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Are Media Watchdogs of Public Illegality in Liberalizing Democracies?

Mon, August 13, 10:30am to 12:10pm, Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Floor: Level 4, 413


Since the end of the Cold War, developing states have progressively enacted a series of liberal-democratic reforms aimed at increasing public transparency and promoting law and order. These reforms aim to address issues of public corruption and criminality that are blamed for delaying development. Although developing states have been enthusiastic reformers, scholars point to the ways in which political liberalization appears encourage new clandestine associations between state officials and criminal actors.
As the watchdogs of the political establishment in liberal-democratic societies, free media play a fundamental role in challenging or preserving state legitimacy. Yet, critical scholars argue that media act as lapdogs of the state, even when free of government control. Because liberalizing states have a Janus-faced orientation toward illegality (reformers who repudiate corruption and crime while engaging in these activities in), media in these societies must make explicit normative decisions to represent the state and its officials as legitimate or not.
This paper examines how media operate in the context of the liberalizing state’s paradoxical orientation toward illegality. Drawing on the case the 2010 extradition of politically-connected Jamaican drug lord to the United States, it compares thematic framings of events surrounding the extradition across media in different parts of the world over a five-year period. It finds that, unlike its foreign counterparts, Jamaican media systematically ignored frames that call the legitimacy of Jamaican state into question. Among the foreign media, US news agencies were the most critical of the Jamaican government. This corresponded with the US government’s strident criticisms of the Jamaican government’s motives for delaying the extradition. The findings suggest that media reflect the ideas and interests of their own states but are more critical of states outside their own. Media, therefore, appear to act as domestic lapdogs but are prepared to be watchdogs of foreign states.