media coverage worsened the impact of the problem ( President's Commission 1979).
As mentioned, several political scientists have explored the possibility of using the news media to spur political development, based on research showing substantial correlations between mass media growth and economic growth in developing countries. Although their hopes were disappointed and most lost interest in these investigations, public optimism has persisted about the power of mass media to provide the knowledge base on which modernization and democratic governance must rest. In the wake of the restructuring of Communist nations in Eastern Europe and Asia, questions of the role that the media will and should play in that process have come to the fore with renewed vigor. Questions relate to the nature of media impact, and the kinds of media organizations most conducive to democratization objectives. For example, it is important to know what part media messages played when Eastern Europe's Communist governments collapsed in domino fashion in the 1990s ( Dennis et al. 1990).
More generally, how does the nature of governmental structures and policies influence the shaping of news? Although such questions fall squarely within the purview of traditional political science, the answers remain a matter of much conjecture and insufficient proof ( Pool 1983; Abramson et al. 1988). In the U.S. context, the neglect is partly due to the extraordinary difficulty of designing and executing such studies. Another factor is the misconception that the reciprocal influences of media and government are best studied abroad, especially in countries with authoritarian governments, because a constitutional wall separates American media from government control ( Fagen 1969; Liu 1971; Mickiewicz 1988).
Most studies of governmental mechanisms for regulating mass media institutions in the United States have been done by historians, communication scholars and lawyers. There is general agreement that all governments constrain the freedom of expression to some degree, and that some limits are needed and must be enforced by the state because self-controls are not effective enough over the long run. But it is disputed where the limits lie and where they should lie. The impact of constitutional provisions and laws like the First Amendment or the British Official Secrets Act on each nation's political life remains ill-defined ( Lichtenberg 1991). We do not know how much of the impact is related to each particular political culture and how much could be transplanted into other political cultures. Much has been said and written on that score, but more often in the popular rather than the scholarly literature. Aside from law books and law reviews, the literature on First Amendment rights and other laws related to political communication, even in the United States, remains sparse.
Among the few political science studies that deal with media policy making in a U.S. setting, Krasnow, Longley, and Terry The Politics of Broadcast Regulation ( 1982) provides a sophisticated mix of theory, description, and analysis. Neuman, McKnight and Solomon (n.d.) discuss policy needs and the political obstacles to policy advances. Many more such studies are needed to cover the broad spectrum of laws that directly or indirectly affect the interrelation of media institutions with other political and economic institutions. They are particularly essential now to guide policies to cope with the revolutionary changes in information transmission technologies and to assist the nations that are moving from totalitarianism to more open systems. In recognition of such needs, the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) and the National Telecommunication and Information Administration (NTIA) have commissioned and published several studies to guide public officials in making communication policies ( NTIA 1988, 1990; OTA 1986, 1987, 1988, 1990).
What overall assessments can we make about the state of the subfield of political communication? Looking back at the intellectual journey that we have completed, what features stand out? Obviously, the field is broad and scholars have tried to do it justice by researching many diverse areas. It is equally obvious that the breadth of the field has left much terrain unexplored or insufficiently explored. There have been numerous tentative probes into some areas, such as media use for political development, which were later abandoned. Not everyone is pleased about the breadth of development. What some welcome as diversification, others see as premature fragmentation of the field. They point out that the depth of research individually and collectively, and even data collection, has suffered because researchers are dispersed. As is often true of newly active research areas, the soundness of evidence leaves something to be desired. Current scholarship is better in description of messages -- what they are and who communicated with whom -- than in explaining the reasons for these messages and their effects. But even when it comes to descriptions, our collective ignorance remains enormous.
Election communication is the only area where description is at least satisfactory and where major progress has been made in theories and analyses. Even there, much remains to be done. But the heavy focus on election communication and, to a certain extent, on mass media messages, is the reason why scholars have been
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Publication information: Book title: Political Science:The State of the Discipline II. Contributors: Ada W. Finifter - Author. Publisher: American Political Science Association. Place of publication: Washington, DC. Publication year: 1993. Page number: 323.
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