newspaper pay more attention to Africa, that the radio station broadcast more local news, that the television station apologize for taking the news source's remarks out of context, that the magazine give the owner of the tanning salon a free advertisement in the next issue. These early stages of dispute formation have been studied in some depth, though rarely in a media context (Coates & Penrod, 1981; Felstiner, Abel, & Sarat, 1981; Fitzgerald & Dickins, 1981).
Naming problems, blaming a news organization for the problems, and claiming redress represent the initial stages of the process of media accountability (Pritchard, 1986). These initial stages tend to be private and procedurally informal, and often lead to the satisfaction of claims (Sanders, 1990).
Frequently, however, news organizations fail to satisfy constituents' claims (Bezanson, Cranberg, & Soloski, 1987). When that happens, the constituent who wants to pursue the matter must choose a forum (or variety of forums) in which to present the dispute to a third party of some kind (Mather & Yngvesson, 1981). A forum is a public setting in which the validity of a constituent's claim may be discussed. Third parties are people, groups, or organizations who have no direct stake in the dispute, and whose views about the validity of a constituent's claim will have legitimacy in the eyes of at least one of the disputants (i.e., either the claimant or the news organization that did not satisfy the claim).
Although forums tend to be linked with specified third parties (e.g., a trial court is a forum that is associated with a judge or jury as third party), it is important to note that unsatisfied claimants may use a particular forum as a vehicle to reach a third party not generally associated with that forum. It is fairly common, for example, for a libel plaintiff to use the act of suing a news organization as a means of persuading the public (or at least a certain portion of the public) of the validity of the plaintiff's claim against the news organization (Bezanson, Cranberg, & Soloski, 1987). In such a case, the forum would be the court; the third party of interest to the plaintiff would be a segment of the public. Forums come in different forms; a soapbox in a public square is a forum, as is a court of law. Third parties can range from the public to professional groups to judges.
In this scheme, the people who bring a complaint to a press council have already named a problem and blamed someone (usually a news organization) for causing the problem. Most press councils will not adjudicate a case unless the complainant has also made a claim to the offending news organization. If the claim is not satisfied, press councils are forums that unsatisfied claimants can use. The press council members who make rulings on cases are third parties, though in cases linked to larger controversies they may not be the third party of ultimate interest to the complainant.