Cima Strategic Level Case Study 2012 Presidential Candidates

The Importance of the Media to Elections

Media and Elections Index

Media and Elections Quiz

The media are essential to democracy, and a democratic election is impossible without media. A free and fair election is not only about the freedom to vote and the knowledge of how to cast a vote, but also about a participatory process where voters engage in public debate and have adequate information about parties, policies, candidates and the election process itself in order to make informed choices. Furthermore, media acts as a crucial watchdog to democratic elections, safeguarding the transparency of the process. Indeed, a democratic election with no media freedom, or stifled media freedom, would be a contradiction in terms.

In 2005 the yearly World Press Freedom Day international conference produced a declaration that stressed “independent and pluralistic media are essential for ensuring transparency, accountability and participation as fundamental elements of good governance and human-rights based development”. Furthermore, the declaration urges member states to “respect the function of the news media as an essential factor in good governance, vital to increasing both transparency and accountability in decision-making processes and to communicating the principles of good governance to society”.[i]  

In order to fulfil their roles, the media need to maintain a high level of professionalism, accuracy and impartiality in their coverage.  Regulatory frameworks can help ensure high standards. Laws and regulation should guarantee fundamental freedoms essential to democracy, including freedom of information and expression, as well as participation. Meanwhile, provisions such as requiring government media, funded out of public money, to give fair coverage and equitable access to opposition parties, help ensure appropriate media behaviour during elections.

The media have traditionally been understood to refer to the printed press as well as radio and television broadcasters. In recent years however, the definition has become broader, encompassing new media including online journalism, and social media. Citizen journalism is widely gaining traction, including in countries where traditional media is either controlled or strictly regulated.

A prime concern of media coverage of elections is the right of voters to full and accurate information, and their rights to participate in debates and dialogue on policy matters and with politicians. Inherent to this task is the entitlement of parties and candidates to use the media as a platform for interaction with the public. Furthermore, the Electoral Management Body (EMB) has a need to communicate information to the electorate – and to a variety of other groups, including the political parties and candidates. The media themselves have a right to report freely and to scrutinize the whole electoral process. This scrutiny is in itself a vital safeguard against interference or corruption in the management or conduct of the electoral process.

The relationship of the EMBs to the media is hence a multifaceted one, including:

  • As communicator: the EMB will invariably want to use the media as a vehicle for communicating its messages to the electorate.
  • As news story: the EMB will be a focus of media interest throughout the election process. The media will be interested in the information that the EMB can provide, as well as trying to scrutinize the EMB’s performance and the efficiency and integrity of the elections.
  • As regulator: the EMB may in some instances be responsible for developing or implementing regulations governing media behaviour during elections (especially relating to direct access to the media by parties and candidates). It may also be responsible for dealing with complaints against the media.

This brief example from Senegal in 2012 brings to life the roles of media in elections:

This election has attested to the proper functioning of the democratic system in Senegal but also confirmed the important role that media can play in regularity, transparency and reliability in the polls. Journalists went to the polls to report live, interviewing observers, members of the polling stations and the public, to check whether everything was going normally. They also reported irregularities, fraud and threats of violence to get authorities to respond. Groups of thugs who were plotting to disrupt the vote during the first round were arrested after the media reported on it. And all day long, you had people and political leaders calling the radio and TV stations to tell them about any cases of wrongdoing, so that journalists could fact-check and report. The greatest role the media played in the election process was after the voting was over. In the evening, radio and television stations and online press provided live results that were posted at polling stations. This helped to prevent fraud and to quickly confirm the need for a second round. [ii]

The Media and Elections topic area explores the many dimensions and nuances of media within electoral contexts. It is written with a wide audience in mind: EMB commissioners and staff, donors, candidates, governments, students, voters, and members of the media.

The topic area includes an introduction of media’s Core Roles in the context of elections, as well as discussion of human rights and gender considerations. A brief History of Media and Elections is provided, as well as an in-depth look at the current international Media Landscape, including media ownership.

A chapter entitled Legal Framework for Media and Elections provides substantial discussion of the different models for a regulatory framework for the media in elections, ranging from an independent electoral commission to a specialized media regulator, such as a broadcasting commission or a voluntary media council or press complaints body. It looks at different rules that apply to public and private media.

The topic area includes a chapter on EMB Media Relations, looking at the ways in which electoral management bodies can develop their own strategies to enable them to get their messages across the different media. It discusses how media mapping, audience research and message development are crucial to this task and explains media relations strategy in relation to the electoral cycle.

The topic area also explores basic techniques and uses of Media Monitoring during an election campaign, outlining both quantitative and qualitative methodologies and looking at how media monitoring has been used by different bodies such as EMBs or observer missions.

Media Development explores media professionalism, elections training, and general support and advocacy necessary for the media to become a viable participant in democratic processes.

Lastly, thirteen Case Studies are provided to give examples of the way specific countries have experienced and managed media and elections.

[i] “World Press Freedom Day 2005; Dakar Declaration”, UNESCO, accessed August 08, 2012, 


Roles the Media Play in Elections

The media play an indispensable role in the proper functioning of a democracy.  Discussion of the media's functions within electoral contexts, often focuses on their "watchdog" role: by unfettered scrutiny and discussion of the successes and failures of candidates, governments, and electoral management bodies, the media can inform the public of how effectively they have performed and help to hold them to account. Yet the media also have other roles in enabling full public participation in elections:

  • by educating voters on how to exercise their democratic rights;
  • by reporting on the development of an election campaign;
  • by providing a platform for the political parties and candidates to communicate their message to the electorate;
  • by providing a platform for the public to communicate their concerns, opinions, and needs, to the parties/candidates, the EMB, the government, and to other voters, and to interact on these issues;
  • by allowing the parties and candidates to debate with each other;
  • by reporting results and monitoring vote counting;
  • by scrutinizing the electoral process itself, including electoral management, in order to evaluate the fairness of the process, its efficiency, and its probity;
  • by providing information that, as far as possible, avoids inflammatory language, helping to prevent election-related violence.

The media are not the sole source of information for voters, but in a world dominated by mass communications, it is increasingly the media that determine the political agenda, even in less technologically developed countries.  A report by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies put it this way:

The media plays a major role in keeping the citizenry abreast of current events and raising awareness of various issues in any society. It also has an extremely significant impact on the public’s views and way of thinking. The media is the primary means through which public opinion is shaped and at times manipulated. If this is the media’s role then in normal course of events, it becomes even more vital in exceptional periods, one of which is electoral junctures, when the media becomes a primary player. Elections constitute a basic challenge to the media, putting its impartiality and objectivity to the test. The task of the media, especially national media outlets, is not and should not be to function as a mouthpiece for any government body or particular candidate. Its basic role is to enlighten and educate the public and act as a neutral, objective platform for the free debate of all points of view.[i]

It is for this reason that election observation teams, for example, routinely comment upon media access and coverage of elections as a criterion for judging whether elections are fair. Monitoring the media during election periods has become an increasingly common practice, using a combination of statistical analysis and the techniques of media studies and discourse analysis to measure media’s role in an election.

The numerous ways in which media ensure democratic electoral processes generally fall into one of the following categories:

  • Media as transparency/watchdog
  • Media as a campaign platform
  • Media as open forum for debate and discussion/public voice


Each of these categories is explored in separate sections.

