Media and Public Policy

Putting policy in the news agenda

Poor governance continues to hold back development in the Philippines.  A new president is promising change and reform. But it is difficult to imagine that the issue of governance can be addressed fully by the executive alone. Traditional politicians have kept their places in Congress; and hold over appointments in the bureaucracy can hold back the course of change.

The problem of poor and inefficient governance, apart from corruption and related issues, calls for solutions on many levels. One approach focuses on the policy-making process and the need for a rational framework for decision- making that will engage citizens.

The free press plays a critical role in the formation of sound public policy. The press produces a forum in which policy ideas and initiatives are tested and formed in the arena of public opinion. This exchange should engage a broad representation of citizens, a critical mass that will make the discussion representative of competing interests and involve the same in the establishment of public consensus.

Unfortunately, the press does not always produce such a coherent discussion. Rather do news accounts tend to represent policy debate as a battle between two opposing, seemingly irreconcilable positions or options. Those with the means can dominate the exchange, and without media’s explanatory function, can marginalize other groups that differ. The proponents of opposing sides use the press, as in a battle, against the other side. The press then frames the policy debate as a “win or lose” contest.

Journalists need training in reporting such policy material as part of the news. Unlike news events, the reporting of policy debates involves processes and perspectives. Policy reporting could help the formation of sound public opinion. In this manner, the press can be a source of the continuing political education of citizens.

The government, the press and civil society can benefit from a refresher/introductory course that will help their members understand the policy-making process and media’s role.  It benefits the press to be part of a tri-partite learning exercise so it can better understand the context and background of policy discussion.

This program focuses on developing a policy orientation in the coverage of news. It will bring together selected journalists to assist them in developing a framework of understanding, the basis of opposing views to a policy, consensus policy options, identifying policy corrections when necessary.

With a new government called upon to solve old, festering problems, there will be much to debate. The press needs to have a background on the problem in order to help the public understand the options available to it and to consider as well as help identify how to broaden options or combine solutions to address complex needs.

Reporting Public Policy by Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility