The media have become such an indispensable part of modern democratic life that they often seem to dominate the political process. In 1997 Iyengar and Reeves published a book entitled Do the Media Govern? – and many observers would answer the question positively, pointing to numerous instances where media campaigns have put pressure on policymakers to revise their decisions. For example, when in summer 2006 the then British Home Secretary John Reid announced the government’s new ‘criminal justice package’ of longer sentences and more prison places, members of independent interest groups accused him of ‘letting tabloids dictate home affairs’ (Guardian 2006). Reid’s position appeared even more questionable since he had previously stated that prisons were not an effective instrument to combat crime. In the same year, a group of high-ranking former politicians and civil servants founded the Better Government Initiative that aims to develop proposals to improve the efficiency and transparency of British government institutions. According to this group, the media are one of the problems government is facing:
The context within which Britain is governed has altered almost beyond recognition. The unavoidable pressures of round the clock press and television leave government less time to take coherent legislative and administrative decisions. Our traditional structures – parliament, government, civil service, even the judiciary – have been substantially transformed and can no longer function as they used to. These changes are objective and largely irreversible. They cannot be attributed to any one government or to any one political style.