The mass media's dual role: ‘watchdog’ and guardian of their own interests


  • Diane E. Johnson

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of History and Political Science, Lebanon Valley College, Annville, Pennsylvania, USA
    • Correspondence to: Diane E. Johnson, Department of History and Political Science, Lebanon Valley College, 101 N. College Ave., Annville, PA 17003, USA.


    Search for more papers by this author


The mass media are a special case of interest articulation in a democracy because they play two distinct roles. On the one hand, mass media provide information about efforts by various interest groups to influence public policy. On the other hand, being interest groups themselves, the mass media work to protect and advance their own interests. This article examines the compatibility of these two roles in Argentina and Uruguay by placing this in a broader discussion about the role of lobbying in democratic societies. The evidence suggests that despite impediments to the media's ability to fulfill both roles simultaneously, some have performed a credible job. The best explanation for the variance in performance among the media outlets includes a combination of the following factors: the size and density of the media market, patterns of media ownership, the relative strength of the state vis-à-vis the media, levels of public advertising, and the particular practices adopted by individual media companies. Evidence suggests that neither the traditional distinction between corporatist and pluralist societies nor government regulation of lobbying plays a dominant role in determining the media's performance. Copyright © 2011 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.