Understanding media effects on public policy is an increasingly important issue for the World Bank. The media’s effect on governance, how this translates into public sector accountability, and how this in turn affects economic markets warrants attention to an area that until now has benefited from scant research. How does regulation of the media enhance or constrain government accountability, especially when governments are a repository of information relevant to public policy? This event, held in the Washington, DC, offices of the World Bank on April 12–13, 2007, aimed to explore media ownership, news reporting, access to information, the effects on economic markets, and what issues are at stake for political participation and the public interest.
Roumeen Islam, Manager, Poverty Reduction and Economic Management, World Bank Institute, introduced the first session of this two-day event by outlining some of the World Bank Institute’s interests in media and public policy. She cited transparency in governance as being a key factor in the Bank’s interest on this matter, as media can reflect strongly on public sector accountability.
Alan Gelb, Director, Development Policy, moderated this session, reminding the audience that when put into context, the rapid rise in literacy around the globe is compounding the need for greater information access and relevant content for an increasingly educated citizenry.
David Strömberg, a professor from the Institute for International Economic Studies at Stockholm University, with a PhD from Princeton University, has contributed to numerous studies on mass media, radio, and television. As the presenter for this session he discussed findings from wide-ranging studies on voting patterns and political media campaigns in the United States, as well as on natural disasters and how media coverage affects international donations to the cause. He also discussed analysis on the correlation between press freedoms and government transparency. Strömberg based his presentations around three main questions: the policy effects of mass media between different groups, the causal effect of the amount of political coverage in media, and the impact of individual news stories on public policies.
Matthew Gentzkow, from the Graduate School of Business University of Chicago, trained at Harvard, and a scholar of mass media effect, acted as a discussant for the session. Gentzkow continued Strömberg’s points by cautioning against directly linking media dissemination to public response or voter turnout. He explained that while the level of media coverage in a political campaign may increase the public’s participation in the political process, it remains unclear how this affects policy. Gentzkow cited variables such as systematic biases in the media, varying interpretations of democracy across countries, and the quality of content as problematics for consideration.
Questions from the audience during the discussion session include the potential for distortions in political viewpoints, whether political viewpoints actually affect general opinion or actual decisions, and the potential connections between voter apathy and television campaigns.