Media reform and democratization
McConnell, Patrick Joseph
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More than a decade after the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe a number of countries in the region are well on their way to making a successful transition to democracy. It is often argued that the reform of a country s media system toward freedom and independence is an important part of this democratization process. But as some countries have progressed toward democracy more rapidly than others, one needs to consider whether certain patterns of media reform influence the democratization process in either positive or negative ways. To do so, this study examines reform efforts in Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland and Romania by addressing three research questions: What are the dimensions of media reform? What is the relationship of the various dimensions of media reform during the democratization process? And what is the relationship of media reform to political and economic reform during the democratization process? While the prevailing model used to describe media reform during the democratization process is that of the stages of transition approach, a central claim made by this study is that media reform needs to be thought of as multi-faceted. Rather than a media system being considered a single entity, this study shows that various sectors of a media system progress toward freedom and independence at differing rates. There are also competing press philosophies and competing actors that can influence the way media reform is carried out. And it is common for political and business elites to try to skew reforms efforts to their benefit. This study also found that while great progress has been made in reforming media systems, there are two particular areas of concern: the continued treatment of libel as a criminal offence and the continued politicization of the oversight and management of state-run public service television. Finally, it seems apparent that there is a strong relationship among political, economic and media reform, with democratization efforts most successful when these three areas of reform are mutually reinforcing.