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Whether the Media should be a Watchdog for Public Policy Issues

The media both print and electronic have a long standing reputation for placing issues on the public policy. Gerston (2010) says that the media is useful not only as discovery mechanisms of public matters but also as catalysts of socialization conflict. Through transforming a once private question into a public issue, media agents expand the size of the audience and thus alter the dynamics of the policy making process (Gerston, 2010).

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Instead of focusing on the ability of the marketplace to produce more different outlets which policymakers now view as substitutes for traditional mass media the crucial public policy question should be whether the public can be assured that it will always have access to affordable media outlets capable of acting as a watchdog of government policy. Bingham & O'Leary (2008) noted that “the news media creates public value by performing a watchdog role that is holding public servants and policymakers to high standards of ethical practice” (p. 61). The media also plays an important role in informing and educating citizens about public policy issues, and they gather and articulate public opinion about the proposed policies (Bingham & O'Leary, 2008). 

The Media is Acting as a Watchdog

Many media highlighted events have been incorporated into the public policy and agenda. Gerston (2010) says that press reports on scandals such as the Watergate affair and the dramatic collapse of the high-flying Enron Corporation led congressional hearings and led to the formulation of new policies to avrt such incidences. Rushefsky (2007) mentioned that the media tends to focus on the game of politics rather than on the substance. The fallout from Watergate and the Vietnam War contributed to this result. Rushefsky (2007) further says that in the policy issues, there is a tendency to focus on which elected officials and special interests benefit from proposals and actions rather than on the substance of the policy and its effects. This focus on the game over substance leads to cynicism on the part of both the media and the public, which depends on the media for its information (Rushefsky, 2007).

Dye, Schubert & Zeigler (2011) noted that media elites set the agenda for policy making by allocating valuable network broadcast time to what they define as societal problems. It has also been noted that the media frequently bases their broadcasts on university and think tank research and recommendations. Dye, Schubert & Zeigler (2011) explained that “policy recommendations of the leading policy planning groups are distributed to the mass media” (p. 72). The mass media plays a critical role in preparing public opinion for policy change.  Dye, Schubert & Zeigler (2011) in addition says that the media defines the problem and thus sets the agenda for policy making. The media also encourages politicians to assume new policy stances by allocating valuable network broadcast time to those who will speak out in favor of new policy directions.

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How the Media is not Performing the Role of Watchdog for Public Policy Issues.

In terms of affordable housing, the media can act as a watchdog. For example Bingham & O'Leary (2008) says that as a watchdog the media can investigate unfair market practices like redlining, or inefficient or corrupt government programs that spend lots of public funds yet fail to adequately help people in need of decent shelter. The media may inform those people about affordable housing or housing assistance offered by business, governments or nonprofits. Bingham & O'Leary (2008) noted that the media also may fail by for example waiting until a crisis emerges as exemplified by lots of visible homeless people or when the plight of a special group such as children becomes apparent.

The Consolidation of the Media and Proliferation of Unique News

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The proliferation of new and improved media technologies and services from cable and satellite television, to cellular phones, computers and internet based services has divided the public into information haves and have nots (Howley, 2005). Proliferation of unique news sources has negatively impacted on the media as watchdog on public policy issues because assorted peripherals amount to high-risk acts of consumption that only financially secure households can afford to take (Howley, 2005).

The end result of proliferation of unique news is a technological divide based on existing social divisions that threatens to intensify rather than alleviate class differences. This therefore negatively impacts media as a watchdog on public policy issues. On the other hand media consolidation and corporate influence an equally troubling condition further threatens to undermine public policy and democratic communication. Howley (2005) noted that rather than improve access to information services and enhance the transparency of public policy, consolidation of the media exacerbates inequities based on income and education levels. 

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