenphatt

Part II: The democratic roles of media systems


Agenda-setters: setting priorities

Chapter 3: Media coverage of natural disasters and humanitarian crises- Susan D. Moeller

Chapter 4: Media agenda-setting and donor aid - Douglas A. van Belle


Watch-dogs: guarding governance

Chapter 5: Corruption and the watchdog role of the news media - Sheila Coronel

Chapter 6: The media, government accountability, and citizen engagement - Katrin Voltmer


Gate-keepers: inclusive voices

Chapter 7: Election campaigns, partisan balance, and the news media - Holli A. Semetko

Chapter 8: Limits on press freedom and regime support Pippa Norris and Ronald Inglehart

Chapter 9: Media in peace-building processes: Ethiopia and Iraq - Monroe Price, Ibrahim al Marashi and and Nicole A. Stremlau

Part III: Regional case-studies of media roles  

Chapter 10: Central and Eastern EuropeMarius Dragomir

Chapter 11: Sub-Saharan Africa- Wisdom Tettey

Chapter 12: Latin America- Silvio Waisbord

Chapter 13: Arab States - Lawrence Pintak 

Chapter 14: Asia Angela Romano


Part IV: Conclusions: Summing up the evidence, identifying effective policy options

Chapter 15: Do the news media act as watch-dogs, agenda-setters and gate-keepers? Sina Odugbemi and Pippa Norris

Chapter 16: Policy recommendations - Sina Odugbemi and Pippa Norris

Select bibliography




Copyright 2004 Pippa Norris, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138.

Last updated 12/05/2009