Control / Watchdog (C)

This structural feature refers to the specific country and its media system. It focuses on control mechanisms that exercise a watchdog role with regard to the media themselves.

(C1) Supervising the watchdog ‘control of the controllers’

The first indicator examines the existence of instruments monitoring media performance and is based on the assumption that scrutiny from other media leads to overall better performance (Foreman 2010, p. 34). It is important to examine what tools different media have in order to adequately perform as a watchdog as well as to look at to what extent the media actually deal with controversial matters, engage in public criticism, and risk antagonizing either powerful interests or their own audience. Moreover, it is important to analyse the degree to which the media play an active role in their society or community.

Question Is there any institutionalized mechanism to control the performance and role of the news media?
Requirement If effective institutionalized mechanisms for scrutinizing the performance of the leading news media exist, it is more likely that democratic control will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points [3] permanent debate on the role of the media as watchdogs, which engages a wider public
[0] no public debate
Criteria – independent observers: news monitor, media blogs, professional journalistic journals, etc.
– openness to external evaluation
– existence of media bloggers media journals that report on media coverage
– newspaper space / TV and radio programmes on news coverage, the media
Data sources Observation, interviews

(C2) Independence of the news media from power holders

The following feature – C2 – refers to the performance of the selected news media as well as to structures of the media system. The focus is on mechanisms that encourage journalistic accountability and promote democratic control of the government and big business (Baker 2006, p. 120). The more the media are independent of power holders such as the owner or the state, and the more this independence is guaranteed by formal rules or even laws, the better the media can fulfil their function as a watchdog, and the better democracy is served (Christians et al. 2009, p. 130; Hardy 2008, pp. 88-9). On the one hand, this structural and performance indicator asks for legal provisions protecting journalists and their sources. On the other hand, it examines the influence of political parties, business interests and other social groups on the news media. For example, are financial investors, representatives of the government or churches present on the board of the leading news media? Do non-media companies own news media? The normative assumption is that media should first feel obliged to the citizens and not to power holders (Kovach & Rosenstiel 2001, pp. 51-2).

Question How strong is the independence of the news media from various power holders and how is it ensured?
Requirement News media’s watchdog function requires a high degree of independence. More independence means more control of those in power, thus enhancing democracy.
Points [3] no formal or ownership-related influence from power holders on leading new media
[0] strong formal or ownership-related influence of power holders on leading news media
Criteria – are there shield laws in place to protect journalists?
– are sources protected by law or other professional rules?
– how important is party affiliation among leading news media?
– are powerful business interests present on the boards of leading news media?
– are non-media companies such as financial investors, political parties, churches, etc. among news media owners?
– if yes: Rely on existing data: Ownership share of such non-media companies of total circulation/audience
– is such diagonal ownership concentration transparent?
Data sources Legal provisions, public service remit, corporate information (investors’ relations), interviews

(C3) Transparency of data on media system

Transparency is essential for democracy (Foreman 2010, p. 34). This indicator refers to citizens’ possibilities to inform themselves about leading mass media: Is this information published frequently and easily accessible? Thus, this feature directly relates to the media’s accountability. Does an imprint exist and is it obligatory to make the ownership of a news medium transparent? Who provides information on leading mass media: journalists’ unions, government or regulatory authorities, universities or research institutes? And to what extent is this information available?

Question How accessible is detailed information on the media system to the citizens?
Requirement Transparency is essential for democracy. The more easily citizens can inform themselves about the leading news media, the better the news media are placed to perform their watchdog function.
Points [3] information on leading news media is published frequently and easily accessible on Internet or other sources
[0] information on leading news media is not available or only available to experts
Criteria – publication of ownership information in every edition / imprint (“impressum”
– information availability on leading news media provided by outside sources such as government, universities, unions, etc.
– easily accessible and comprehensive information on leading news media on the Internet
– data provided by regulatory authorities
Data sources Own research, field tests

(C4) Journalism professionalism

The indicator journalism professionalism can be described as a performance feature, which is based on interviews with the news media sample and journalists’ unions. Journalistic professionalism encompasses shared norms and standards of journalistic work and ethos (Hardy 2009, pp. 100-1). professionalism can be regarded as one main form of journalistic accountability (Christians et al. 2009, p. 133). Thus, a high professional ethos helps the media in exercising their watchdog function. On the one hand, this indicator covers questions of journalistic ethics: Do journalists and society discuss media rules and ethics on a frequent basis? Is there any journalistic training on these matters? On the other hand, professionalism requires no pressure in terms of space, time and format (Christians et al. 2009, pp. 115-6). Hence it was asked whether there is an overload of journalistic capacities.

