McQuail, D. (2003). Media accountability and freedom of publication. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press. 366 pages.
This is a timely book for two basic reasons. First, within the United States the courts are challenging the practice of journalism and the right to protect confidential sources. Cases against the New York Times and Time magazine are not trivial matters. Second, with rapid technological changes involving digitalization and convergence, many previous regulations and laws are being rendered obsolete. This latter phenomena and issues arising from it are central to McQuail's concerns throughout the book. Yet to answer the underlying theme of the book, namely, how does the public hold the mass media accountable, is a daunting and elusive task.
The book attempts to come to grips with the expanding role of the mass media, including the Internet, in core, industrialized nations. A major relatively new function is its role as key player in the creation and transfer of culturally laden information. McQuail does an excellent job of detailing the growing and significant role the media play in terms of creating a mental "reality" of both local and international events. This power to influence permeates public attention and thus needs to be truthful and accurate. He does dwell on this aspect, and it is timely given recent scandals at major media outlets--like the New York Times, Detroit Free Press, USA Today, and others--where reporters were breaching the public trust by writing deceptive stories that contained fabrications.
One omission that McQuail fails to address when discussing the media's role in contributing to the democratic process is the long-standing practice of newspapers endorsing political parties and candidates. Indirectly this practice...