This study investigated the interplay of politicians’ perceptions regarding the political influence of leading newspapers and the mass media’s general impact on democracy. The scope of the study was restricted to democratic-corporatist media systems. We used comparative data of political elites (N = 392; countries: Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland) and assessed direct and indirect effects of their perceptions about national broadsheets’ political influence on the mass media’s perceived general impact on democracy. As expected, we found a positive direct effect regarding perceptions of the media’s role in democracy that corresponds with theories stressing the ‘guard-dog role’ of the quality press for political elites. However, we also found a negative indirect effect of perceived newspaper influence through perceptions of the media’s agenda-setting and career-controlling power. We argue that this effect can be explained by feelings of disempowerment among politicians. Arguably, perceived disempowerment causes criticism from political actors towards the media inasmuch as they feel constrained in the full exercise of their democratic functions.
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