[i] “Media and Parliamentary Elections in Egypt: Evaluation of Media Performance in the Parliamentary Elections” Human Rights Movement Issues 26, (Cairo, Egypt: Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, 2011): 27


Media as Watchdog

In today’s politics and society at large, media is essential to the safeguarding transparency of democratic processes. This is often called its ‘watchdog’ role. Transparency is required on many levels including for access to information; accountability and legitimacy of individuals, institutions and processes themselves; and for rightful participation and public debate.

Transparency as required for access to information means that an electorate is provided necessary and comprehensive information so as to make informed choices as well as be able to hold officials and institutions accountable.   This includes access to legal and operational proceedings as well as information about officials and institutions.  Specific to elections, an EMB for example, is obligated to inform the public on their actions, decisions, and plans.  Individuals appointed or elected to an EMB body are public figures who should be working in the interests of the public.  As such, information regarding their affiliations, histories, and performance while in office, is to be freely accessed by the public.

Media acts as a mechanism for the prevention and investigation of allegations of violations or malpractice.  This watchdog role extends from accountability of officials and their actions while ‘in office’ to entire processes.   For example, media presence at voting and counting centres is critical to preventing electoral fraud, given that full measures protecting freedom of speech are guaranteed, and that media are free to act independently and with impartiality. 

An election cannot be deemed democratic unless the public is fully able to participate and is unhindered in exercising choice.  As such, media are vital in ensuring that there is a public, i.e. transparent, platform for debate and participation in the discussion.  Candidates are to represent the public.  Transparency of an election helps ensures that this indeed is so. Furthermore, transparency of individual processes (such as voting, counting, registering, candidate nomination, campaigning and so forth) further protects and enables public participation in these processes.

A poignant example, involving elections in Serbia in 2000, illustrates these key aspects of transparency:

In Serbia, several important independent media outlets contributed to the decline of Milošević’s popularity. The B-92 radio station had offered unsparing professional coverage of Milošević and his regime since 1989. B-92 cofounder Goran Matić also played an instrumental role in establishing a regional radio and television network to distribute independent news broadcasts. The ANEM network, a media cluster consisting of a news agency, several independent dailies and weeklies, and a television station, helped to give Serbians news from outside state-dominated channels. Critical coverage of Milošević’s wars, his economic policies, and his government’s violent arrests and abuses of young protestors helped to undermine his support within the population. In September 2000, independent media coverage of official vote fraud brought outraged Serbians into the streets. At the time, Milošević had closed B-92, but ANEM and Radio Index in Belgrade ensured that there was no let up in coverage. Without these media outlets, popular mobilization would have been much harder. [i]

[i] Michael McFaul, “Transitions from Postcommunism” Journal of Democracy 16 (July 2005): 11-12


Media as a Campaign Platform

Candidates and Parties have an explicit right to provide the electorate information regarding their attributes, political agendas, and proposed plans.  Besides meeting directly with members of the electorate, candidates and parties accomplish this task through campaigns via media.   It is paramount to democratic electoral processes therefore, that all candidates and parties are provided equal access to media for this endeavour. 

Candidates and parties use the mass media for campaigning through sponsored direct access spots, paid political advertising, televised debates, use of social media, and other mechanisms. They also hope the media will voluntarily cover them because of the newsworthiness of their campaign activities.  Political parties expend vast human and financial resources on planning and executing mass media campaigns. The NDI Political Campaign Planning Manual[i] gives an idea of the extent of organisation involved.

The media have several roles in realising contestants’ right to campaign:

To create a level playing field is the first role. This entails equal access to state broadcasters and other state resources:

Among the most effective, but least analyzed, means of autocratic survival is an uneven playing field. In countries like Botswana, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Malawi, Mozambique, Senegal, Singapore, Tanzania, and Venezuela, democratic competition is undermined less by electoral fraud or repression than by unequal access to state institutions, resources, and the media.

An uneven playing field is less evident to outside observers than is electoral fraud or repression, but it can have a devastating impact on democratic competition.[ii]

Levelling the campaign playing field is one of the main justifications for regulation of media during elections. For more information, see the section on National-level Law and Regulations on Media and Elections.

Another key role of media in campaigning is balanced reporting, ensuring that candidates receive fair coverage. This is one reason why robust media monitoring is so important toward ensuring fair and free elections.   Media professionalism and media literacy are also fundamental to this achievement.

[i]Political Campaigning Planning Manual: A Step by Step Guide to Winning Elections (Washington DC: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 2009)

[ii] Steven Levitsky and Lucan A. Way, “Why Democracy Needs a Level Playing Field”, Journal of Democracy 21 (Jan 2010): 57

Media as Open Forum for Debate and Discussion/ Public Voice

While candidate and party campaigns are of course a form of debate, there are also other voices that are to be heard within public forums.  As enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, all people have the right to express opposing ideas and opinions.[i]  

The role of media in providing this platform for debate and discussion is therefore vital.  Media provide a mechanism for regular citizens to be heard and to therefore influence political agendas and campaign platforms, and sometimes garnering support and influencing fellow voters. Forms can include:

  • Members of the public, lobby groups, experts with different perspectives, and candidates being interviewed by the media for their views on certain policies;
  • Talkback radio and television in which the public air their opinions;
  • Contestants’ websites, social media networks, and so on, where the public can interact with them directly;
  • News reports on press conferences, protests and other events held by interest groups;
  • Media surveys of public opinion;
  • Citizen journalism;
  • Debates on blogs, Twitter, and social media sites;
  • Letters to the editor.


This role as a forum for public debate is a complex one in post-conflict situations, as the line between debate and conflict needs to be carefully managed by professional media, which is not always present. As one report on media in the context of elections and political violence in East Africa states:

The media serve as a forum for competing political actors to vie for power and to offer alternatives to the national project. This is both a strength and weakness.

It is a strength because it means that the media, and the press in particular, can be a valuable space for reconciliation and dialogue between competing political perspectives. When perspectives are engaged effectively this can help to reduce polarization, and further define and consolidate the state‐ and nation‐building agenda.

But the media’s ability to serve as a forum is a weakness for fragile states that may not have the institutions to manage this kind of discussion.[ii]

[ii] Nicole Stremlau and Monroe E. Price, Media, lection and Political Violence in Eastern Africa: Towards a Comparative Framework, An Annenberg-Oxford Occasional Paper in Communications Policy Research (Annenberg-Oxford, 2009), 28

Media as Public Educator

Media’s role as a public educator is in essence a combination of media’s three other roles with a few added aspects.   For example, media as a mechanism for transparency ensures voters are provided information necessary to fully evaluate the conduct of officials as well as the process at large.   Media as a campaign platform ensures the public is educated in political agenda’s of all participating parties and candidates equally.  Media as open forum for debate and discussion ensures that voters can educate other voters, politicians, and officials.   

Media also educates through the transmission of voter information.  This might be through direct negotiation with EMBs and NGOs for broadcast of educational material (see Encyclopaedia topic area: Voter Education for more information).  It also happens indirectly.  For example, when media report on an electoral event, details such as the location of voting sites, the necessity of voter registration, how the count will be conducted, and so forth, may be provided to the audience. This is one reason why it is very important that an EMB communicates frequently with all media, providing them with the necessary facts and figures to ensure accurate reporting.

