Whether mass media affects public policy and political decision making still is an unanswered question. One of the reasons we do not have a conclusive answer yet is that the media’s impact on the public policy simply is too broad a question to be answered. It can only be dealt with when split up into small and theoretically and empirically manageable subquestions: which media, which politics, and what impact? One of the most straightforward ways of defining media power is to consider the media’s role in setting the political agenda, that is, the array of topics that receive attention in a given political system. But even in this distinct sub-domain, the available studies contradict each other: some claim the media do matter for the political agenda, others disagree and argue that the media is entirely tangential to the agenda-setting process (Walgrave and van Aelst 2006). The dependent variable – the political agenda affected by the media – has, in most studies, been the official and institutional agendas of parliament, government or the president. Studies sought to find out whether, for example, oral questions and interpellations in parliament (Soroka 2002a; Walgrave et al. 2007); governmental decisions (Walgrave et al. 2007); or presidential statements (Bartels 1996; Edwards and Wood 1999; Gilberg et al. 1980) are affected by preceding media coverage. The central argument this paper makes is that focusing on these institutional political agendas is only half of the story. Media might on the one hand directly affect the political priorities of democracy’s primary institutions such as parliament or government. Yet, media coverage might on the other hand also affect the agenda of democracy’s primary actors which are in most democracies political parties. The aim of this paper is to scrutinize whether political parties’ agenda preferences are affected by preceding media coverage. In many democracies, parties’ issue priorities affect actual public policies. Parties make pledges in their manifestos and when they are elected in office they tend to carry out those pledges. Klingemann and his colleagues (1994) demonstrated, based on longitudinal evidence covering 40 years and ten democracies, that party manifestos matter for policy making. Parties keep their manifesto promises: when parties devote attention to a certain issue in their manifesto, chances are high that government spending on policies related to that issue will go up in the following legislature. Others have shown, in single country studies, that not only budgeting but also legislation is affected by electoral program

promises (Budge and Bara 2001; Stimson et al.1995; Walgrave et al.2006). Our point is that party manifestos matter; they affect the political agenda and steer policy attention towards certain issues and away from other issues. Party manifestos are good ‘predictions’ of subsequent public policy. Consequently, media coverage may not only directly affect the priorities of democracy’s main institutions – the legislative and executive branch of government – but may also indirectly, via political parties, matter for political agendasetting. The mass media set the agenda of the political parties, the political parties in turn set the policy agenda. Hence, examining whether media coverage affects party programs is a useful, albeit indirect, way to tackle whether mass media affect political decision making and public policy. However, we note that party manifestos cannot be equated with actual public policy. At the heart of this book lays the distinction between media’s impact on the policy debate on the one hand and on policy institutions on the other hand. Party manifestos sit somewhere in between: they are not pure discourse as they encapsulate the main political actors’ official policy pledges; they are not real political institutions that can issue binding decisions either. This chapter considers the case of Belgium, a small consociational democracy. Belgium is the prime example of a partitocracy dominated by political parties (de Winter et al. 1996; de Winter and Dumont 2003). Party manifestos, hence, are important policy documents in Belgium. Belgian parties are the main players in the polity – issue entrepreneurs and veto players at the same time – determining government policy. If we effectively find the media to impact party programs in Belgium this would almost certainly mean that the media indirectly determine public policy. Yet, Belgium also is a tough case. Parties are closed mass organizations exclusively associated with a host of befriended social organizations in a system called ‘pillarization’ or segmented pluralism (Lorwin 1971). Parties do not have too much leeway to react freely on media cues and to change their issue priority as they are closely connected to organizations who try to influence their priorities. In the period under study, though, the pillars were gradually disintegrating and consequently we expect the grip of organizations on their befriended party programs to have diminished. In this chapter, first, we review the existing evidence about how party programs come about and we formulate five explorative hypotheses. Next, we present our evidence: party programs covering five national elections in Belgium between 1987 and 2003. Then, we turn to our results and empirically assess whether the media effectively affect parties’ priorities. We conclude with summarizing our results and sketching avenues for further research.