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Politics and the Media

4. Media Effects on Politicians

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the complex relationship between politicians and the media which is at once symbiotic and adversarial. It is symbiotic in the sense that politicians need to be reported and the media can provide them the necessary platform, whilst news reporters need stories to tell. The relationship is simultaneously adversarial, however, in the sense that politicians want favourable coverage whilst journalists want to interrogate them critically. We think about this tension using the example of Tony Blair who, together with a team of communications experts, won over the press in his early premiership, but whose relationship later soured to extent that he resorted to describing the media as a ‘feral beast’. We then think about the thorny question of media bias, including its tendency to concentrate on the processes of politics (who’s winning or losing) rather than policies, its focus on the negative, and its preoccupation with scandal. Finally, we reemphasise that the media is always a participant in politics and never an impartial observer and reporter. We thus reemphasise that the media is a participant in politics.


In this course, Dr Richard Heffernan (Open University) thinks about the relationship of the modern media to British politics. We begin in the first module by thinking about the indispensability of the media in all its forms to the enactment of modern politics, using a series of metaphors to help us understand its roles. We then briefly survey the history of the modern media and consider the balance between, on the one hand its freedom to comment, and on the other its obligation to inform. In the third module, we move on to think through four key theories that political scientists have developed to try and disentangle the impact of the media on our political views, namely: (i) the ‘hyperdermic needle model,’ (ii) the ‘reinforcement model’, (iii) marginal effects, and (iv) agenda-setting/framing. We then turn in the fourth module to characterise the relationship between the media and politicians as at once symbiotic and adversarial: politicians need the media as a platform and the media needs political stories, but the media is always critical and interrogative of politicians who seek favourable coverage. Finally, in the fifth module, we think about the profound impact of social media on political communication, noting its capacity to both unite and divide us.


Richard Heffernan is a Lecturer in Politics at the Open University and Visiting Professor at the University of Notre Dame. He works in the field of comparative politics and specialises in British politics. He is presently researching the British prime minister.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Heffernan, R. (2019, September 26). Politics and the Media - Media Effects on Politicians [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Heffernan, R. "Politics and the Media – Media Effects on Politicians." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 26 Sep 2019,