Media also play an important analytical role, which enhances their ability to play their other roles, as watchdogs, forums for debate, and so on. For example, if media simply re-post or re-broadcast an EMB press release, transmission of information to the electorate may still warrant useful, but lacking in scope and context.  Without analysis of the press release in relation to on the ground events, results, or opposing opinions, for example, the information received by the media audience is one-dimensional.   In ensuring that the public has the level of informational detail required to make informed choices or action, media utilize various tools of analysis.   These include:

  • Opinion polls;
  • Research and scrutiny of policies, records and reports;
  • Investigative journalism;
  • Use of expert input and opinion;
  • Assess community needs and opinions;
  • Measure candidates/parties deliveries against promises.

Gender, Media and Elections

Women and men tend to be treated very differently by the media, worldwide. Similarly, men and women tend to have vastly different experiences of participating in political processes. Men are more visible and dominant in both media and elections; and gender stereotypes prevail in both. These differences are mutually reinforcing in the sense that less visibility of women in the media impacts their political success; and less women politicians means less news stories focusing on women leaders.

Women’s participation in politics – as voters, candidates, politicians, civil society activists, and in other roles – is important because it allows women to exercise their fundamental civil and political rights. It is also important because it allows countries to draw on the full range of human resources available to it to progress; and helps to ensure that women’s and girl’s needs are adequately met in policy-making processes. Gender stereotypes and discrimination are damaging to both men and women because they constrain individuals and society as a whole.

The UN’s Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression acknowledges this problem, saying:

central to the issues of equal access for women to rights, equal opportunities for the enjoyment of rights, and equal treatment in that enjoyment is the actual extent to which women may exercise their rights to opinion, expression and information without discrimination and the degree to which women actually enjoy the right to participation in public life. The Special Rapporteur states again that the problem does not lie in the manner in which international human rights standards have been elaborated but rather in the restrictive and traditional interpretations and applications of human rights law. The Special Rapporteur emphasizes that it is not acceptable for women still to be dependent on men to represent their views and protect their interests nor is it acceptable that women continue to be consistently excluded from decision-making processes that not only affect them but society in general. [i]

Women’s participation in political processes has improved in most countries in recent decades. The percentage of women in parliament increased four-fold in the half-century to 1995.[ii] Nevertheless, in 2012 the percentage of women in parliament even in established democracies is still well below parity (India 11%, United States 17%, Denmark 39%).[iii] Many countries – particularly new democracies - now have policies that directly promote women candidates, often through voluntary or mandatory quota systems. Most democracies now have universal suffrage in which women have the same rights as men (even if there are more barriers to exercising them, in many countries); and civic and voter education usually targets both men and women.

Gender stereotyping and limitations to participation continue to express themselves in many ways in political life. While women’s participation as members of parliaments is growing, women are less likely to hold ministerial positions or the highest office in the country (president, prime minister, etc.). When women do hold ministerial positions, they are more likely to hold stereotypical ‘women’s’ portfolios such as social welfare rather than economics, politics, or security.[iv]

A number of factors continue to contribute to the slow progress of women in politics.  As stated in a media monitoring manual by IDEA and UN Women:

[s]everal studies indicate that the citizens support women candidates, yet the failure to promote their leadership in their own political organizations, the smaller sums of money available for their campaigns, and the cultural conditioning factors that assign them a greater responsibility in family tasks all stand in the way of their full participation.[v]

Gender discrimination is also compounded by the general news media. According to the Global Media Monitoring Project, in 2010 men were 79% of news subjects, and “[n]ews continue to portray a world in which men outnumber women in almost all occupational categories, the highest disparity being in the professions”, with obvious implications for the visibility of women in politics.The media sector has improved in some ways, however, with a growing number of female reporters in all issue areas – including ‘hard’ topics such as security, politics and economics. Women reporters were 6% more likely than male ones to have women as subjects in their stories.[vi]

It is increasingly recognized that media have a key role to play in women’s participation throughout political life. In 1994 the Inter-Parliamentary Union stated that the media can “help to instil among the public the idea that women's participation in political life is an essential part of democracy (and) can also take care to avoid giving negative or minimizing images of women and their determination and capacity to participate in politics, stressing the importance of women's role in economic and social life and in the development process in general.”[vii]

In most countries political competition during elections is played out in the media, and the media thus play a key agenda-setting role.  As emphasized in the media monitoring manual mentioned earlier, media does this by determining “issues and individuals they consider newsworthy day after day…whether a candidate is present or absent, and the type of coverage they get when they are present, all condition their chances of getting elected, since the voters extract the information they need for making their political decisions from the media.”[viii]

A number of studies have been carried out on media coverage of female candidates, revealing that even when there are a reasonable number of women candidates they are often neglected by the media. A study by International IDEA and Asociación Civil Transparencia of Peru’s 2006 elections revealed that:

[e]ven though women accounted for 39 per cent of all candidates for Congress, they obtained only 19 per cent of print media coverage, 22 per cent of television coverage, and 26 per cent of radio coverage.
  • Among the programmatic issues, gender equality accounted for a very small percentage of coverage (print media 0.97 per cent, television 1.3 per cent, and radio 1.6 per cent).

The Uruguay elections of 2004 and 2009 revealed similar biases:

  • In general, only 3.8 per cent of political figures who featured were women, and 96.3 per cent were men. This is despite the fact that women accounted for 10.6 per cent of all the figures who were taken into account during the monitoring (2004).
  • While women accounted for 22.6 per cent of all candidates, they garnered only 13.6 per cent of appearances in the campaign news in the print and broadcast media (2009).
  • The issues grouped under the category ‘gender and women’s interests’ accounted for 3.5 per cent of the programmatic issues recorded.[ix]

The media’s multiple contributions to elections can also be applied to addressing gender discrimination and promoting equal participation, for example:

  • Media as watchdog: media can include questions of gender discrimination in its accountability remit. Is the EMB properly addressing access for female voters? Are political parties practicing gender stereotyping and discrimination?
  • Media as civic educator: media can increase its use of a range of images of women and men in different roles, challenging stereotypes.
  • Media as campaign platform: in their interactions with political parties, media can encourage parties to put forward female spokespeople and use a range of images of women and men.
  • Media as public voice, analyst and interpreter: media can encourage dialogue that includes a diversity of voices, and provide analysis that uses women as experts and includes a gender lens on a range of topics.


Other action is being taken on a number of fronts to address the compounded problem of women’s lack of visibility in elections-related media:

  • Monitoring of media reporting of women candidates by NGOs, EOMs, EMBs, and others, and using monitoring results to raise awareness;
  • Incorporating gender training into training of elections- and political-reporters and other media personnel, including “raising the awareness of journalists and media outlets as to their importance as agents of social change for building more equitable societies, and helping them move away from visions of reality that highlight men while failing to portray the presence and contributions of women in the different areas of social life”;[x]
  • Hiring more female news and general media staff;
  • Incorporating gender issues into capacity building for political party communications departments and spokespeople;
  • Improving civic and voter education at all levels to include an understanding of gender equality and participation of women and men.

