Dr. Lee Becker giving presentation.

Researchers Should Examine Theoretical Assumptions Before Developing Measures to Monitor Media Systems

Researchers interested in monitoring the media should think first about the assumptions they are making about what shapes the media system and the media’s impact on democratization, University of Georgia media scholar Dr. Lee B. Becker told a gathering at the University of Zurich in late June.

“Before we measure something we need to know why we are measuring it,” Dr. Becker told the 40 participants in the two-day conference, “On Media Monitoring–The Media and Their Contribution to Democracy.”

Dr. Becker presented the group with a theoretical model linking media assistance projects with expected outcomes, including the furtherance of democracy in target societies. The University of Georgia researcher summarized the findings of evaluation research that supported the model and concluded that much of the research is inconclusive.

“Do independent media foster democratization?” the researcher asked rhetorically. “Surprisingly little empirical research has been gathered on the topic. And we have no understanding of what conditions might be placed on the relationship between media and democratization.”

Dr. Becker summarized research he and others have conducted on the evaluation of media assistance programs. He also reviewed research he and his colleagues at the University of Georgia have conducted on existing measures of media performance, such as those conducted by Freedom House and the International Research and Exchanges Board (IREX) in the United States and Reporters san frontieres in France.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Dr. Becker gave the keynote address at the Swiss conference, organized by the Swiss Centre for Studies on the Global Information Society at the University of Zurich. Representatives of media monitoring organizations, government officials involved in media monitoring, journalists and university professors attended the conference.

Becker and Dr. Tudor Vlad, assistant director of the Cox Center, have conducted a variety of studies over the last 10 years looking at the impact of media assistance. They have mapped the media assistance enterprise and made an estimate of the amount of money spent each year on that enterprise, as well as evaluated several specific assistance projects.

They also have critically examined the techniques used to measure media freedom and linked those measures to characteristics of the media system, such as the level of competition.

At the Zurich workshop, Dr. Becker presented some preliminary analysis that did show a relationship between the Freedom House measures of Press Freedom and two separate indicators Freedom House uses to measure aspects of democracy and the civil society. While the relationship was strong and positive across time, Dr. Becker said, it is not possible to determine if media freedom leads to democracy or if democracy leads to media freedom.

Dr. Becker produced a paper summarizing the findings of the Cox Center research and made it available to conference participants.

Following the conference in Zurich, Dr. Becker traveled to the Netherlands, where he met with researchers at the University of Amsterdam and visited Fontys Hogescholen, a specialized journalism higher education institution in Tilburg. In Tilburg, Dr. Becker gave a presentation on journalism education in the United States to students and faculty members.