Covering Politics

Monitor how media cover politics and public policy

Click for related ACADEMY Lesson Plan

Who gets what?  When?  How?

The media are often seen as playing a central role in monitoring government affairs on behalf of the citizenry. A number of factors, from ownership to local market forces to freedom of information laws can have an influence on how the media fulfill this function.  Media play a role in politics, by informing voters about their choices, by shaping opinions on key issues and by putting certain issues prominently in the public eye.

  • Student exercise: How have media helped to shape opinion about Climate Change and the environment?  Find a specific example from your local region

  • Student exercise: Think about a recent election in your country.  What role did the media play? Did different kinds of media (print, radio/TV, digital/online) play different roles?  Who decided what was discussed by the candidates?

Lapdog or watchdog? Are media resorting to stenographic coverage of the government (reporting the official perspective on the news) or are media exercising more independence and asking government to explain its policies?

  • Class discussion: Consider a recent controversial policy of your country’s government. Why is asking questions of government about that policy critically important? Even if reporters don’t get answers, how can questions illuminate the government’s perspective or spin on events

  • Student exercise: Select a government press release and write a story from that information.

  • Follow-up student exercise: What questions would you have liked to have asked the government in order to have written a more complete and informative story?

➢ What are the advantages of writing a news story for the public that takes most of its information from a public statement? Why might you as a reporter find it both convenient and comfortable to follow the direction of a public leader?
➢ What are the disadvantages of doing so? How is your community not being served by your writing from only one perspective—and that perspective being from someone in power?
➢ Consider the statement, press release or press conference used to write this assignment. How does the statement, etc. benefit the person or institution that made it? How does your further dissemination of the information in that statement, etc. benefit the person or institution that made it?

Technology creates new ways for media to interact with their audiences and gives citizens new ways to inform others (including ways around government restrictions)

  • Class discussion and/or Student exercise: Take a look at an online news site created by citizens. What can these sites do that mainstream news organizations (even online) cannot (or have difficulty doing)? What are the limitations of such citizen journalism sites? You might want to look at such sites as:


http://www.avaaz.org/
http://www.witness.org/ and http://hub.witness.org/
http://www.ushahidi.com/
http://www.efmedia.org/
http://www.afrigadget.com/grassroots/