[v] Beatriz Llanos and Juana Nina, Electoral Coverage from a Gender Perspective: A media monitoring manual, (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2011), 11

[vi] “Who makes the news”, (report highlights) Global Media Monitoring Project, 2010, accessed August 23, 2012

[vii] “Plan Of Action to Correct Present Imbalances In The Participation

Of Men And Women In Political Life”, Inter-Parliamentary Union, March 16, 1994, Http://Www.Ipu.Org/Wmn-E/Planactn.Htm

[viii] Beatriz Llanos and Juana Nina, Electoral Coverage from a Gender Perspective: A media monitoring manual, (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2011), 11

[x] Beatriz Llanos and Juana Nina, Electoral Coverage from a Gender Perspective: A media monitoring manual, (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2011), 10

Additional Resources

Additional Resources

Rosemary Armao, Covering Elections: The Challenges of Training the Watchdogs, Center for International Media Assistance, (Washington DC: National Endowment for Democracy, 2012)

Larry Diamond “Liberation Technology”, Journal of Democracy 21 no. 3 (July 2010)

Philip N. Howard and Muzammil M. Hussain “The Role of Digital Media”, Journal of Democracy 22, no. 3 (July 3, 2011)

Ross Howard, Media + Elections, An Elections Reporting Handbook,  (IMPACS Associate, 2004)

Michael Karanicolas, “Regulation of paid advertising: A survey”, Centre for Law and Democracy (March 2012),

Yasha Lange and Andrew Palmer (eds), Media and Elections: a Handbook, (Dusseldorf: European Institute for the Media, 1995)

Beatriz Llanos and Juana Nina, Electoral Coverage from a Gender Perspective: A media monitoring manual, (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, 2011

Johanna Martinsson, The Role of Media Literacy in the Governance Reform Agenda, (Washington DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2009)

Susan D. Moeller Media Literacy: Understanding the News, Center for International Media Assistance, (Washington DC: National Endowment for Democracy, 2009)

Robert Noris, Media Monitoring to Promote Democratic elections: an NDI handbook for citizen organizations, (Washington DC: National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, 2002)

Howard R. Penniman and Austin Ranney, "The Regulation of Televised Political Advertising in Six Selected Democracies", Committee for the Study of the American Electorate, n.d.

Bill Ristow, “Cash for Coverage:
 Bribery of Journalists Around the World,” A Report to the Center for International Media Assistance, Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA) and National Endowment for Democracy (NED), September 28, 2010

Frank Smyth, Journalist Security Guide (Committee to Protect Journalists, 2012)

Empowering Independent Media, US Efforts to Foster Free and Independent News Around the World, Center for International Media Assistance, eds. Marguerite H. Sullivan (Washington DC: National Endowment for Democracy, 2008),

Nicole Stremlau and Monroe E. Price, “Media, Elections and Political Violence in Eastern Africa: Towards a Comparative Framework,” Programme in Comparative Media Law and Policy, Centre for Socio‐Legal Studies, University of Oxford, Center for Global Communication Studies, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Pennsylvania Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research, London, October 2009

Dr Andy Williamson, Dr Laura Miller & Freddy Fallon, Behind the Digital Campaign, (London: Hansard Society, 2010)

BRIDGE (Building Resources in Democracy, Governance and Elections)

Election Reporting Handbook, International Federation of Journalists (n.d.)

Guidelines for Election Broadcasting in Transitional Democracies”, (London: ARTICLE 19, 1994)

Handbook for Journalists,Reporters Without Borders/UNESCO(n.d.),21744.html

 “Handbook on Media Monitoring for Election Observation Missions” (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe ODIHR, 2012)

Media and elections in Sudan: Monitoring the coverage of Sudan 2010 elections, Period 13 February to 31 October 2010,” Sudan Media and Elections, December 2010, Consortium

Media and the Elections Process, Reuters Foundation

“Who makes the news”, (report highlights) Global Media Monitoring Project, (2010), accessed August 23, 2012

World Press Freedom Index 2011- 2012”, Reporters without Borders, 25 January 2012

Guiding Principles

The single guiding principle underlying the role of the media in elections is that without media freedom and pluralism, democracy is not possible. This has been underlined in the decisions of numerous international tribunals. It has also been stated very clearly in the recent past by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, who went on to elaborate a series of steps that governments should take to guarantee freedom of media during elections.

There are a number of different dimensions to media freedom that are of relevance in elections:

  • Freedom from censorship.
  • Freedom from arbitrary attack or interference.
  • Free access to necessary information.
  • A pluralism of voices in the media.

The last of these is especially important. It is often interpreted to mean that the media should be owned by a variety of different interests, resulting in a "market-place of ideas". This is important, but it is only one aspect. For countries emerging from authoritarian rule, usually characterized by tight state control over the media, ensuring pluralism within the publicly funded media may be equally important. This is because often it is only a government-controlled national broadcaster that has the capacity to reach all sections of the electorate.

In order to ensure that the publicly funded media are not, in practice, government-controlled, a clear regulatory intervention may be required. This is the central paradox of the management of media in elections - the frequent need to establish a fairly complex regulatory system in order to enable the media to operate freely and without interference.

At stake are three interlocking sets of rights:

  • the right of the voters to make a fully informed choice.
  • the right of the candidates to put their policies across.
  • the right of the media to report and express their views on matters of public interest.

Of course, these rights, which are essentially all aspects of the right to freedom of expression guaranteed in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, apply at all times, and not only when there is an election pending. But it is the very formality of the election process - the fact that it is conducted according to procedures that are clearly set out in law - that has stimulated the interest of those who are concerned with issues of media freedom. How far media freedom and pluralism are respected during an election period can be a fairly sensitive index of respect for freedom of expression in general - itself an essential precondition for a functioning democracy. Conversely, an election can be an ideal opportunity to educate both the authorities in their obligation to respect and nurture media freedom and the media in their responsibility to support the democratic process.

Looking at relations with the media from the perspective of the electoral management body, two other important principles come into play: transparency and confidentiality.

  • Transparency means that the operations of the EMB are open to public scrutiny and hence accountability.
  • Confidentiality means that the security of the EMB’s operations are safeguarded against those who have no right to unauthorized information and who may undermine the integrity of the election process.

Clearly these principles may come into conflict in practice. Complete transparency and confidentiality are clearly incompatible. However, establishing the precedence of these principles in any given case may be less difficult than it might at first appear.It will almost invariably be true that the plans and activities of the EMB should be open to public scrutiny. It will, without exception, be true that the vote itself should be secret. The borderline cases in between are likely to be few.


For as long as there have been mass media, they have reported political events, but across most of the globe the central role of the media in elections is a very recent development.

In many countries, free elections are themselves a new phenomenon. For large parts of Asia and Africa that were once under colonial rule, free and sovereign elections are a development of the second half of the twentieth century, while for those countries in the former Communist bloc they are even more recent than that. Even the countries of Western Europe and Latin America only fully democratized in the years shortly before or after the Second World War with the extension of the franchise to women. The United States only finally ended limitations on the franchise in the 1960s. Latin America's democratic tradition was blighted by a history of military dictatorship, particularly from the 1960s to the 1980s, a development that was echoed in many countries of Africa and Asia. Some countries, particularly in Europe and North America, had a vigorous free press even when the franchise was limited. Others developed independent media only as they were struggling to install a system of elected government.

Europe, North America, and Latin America evolved a theory of the media as a "Fourth Estate", offering a check on the activities of governments. This approach has increasingly been incorporated into international law, although the practice has fallen short of the ideal. Generally, an independent press evolved in parallel with the more general development of political freedoms.

