chapter  5
15 Pages

Journalist–source relations, mediated reflexivity and the politics of politics

This chapter focuses on relations between political reporters and politicians. How the two relate has come to be recognised as a key part of the debate on the news media’s effective functioning in democratic societies. The nature of such reporter-source exchanges clearly has a significant influence on the shape of news content and thus public understanding of politics. Observation and discussion of such relations has most commonly revolved

around two analytical paradigms: the first, the adversarial-exchange line, has conceived the core issue as one of relative power in which the autonomy of the journalist and ‘fourth estate’ media is investigated vis-à-vis their sources. If sources are too powerful they undermine media autonomy. The second line is an investigation of pluralist source conflict. This seeks to compare how a range of sources seek to gain a media platform for their views and whether news media adequately reflects pluralist opinion in politics and society. Both lines are essentially concerned with how media-source social relations affect news outputs and, consequently, citizens’ understanding of politics and society. This chapter, as well as exploring these interpretive paradigms and debates, attempts to develop a third line of observation, discussion and enquiry. This argues that, in the parliamentary political sphere, such journalist-politician relations also play a key role in the social construction of politics itself. Over time, reporters have come to act as information and interpretive intermediaries for politicians engaged in microlevel politics. This has further implications for assessing journalism’s impact on the democratic process. When investigating the UK case example, many MP and journalist inter-

viewees confirmed the continuing significance of the first two paradigms and their associated normative concerns. At the same time, responses, especially at the senior level, also suggested that relations played an important part in the ‘social construction of politics’ itself. Relations and objectives are not simply about exchange or conflict but, also, have steadily become institutionalised, intense and subject to a form of ‘mediated reflexivity’. As a result, they have come to serve a number of other cognitive and behavioural functions for

political actors operating at the heart of the political process. Politicians, when talking to journalists, in addition to seeking publicity, also try to influence political agendas, convey messages to others and/or pick up multiple forms of useful information. These include knowledge about party rivals and opponents, political moods and points of consensus, and shifting levels of support for political factions and policies. Journalists, consciously or not, have come to play a role in the politics of politics itself.