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Policy failure or moral scandal? Political accountability, journalism and new public management

Journal article
Authors Monika Djerf-Pierre
Mats Ekström
Bengt Johansson
Published in Media Culture and Society
Volume 35
Issue 8
Pages 960-976
ISSN 0163-4437
Publication year 2013
Published at Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG)
Pages 960-976
Language en
Keywords political accountability, journalism, framing, accountability interview, nes, new public management
Subject categories Political Science, Media and Communications


Political accountability is fundamental in a democratic society. Societal changes such as the marketization of the public sector have, however, made accountability issues complex and negotiable. The question of who is to be held to account for policy failures is increasingly a subject of struggle within the media. The aim of this article is to examine how journalism does “accountability work” in a political setting marked by new public management. The empirical study focuses on an example of intensive news coverage of the mistreatment of elderly people in private health care, in Sweden, 2011. A corpus of 156 news items is analyzed. The analysis focuses on the use of accountability interviews, and how journalism constructs boundaries of political accountability by framing social problems. In general, the study shows that the political accountability work carried out was weak and restricted, the problems were constructed as a moral scandal instead of a policy failure.

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