Until relatively recently, the printed press was the sole mass medium. It had a limited reach, simply because functional literacy only extended to a minority. Thus the development of broadcasting was potentially revolutionary in communicating political ideas to a mass audience. Yet in many instances, the very potential of radio and television was frightening to those responsible for administering broadcasting. The British Broadcasting Corporation operated a "14-day rule" that prohibited coverage of any issue within two weeks of it being debated in Parliament. It was not until 1951 that the first party election broadcasts were screened. The compulsory blackouts of coverage in the days before an election that continue in countries like France are a relic of that period - when the media seemed to go out of their way not to influence the outcome of an election.

Times have changed. Received wisdom is that contemporary elections are dominated by television, a development that can be traced back to around 1960 - the date of the historic first television debate between United States presidential candidates. But this view is only partly accurate. The majority of the world's population do not watch television - they do not have electricity or they could not afford the set. Nor is this only a phenomenon of dictatorships - the world's largest democracy, after all, is India. For such countries, radio remains the most important medium.

But even in countries where television dominates political debate, this has been a fairly recent phenomenon. In many Western European countries, commercial broadcasting was only legalized in the 1980s, and television coverage of elections remains highly regulated as a legacy of the long years of state control of broadcasting.

For all the talk of "spin doctors" and "globalization", much of what passes through the media at election times would be readily recognizable to a previous generation of voters, accustomed to a style of political campaigning through public meetings and hustings. The American tradition of paid television advertising, drawing upon the most sophisticated techniques of Madison Avenue, is an important one, but not dominant worldwide. The more regulated tradition of European broadcasting still enjoys wide adherence, at election time more than at any other. This tends to favour lengthier policy messages and debate over quick sound bites.

The "medium is the message", according to a celebrated media theorist. But there is no doubt that during elections a variety of different types of message are communicated through the same medium. The most celebrated debates in American campaign history were between Kennedy and Nixon in 1960 and between Lincoln and Douglas a century earlier. The former was the harbinger of the age of television elections. But the striking thing is that the similarities between the two exchanges were greater than their differences.

What remains to be seen is the long-term impact of the most recent developments in media technology. The Internet has already transformed the way in which elections are reported. It has effectively ended, for example, the practice of “news blackouts” or “reflection periods”, since it operates largely beyond the reach of regulators. But if the majority of the world’s population still does not have television sets, still fewer have personal computers. The precise impact on election coverage remains to be seen.

Potentially even more significant is the future role of mobile telephony as a news medium. In many parts of the world, access to telephones has skipped a technological generation. Many relatively poor people who have no land line own a mobile telephone. Text messages have already been used in political campaigning and for distributing news. The next stage, which is already developing fast, is the use of “Podcasting”, broadcasting audio and video files.

Probably no aspect of the administration of elections is more determined by the political and social context than the functioning of the media. This is principally to be seen in two overlapping dimensions:

  • The level of social and economic development of the country, with its consequences for the structure of media audience and ownership - and where people get their political information from.
  • The extent to which the media have experience in reporting democratic elections - and how far media freedom has prevailed in the past.

It has become commonplace to talk about the globalization of information. Equally many bemoan the "Americanization" of election campaigning - meaning the use of slick televisual images with little substantive content. Both these viewpoints, although apparently coming from different political standpoints, make the same assumption: that a certain type of media and certain type of campaign language prevail throughout the world. Yet this is far from the case. Very large numbers of voters are excluded from access to television through poverty. Many others are excluded from newspaper readership through a combination of poverty and illiteracy. (Although interestingly newspaper readership is higher than television viewing in many countries of sub-Saharan Africa.) So although the information order is no doubt more globalized than in the past - more than when Marshall McLuhan coined the term "global village" in the 1960s - national particularities are still very important. And at no time are they more important than in elections, which are quintessentially national events.

Countries with recent histories of authoritarian rule will often have in common that the publicly-funded media operate under tight government control. Elsewhere, in most of Western Europe for example, there is a strong history of public broadcasting being independent of government and enhancing media pluralism. But in countries with a weak culture of political pluralism, state journalists will not usually be bold or independent. This may require a greater degree of intervention from the regulatory body to ensure that they discharge their public service functions properly.

Another similar circumstance in which the regulatory authority may be called upon to intervene more regularly is when there is a history of "hate speech" and incitement to violence by partisan media representing different political or ethnic groups.

But in these circumstances, the role of the regulatory authority is to guarantee a plurality of voices in the media, not to silence anyone.

Some of the more practical questions may be more difficult to address in a new democracy than in a well-established one. For example, how do you decide how much free broadcasting time to give each party when there was no previous democratic election as a means of gauging their popular support? But even this difficulty - or difference - should not be overstated. Many advanced democracies - the Netherlands, Denmark, and Norway, for example - take little or no notice of previous election results when they allocate broadcasting time. They do it on the basis of equality between the parties. So for administrators from new democracies planning a regulatory system, there is a wealth of existing examples to choose from.

Where Do People Get Their Information?

Media is everywhere. There are hundreds of thousands of traditional (broadcast and print) media outlets across the globe. In Russia alone, there were 35,000 registered newspapers in 2010 and roughly 10,000 radio and TV stations by 2004.[i] The growth of the Internet, satellite transmission, and mobile phone services has rendered it impossible to gauge the true extent of media outlet proliferation. Furthermore, new media, such as blogging, the social media networks and so forth have added an expansive dimension of what media means today and who has access to it. 

In this age of media diversity and reach it is easy to assume therefore that we live in a "global village" - a single, undifferentiated information society. Nevertheless, access to information by people - and voters in particular - differs enormously depending on national and subnational contexts.  Across the globe, aspects such as politics (both current and historical), media literacy, access to electricity, wealth, geographic location, and culture all contribute to the wide array of national-level media landscapes.    The nature of the media landscape will largely determine the nuances of the role that the media play in an election. These nuances include reach, political inclinations, and tendencies to set the terms of political debate.

Media mapping is important for most election stakeholders, in order to understand what media is available, what its strengths and weaknesses are, and who has access to it. A thorough media mapping exercise for a given country need do more than look at local media: it needs to at least attempt to account for the vast array of media that streams in from international sources. An examination of presence and coverage of media is also not enough.  A proper analysis also needs to account for the affect that characteristics such as ownership, wealth, political history, legal framework, and culture have on the dynamics of a media landscape.  A comprehensive understanding of the many layers and nuances of media landscape is particularly important for the implementation of democratic elections. According to one analyst, “[…] access to accurate and objective information is more important than ever for a healthy democracy to flourish. This access is crucial to improve conditions for trust among citizens, media, and state, and to implement and sustain the governance agenda.”[ii]

One of the most pivotal influences to media landscapes is wealth and economic prosperity.  This affects both ownership and reach of media.  For example, in an area where there is little opportunity for advertising revenue, there is often a dearth of independent local media unless funding is provided directly from external sources, for example from wealthy individuals or donors.  Often independent (private) media will be concentrated around urban areas with little to no reach beyond them.    Although decreasingly so, there are still areas of the world where the only national media that is available in rural areas is state or government media.  The term ‘digital divide’ has been coined to refer to inequalities between populations in terms of access to modern media.

Increasingly media throughout the world, except in the poorest countries, fall under the control of multinational media companies.  Access to multinational media companies is also on the rise, often despite matters of economics.   For example in Afghanistan prior to 2002, access to broadcast media was limited to a network of state owned outlets except for a smattering of multinational AM radio stations such as BBC and Voice of America (VoA).  Over the course of the next ten years, the landscape had altered dramatically, with a flourish of independent and private national broadcasters.  Yet, even in areas where there is still little reach of national media, access to multinational media via satellite has, in varying degrees, altered access to information.

However, wealth is not the only factor which influences layout of media presence. Political and cultural traditions are also a significant determinant. Most European countries, for example, have a strong tradition of state or public ownership of broadcasting. France only legalized private broadcasting in the 1980s. Not surprisingly, countries with a history of military or single-party rule may have developed their own tradition of state control of the media.  During the 1960’s and 70’s private media in Latin America was often associated with military dictatorships.  A country’s historical context of media affects audience trust tendencies, which in turn influences listenership/readership.  This has the potential to either encourage or discourage the development of certain types of media. 


Another critical dimension of the media environment is the strength of the traditions and legal framework of political freedom and respect for freedom of expression. Preferably the media will operate under the protection of strong constitutional and statutory guarantees of freedom of expression and access to information. For example, the extent to which the allocation of broadcasting frequencies is a fair and transparent process is likely to have a significant influence on how the broadcasters discharge their responsibilities at election time. Similarly, a history of censorship or physical intimidation of the media is likely to loom as a constant threat over journalists and editors in their election coverage.

Access to international media can also be greatly affected by the legal policies of a country.  The North Korean government, for example, has been successful in remaining almost entirely isolated from the international media scene.  There is currently (2012) no broadband data network in the country, and Internet satellite receivers are not permitted except in extremely controlled circumstances or for government and elite use.  

Countries with economic prosperity, a history of pluralism, freedom of expression and independence will have had the opportunity to cultivate diverse and stable media as well. Professional standards may also be higher (although the sometimes weak ethics of media in advanced democracies show that the correlation is not an exact one). Most importantly, the combinations influences and histories will set the stage as to how effectively and fairly the media will be able to cover an election. 

Understanding the media landscape of a given country also includes understanding how people use media. As well as the availability of media, there are other factors at play, such as people’s personal preferences, work location and routines, overall trust in news sources as well as general media literacy. Two brief examples from the developing world show what wide variation there can be in terms of how people get information. A study conducted by Altai in 2010 in Afghanistan found that only 13 percent of the population turned to the printed press for information.  This low percentage was a result of literacy levels and access.[iii] A study in 2012 in Nigeria found that while radio usage was generally the same in rural and urban areas, and that 4 out of every 10 respondents said they listened to the radio on their mobile phones within the week prior to the survey, more urban residents watched TV in a given week than rural residents.[iv] These differences distinguish one country’s media usage patterns from another, and affect media usage during elections. In addition to, and in some instances instead of, electronic or print media, direct personal communication remains greatly important in election campaigns and processes.

Yet, even in these instances, the media still have an important role in communicating political information. Even when rural communities do not have direct access to independent media, the information generated by the press will still go into general circulation and may reach the rural voters at some stage. “Information gatekeepers” may themselves rely on media as a source of news and will therefore pass on what they glean from the press.  Therefore, although word of mouth may be the direct source of political information in some instances, the media will likely contribute importantly to the mass of information in circulation.

Audience analysis is often quickly out-dated however, as preferences and access change so rapidly in today’s media environment. A study by the Pew Research Center in the US in 2008, for example, found that there was an almost two fold jump in Internet news consumption, from 24% to 40%, in just one year.[v]

General news consumption does not translate cleanly into election-related news consumption.   For example, a report issued in 2006 exploring global audience reaction to and affinity for political campaign ads found that “political advertising is the most derided form of political communication.”[vi]

While popularity of political advertisements may be low, there are indications that people turn to specific media for their general election information.  The impact of social media on voters’ choices is the latest area of intense research focus.  One study found that of the 82% of U.S. adults who are social media users, 51% will use social media to learn more about the candidates of the U.S. presidential 2012 elections.[vii] What is difficult to ascertain of course, is to what degree this ‘learning’ actually changes vote choices. 

[ii] Johanna Martinsson, The Role of Media Literacy in the Governance Reform Agenda, (Washington DC: The International Bank for Reconstruction and Development/The World Bank, 2009), 3

[iii] “Afghan Media in 2010, A Synthesis,” report by Altai Consulting (funding by USAID), (2010), 101 - 102

[iv]“Nigeria Media Use 2012” Gallup and Broadcasting Board of Governors, accessed August 23, 2012,

[v] “Internet Overtakes Newspapers as News Outlet” The Pew Research Center, December 23 2008,




Ghana's election on the BBC by bbcworldservice is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 2.0 Generic License.

Media Literacy

Media literacy is vital to ensuring that media coverage of elections is effective in informing an electorate, and that the media is itself held accountable. The Center for Media Literacy defines the term as follows:

Media Literacy is a 21st century approach to education. It provides a framework to access, analyze, evaluate, create and participate with messages in a variety of forms — from print to video to the Internet. Media literacy builds an understanding of the role of media in society as well as essential skills of inquiry and self-expression necessary for citizens of a democracy.[i]

Media literacy development goes beyond simply increasing the knowledge and skillsets of media consumers, however. It also includes targeting information holders, such as government officials, and, more specifically to elections: EMB officials, candidates, and political parties, in order to improve their understanding of and relationship with media. These bodies and individuals are often prone to withholding information out of suspicion toward the media’s intentions, or fear of negative repercussions. However, this fear or suspicion is often a result of a lack of training and experience in dealing with media.  Understanding that “[m]edia literacy is an alternative to censoring, boycotting or blaming “the media”,”[ii] is instrumental to fostering democratic processes and practices. The chapter EMB Media Relations within this topic area provides more information on how EMBs can more fully appreciate the values and resources of a free and media-friendly environment. It also provides tools on how to use these resources.

The sustainability of free and independent media is reliant on media literate audiences and information providers. Media literacy includes understanding on how to use the quickly changing media landscape.  This is particularly relevant in today’s age of social media, and ever developing media technology. Media literacy also involves recognition of the use of, and power of, subtext. Subtext is the context or background of the primary message and may include images, background audio, and framing, each of which conveys specific messages, associations, and insinuations. In short, media literacy is about developing critical thinking skills and overall awareness. This in turn fosters pluralistic media as well as media who are challenged to improve upon professionalism. Media literacy gives rise to a population who understand the media landscape as a whole, including the impacts of legal frameworks and the importance of media safety.

The following provides just some of skills inherent to media literacy:[iii]

  • Understanding what media is available for access, and how to access it;
  • Understanding how to operate media and pass on information;
  • The ability to identify the creator, as well as intentions, of media messages;
  • Recognition of commercial interests behind messaging;
  • Recognising the impact of media monopolies on media impartiality;
  • Understanding the inescapable influence of values and views of the media makers;
  • Understanding “tools of persuasion”;
  • Recognising the role of culture in media messaging development;
  • Recognising the impact on culture by media message;
  • Recognising the difference between text and subtext;
  • Understanding how media affects our thoughts and attitudes;
  • Recognising that there is always a larger story or picture to what is being presented;
  • Recognising bias, misinformation, or inaccuracies;
  • Recognising “filters” that we use when interpreting media messages, such as our own experiences or educations;
  • Developing skills to create ones own messages;
  • Understanding the power and role that citizen journalism plays in today’s media landscape as an additional category of information providers. This role is especially in the contexts of limited (or entirely absent) freedom for traditional media;
  • Recognizing the different impacts of time-based media (such as movies) as opposed to static media (such as photos);
  • Understanding how audience memory works – what they will remember immediately after consuming a message and what they remember months later;
  • Understanding how emotion plays into message interpretation and memory;
  • Recognising how messages can be manipulated to enhance emotional responses (including the use of frames, angles, and lighting);
  • Understanding the impact of legal frameworks on media messaging;
  • Knowledge of the tenants of media professionalism such as balanced reporting, right of reply, and protection of source identities;
  • Understanding the impact of self-censorship (the power of fear) on media messaging;
  • Understanding how to advocate for positive change in the media system.


