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In democracies various media outlets have significant political influence, but are often not part of the government. The recent question about page ranking seemed off topic, but suggests that media is part of the political processes. The status of the fourth estate is certainly on topic, but what about the workings of it? On reflection I'm not sure where I'd draw the line.

How detailed can questions about the media get before being off topic? Is that even the right way to think about it?

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I think media questions are on-topic if they are about:

  1. How the media affects politics/government
  2. How politics/government affects media

The linked question is neither of these.

[D]oes this moment in the media actually unveil the true level of threat by ISIS to the West (ie very low) as understood by the media managers, as opposed to what they would like us to believe?

Instead it is simply about what the media thinks about ISIS.

An example question about the same topic that I think would be on-topic is

Did constant front page coverage of ISIS help --insert party/politician-- win the election?

or

How does heavy coverage of ISIS affect --insert party/politician--'s approval ratings?

Assuming that factual answers could be given to them.

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This is off-topic because it's clearly not about "governments, policies and political processes", not because media is off-topic on Politics.SE. This question is asking for the reason why a particular newspaper ordered their stories in a specific way.

Firstly,

only the editors will know for sure why they ordered the stories in this way. In addition, even if it is about "governments, policies and political processes", it would still be considered off-topic as it is primarily opinion-based and there is no correct and factual answer.

There can be various different reasons to this – the fact that Daily Mail historically priorities entertainment news first, the fact that it's not confirmed whether Al-Baghdadi was actually killed as Russia says it may have killed him, etc. All these factors might have affected the page ranking, but we don't know for sure.

Secondly,

it is off-topic as one particular newspaper ranking the stories in this way is not representative of all newspapers on a whole.

The OP mentioned in comments that it is "indirectly about foreign policy, and hence about government", the fact that one newspaper ranked the stories in that way is not representative of all newspapers. Surely, there will be other newspapers that ordered the stories in a different way. So, it cannot be attributed to the government's foreign policy since it's not published by the government in the first place.

Thus,

this particular question is off-topic.


As for media questions, many are on topic (as seen from the number of questions tagged ). Questions such as Why won't Donald Trump do something about “fake news”? are about the constitution, thus they are on-topic.

Basically, they have to be about "governments, policies and political processes" and they need to have a factual answer, as opposed to speculation ones.

  • 2
    The contention made is that the media is part of the political process. – user9389 Jul 7 '17 at 13:38
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On one hand, formally, the media (despite the moniker of Fourth Estate) is not a political institution in the "it's a government" sense (excepting state-owned media in some countries).

On the other hand:

  • Media itself sees itself as a political institution.

    They use "fourth estate" in full seriousness.

  • Often, the media is populated by the very same people as political institutions. This revolving door relationship was covered extensively (here's one from Blaze, predictably concentrating on Obama admin given 2015 timing and the source's right wing political leanings). Or for a more recent case, we have Donna Brazile feeding Hillary Clinton town hall questions while working for CNN or Trump's hiring of Bannon, just to make things bipartisan.

  • The journalists openly engage in political process

  • Media explicitly messes with politics to get better ratings

As such, media questions should be on-topic, especially:

  • Media questions pertaining to media participating in political process, as media or especially as actor.

  • Medial questions pertaining to consequences of media coverage on politics (Charlie Hebdo question was definitely a good candidate for this category)

  • This seems to imply the question I linked is perhaps on topic as it centers on the implications of media coverage on politics. It seems that your examples all fit under JonK's guidelines, perhaps you could find an example that doesn't but you would still find acceptable. – user9389 Oct 3 '17 at 16:30
  • @notstoreboughtdirt - the question linked (fire reporting in UK) has tons of problems that make it SE-unsuitable regardless of whether it's ontopic on Politics. I think it doesn't fit criteria above either, but that's a squishy call. – user4012 Oct 3 '17 at 20:41

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