It is clear that much of the above critical thinking is vital to voters making informed opinions. In addition, media literacy is important in conflict and post-conflict situations as a safeguard against hate-speech in otherwise volatile circumstances. An audience that is educated in the tenants of media professionalism is more likely to demand high quality media content. Media literacy is also important for new or transitioning democracies. In these circumstances legal frameworks are usually under development and will greatly impact the future state of independent and free media. Furthermore, citizens may experience a rather sudden explosion of news sources and media formats after decades or more of controlled and sparse media. The greater the media literacy, the more prepared audiences (and information providers) will be in deciphering messages and recognizing value and credibility.

However, while there have been considerable concerted development efforts across the world to enhance media professionalism and encourage media independence, the same cannot necessarily be said for efforts to increase media literacy.

[ii]Ibid.  (

[iii] Much of this list was drawn from the Media Literacy Project free resource, accessed February 20, 2015,


While the media landscape is ever expanding and diversifying, radio remains the most prevalent and accessible form of media worldwide.  Where FM radio is sparse or non-existent, AM radio is often still accessible.  Already in 2002, 95% of the world’s population was covered by analogue radio signals.[i]  The advent of satellite radio has also greatly expanded the variety of radio programming available to individuals worldwide. 

Although satellite radio remains relatively expensive, traditional radio is popular because of its relative cheapness.  A handheld radio will still need batteries, but these costs are a fraction of those associated with other forms of media. Furthermore, a lack of electricity is not necessarily a limiting factor for radio.  Radio also transcends limitations due to literacy.  This makes it a particularly vital source of information for rural or poor areas, or contexts where women are less likely to be literate than men. 

A Gallup poll conducted in 23 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2008 revealed that 59% of respondents claimed national radio to be their most important source of information about national events, while a further 9% turned to international radio over other forms of media for this information.   Combined, this contrasts starkly to the 3% who utilized newspapers, or the 1% who utilized the Internet, as their most important source of news on national events.[ii]

However, although radio prevails as the most accessible source for information on a global geographic level, individual countries show wide variations in radio consumption (despite the general lack of consistent statistics in many countries).  For example, in the United States, where in 2012 an estimated 96.7% of households owned a television set[iii] - a number comparable to the percentage of Americans tuning into radio every week (93%), the average amount of time an American spent watching TV as opposed to listening to radio was nearly two-fold (33hrs/week versus 14hrs 46min/week).[iv]

In addition to understanding access to radio specific to a country, is the importance of understanding an audience’s access to types of programming.  This includes recognizing the impact of ownership of radio programs and stations. Discussion on ownership of media is provided on the page Media Ownership and Elections.


In locations where it is both accessible and affordable, television continues to be the most popular form of media.   According to the International Telecommunications Union in 2009, there were significant regional differences in television ownership.  Europe, the Americas, and the Commonwealth of Independent States all showed household ownership as 95% or more.   Arab States, and Asia and the Pacific, showed lower statistics of 82% and 75% respectively.  Estimates for Africa were well below those of other regions, with only 28% ownership.[i] 

Categorization of television ownership per region can be misleading however, as statistics for countries within the regions can vary dramatically.  A 2007-2008 comparison of radio and television set ownership clearly shows that ownership of the former far surpasses that of the latter for the majority of 50 of the world’s “least developed countries.” Yet many of these countries fall into the general regions listed above which show overall high (consolidated) television ownership.  Some countries which did not demonstrate this trend were Bangladesh, Cambodia, Djibouti, Laos and Myanmar, where television ownership was near equivalent to radio ownership or indeed surpassed it. Furthermore, individual statistics demonstrate that significant proportions of these countries’ population do not own either a radio or a television set; in many cases television ownership was well below 30%.[ii] 

Nevertheless, television remains one of the most dynamic and ever-expanding forms of media.  In addition to terrestrial television programming (by way of transmission towers), there is now satellite programming available to viewers.   Satellite transmission has made television ‘global’ in characteristic, in that satellites cover large regions of the world.  This has had a dramatic effect on how international news and general programming is viewed and consumed.  It has also plays a pivotal role in opening up access to information in otherwise relatively closed countries, countries with limited media freedom.  For example, in 2009 in Egypt, satellite television penetration was 43% (by comparison, broadband penetration was 7.4%),[iii] allowing residents access to non-state media, as well as to independent media that was not indirectly controlled by way of self-censorship and fear. Similarly, in 2009, 74% of the population in Syria had access to satellite television (only 0.5% had access to Internet broadband).[iv]

Terrestrial television has also diversified.  Analogue television, transmitted through electromagnetic waves, is slowly giving way to digital terrestrial programming, a process that began in the 1990s.   Digital programming allows for transmitted code to be compressed, which in turn allows for a greater amount of channels to be broadcast within one bandwidth.  Not only has this change made for a sizable increase in programming available to viewers, but it has allowed for diversification of how television programming is accessed: on a computer through the Internet, on a mobile phone, or at home over a regular television set. 

Due to extremely high costs that are involved, countries have staged switchover to digital broadcasting.  The Netherlands was one of the first countries to fully switch off analogue broadcasting, followed shortly by Finland, Andorra, Sweden and Switzerland.  The United States made a complete switch in 2009 after a process that took almost 10 years. At an International Telecommunications Union conference in 2006, nations of Europe, Africa and the Middle East agreed to phase in digital broadcasting. A statement released by the conference stressed that

...digitization of broadcasting in Europe, Africa, Middle East and the Islamic Republic of Iran by 2015 represents a major landmark towards establishing a more equitable, just and people-centered information society. The digital switchover will leapfrog existing technologies to connect the unconnected in underserved and remote communities and close the digital divide.[v]

As of mid 2012, roughly twenty-five European countries, including Estonia, France, Malta, Slovenia and Spain, had made the switch.   European countries such as Greece and Ireland had not yet made the change.[vi] These Wikipedia pages show the on-going progression of digital switchover across the world:[vii] and


[ii] As cited in Ibid, 166

[iii] Jeffrey Ghannam, Social Media in the Arab World: Leading up to the Uprisings of 2011, A Report to the Center for International Media Assistance, (Washington DC: National Endowment for Democracy, 2011), 26

[vi] Petros Iosifidis, “Mapping Digital Media: Digital Television, the Public Interest, and European Regulation”, Reference Series 17 (London: Open Society Media Program, 2012): 12-13

[vii] Thumbnails at the lower half of the webpage demonstrate the progression of world maps according to digital switchover updates.


Within traditional media (print and broadcast), print media displays the greatest diversity of all, in both ownership and content. Print media ranges from daily to weekly newspapers, from news magazines to a range of special interest publications. Print media also includes one-off publications such as fliers and leaflets.   Out of all of the mass media formats, print media is also the oldest, as written text on stone, cloth or paper. 

In today’s world print has a smaller audience than other forms of mass media.  This is due in part to literacy levels, access, and wealth. Simple personal preference is also a factor.  For example, in China – where earliest known print media originated – one calculation in 2009 determined that 81.5% of the population was literate. Total circulations of daily and non-daily print publications were 202 per 1000 citizens, roughly 20%, while radio and television sets hovered around 32 and 31% respectively.[i] Another calculation placed the number of radios and televisions sets as more than double the number of daily and non daily-circulations.[ii] What calculations like these do not account for of course is the number of people who will read one print publication, or the number of people who will listen to one radio set or watch one television set.  However, it is clear from the various angles of statistics around the world, one can safely assume that more people listen to the radio or watch television than do those who read a publication.  

This does not make print media any less valuable nor less necessary to the overall pluralism of the media landscape however. Print media has a history of being privately owned rather than government or state owned, but both kinds of ownership have a record of complaints regarding biases. If public press have the risk of being manipulated to benefit the government [iii], private press have the risk of introducing biases in order to meet the private interests -economic, political, ideological...- of its owners[iv].

Furthermore, print media in a sense has more longevity, as it is exists for longer periods of time; however, the new information technologies put this into question, as the internet is accumulating old news since its initial spread. It has been detected that greater media exposure improves the degree of learning, without affecting the levels of news forgetting [v]. Agenda-setting theory has largely documented a link between the media agenda and the public agenda, related to people's primary concerns [vi]. However the link between media agenda and political agenda -those issues which are considered as priorities by politicians- has not yet been consistently shown [vii]. In addition, a number of studies have shown that in many contexts, even if readership is less than television viewership, newspapers set the agenda in terms of topics and debates for other media – and for politicians. This may be due to the fact that print media can often afford for more in-depth stories.  It may also be a result of print media’s more ‘serious’ profile than other forms of media, habits of politicians in terms of media use, and assumptions by politicians about the power of newspapers [viii]. While this influence may be changing with the new media revolution, it probably still remains true to an extent.

[iv] See, for instance, the case of Mexico, accessed February 27, 2015:

Also, the USA, accessed February 27, 2015:

For Brazil, accessed February 27, 2015:

[v] Meeter, M; Murre, J; Janssen, S. 2005. ‘Remembering the news: Modeling retention data from a study with 14,000 participants’. Memory & Cognition. 33(5), pp: 793-810.

[vi] McCombs, M; Shaw, D. 1972. ‘The agenda-setting function of mass media’. Public Opinion Quarterly 36(2), pp: 176-187.

[vii] Walgrave, S; Van Aelst, P. 2006. ‘The contingency of the mass media’s political agenda setting power: Toward a preliminary theory’. Journal of Communication, 56, pp: 88-109

[viii]“Newspapers, at least in Belgium in the 1990s, appear to have a larger political agenda-setting effect than TV news. This need not indicate that television does not matter, of course. But our results suggest the importance of newspaper content in the empirical study of agenda setting by mass media. Now, Belgium is not a “TV-centric” country, like the United States, for example, and newspapers are an important forum for public and political debate. In countries such as the United States, we might find stronger TV effects. We nevertheless suspect that newspapers have some intrinsic qualities that make them prone to setting the political agenda in any post- industrial democracy.” As found in: Stefaan Walgrave, Stuart Soroka and Michiel Nuytemans “The Mass Media's Political Agenda-Setting Power: A Longitudinal Analysis of Media, Parliament, and Government in Belgium (1993 to 2000)”,
 Comparative Political Studies 41(2008): 814,  originally published online September 17, 2007,

New Media

New media consists of the Internet, mobile phones, social media networks such as blogs and micro-blogs, social networking websites, video-sharing sites, and others. In other words, new media is a broad term that describes a range of media that are utilized for many different purposes. Some of the things that make new media different from traditional media (radio, television, newspapers and magazines) include:


  • They are usually interactive;
  • They use digital, online and mobile technology;
  • They are often audience-created and user-driven;
  • They function in real-time;
  • They are usually borderless;
  • The information is often short-lived;
  • They are more difficult to regulate – and to censor;
  • The infrastructure for publishing or broadcasting is usually cheaper for individuals to access;
  • They do not always adhere to journalistic standards and ethics.


However, the line between traditional media and social media is often blurred, with most ‘traditional’ journalists using the internet as a key source of information for stories; and many traditional media creating online editions or transforming into fully multi-media outlets. Traditional media also utilize ‘citizen journalism’ pieces – for example CNN’s iReport which invites any viewer to contribute stories. Traditional media sometimes rely on personal mobile phone images and video to cover hard-to-access stories such as military violence against democracy protesters. Large media organisations like the BBC require most of their correspondents to have skills in a range of traditional as well as online and interactive media. Almost all major news organisations now have significant online versions, many of which are interactive.

In early 2011, President Obama’s odds of re-election looked anything but certain. While 2008’s digital strategy helped the long-shot candidate mobilize the largest grassroots movement in history, the 2012 race posed different challenges: A growing Tea Party frenzy and a post-Citizens United campaign financing environment meant a more active opposition and hundreds of millions more dollars trashing the president and his record. Blue State Digital partnered with Obama’s re-election campaign to help mobilize more money, volunteers, and voters than ever before.

The digital effort, led by our Founder & CEO, Joe Rospars, grew from the ground up and quickly scaled to 300 people. The team built on the lessons of 2008 but wove in the post-2008 insights from BSD’s advocacy, nonprofit, and brand work to make something entirely new for 2012. A new and improved Tools platform provided the backbone of the campaign, handling fundraising, community-building, communication, mobilization, and overall optimization.

The campaign mobilized tens of millions of voter contacts and raised $690 million online. BSD’s infrastructure and on-call systems experts scaled complex applications, ensuring outlets like handled massive traffic surges in key moments like the Democratic National Convention and presidential debates. Our work helped President Obama bring home 332 electoral votes on election day.

A fresh visual and digital start

Months before the official campaign launch, the team developed a top-level strategy, updated the logo and visual identity, and designed and built a new

Storytelling that connects the dots

It was critical that we connected the emotions of 2008 with both the presidency and the new campaign in a way that made all of Obama’s efforts feel like a single, compelling story. We created this video to give supporters a better sense of continuity, helping them feel more invested in the election and closer to the President.

Raising the fundraising bar

For every single email we sent, we put it through several rounds of testing on smaller segments of the list, often going through more than a dozen variations before we hit “Send” on an email to millions of people. By way of example, the best performing test of President Obama’s much-discussed “I will be outspent” email outperformed 17 other variants before it was sent to the broader list—a difference in tactics that helped raise more than $2.4 million in a day. Quick Donate made one-click fundraising possible in politics for the first time. 1.5 million donors saved their payment information and became some of the campaign’s most reliable supporters, contributing a total of $115 million, $75 million of which would have been left on the table without this technology.

Introducing TargetShare

When the campaign needed an effective way to get voters in swing states out to the polls, we helped develop the earliest iteration of TargetShare. This peer-to-peer advocacy tool helped mobilize millions through the Obama for America Facebook network, and has since gone on to do the same for brands and advocacy groups all over the world. Understanding that a message from a friend is more trusted and effective, the program matched undecided voters in swing states within supporters’ networks, and provided them with a simple yet powerful way to share voting information. The peer-to-peer messages boosted target audience reach by 400% and increased completion rates for important actions like registering to vote by 40%.


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