Question How well developed is journalism professionalism?
Requirement Strong professional ethos and sufficient resources are prerequisites for the exercise of the watchdog function. Strong professionalism is therefore good for the watchdog function of the media.
Points [3] high professional ethos
[0] no / low professional ethos
Criteria – workload of journalists / time for investigative research?
– multi-media requirements of journalists? overload of journalistic capacities?
– self-organization of journalists, discussing own rules and ethics; frequency of such meetings
– public debate provoked by journalists about ethical behaviour statements of professional rules established by journalists
– regular / irregular further education training for journalists on professional ethics
Data sources Own research, field tests, interviews with journalists’ unions

(C5) Journalists’ job security

The next indicator relates to the job security of journalists, assuming that the better they are protected against dismissal due to their reporting, the better they can exercise their watchdog role. On the juridical level, the indicator asks for legal provisions to save journalists from writing against their conviction (“clause de conscience”) as well as from getting fired if their conviction is expressed in the commentary, etc. On the level of the labour market, the indicator has to examine the share of freelancers and permanent staff in the newsrooms, as only long-term and secure contracts promote free and autonomous reporting.

Question What provisions are in place to provide a maximum of job security for journalists?
Requirement The more securely journalists can do their research and reporting work, the better they can exercise their watchdog function, and the better for democracy.
Points [3] high degree of legal or professional
[0] security no / low job security
Criteria – legal provisions to save journalists from writing against their personal conviction (“clause de conscience”)
– professional rules protecting journalists against dismissal because of personal convictions
– labour contracts with long periods of notice (in case of dismissal)
– proportion of freelancers and permanent staff systematic use of short-term contracting
Data sources Own research, legislation, interviews with journalists’ unions

(C6) Practice of access to information

Indicator C6 – practice of access to information – refers to journalists’ possibilities to gain access to public information. As stated earlier, taking the role of a watchdog, journalists need to be free from restrictions when they are researching government or state activities. Otherwise, the media cannot provide efficient and profound control and criticism. The indicator questions whether there is any media law providing free access to public information and how it is implemented.

Question How accessible is public information to journalists?
Requirement In order to exercise the watchdog function, journalists need access to public information.
Points [3] no barriers for journalists
[0] high barriers for journalists
Criteria – does the media law allow for access to public information?
– do journalists enjoy privileges in accessing public information?
– are there reports about problems of journalists seeking public information?
– are there relevant restrictions against journalists accessing public information?
– differences between promises and practices
Data sources Own research, interviews with journalists and journalists’ unions

(C7) The watchdog and the media’s mission statement

The following indicator examines the extent to which the news media perform their mission as watchdogs. The view of the media as a watchdog against the abuse of power and corruption has long been a steady component of the journalistic self-image and of Western democratic political theory (Christians et al. 2009, p. 119; McQuail 1992, p. 120). This indicator intends to reveal the extent to which the watchdog function is perceived as important both in theory and in practice (Foreman 2010; Kovach & Rosenstiel 2001). Furthermore, it seeks to uncover whether a mission statement exists that refers explicitly to active investigative journalism.

Question Does the mission statement of the company or the newsroom contain provisions on playing an active role as watchdogs / on investigative journalism or other forms of power control?
Requirement If a mission statement concerning watchdog journalism exists, it is more likely that democratic control will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points [3] all relevant news media refer to the watchdog role and exercise it
[0] no reference
Criteria – existence of mission statement, which refers to an active investigative journalism and contains duties to act as a trustee on behalf of the public
– level of importance of watchdog for the media organization
– examples for accountable watchdog role
Data sources Interviews

(C8) Professional training

This indicator provides information on whether journalists are given the chance to take part in professional training courses. The news media can only perform their watchdog duty if they have qualified personnel resources. In order to do so, the news media should provide their staff with training courses in watchdog journalism.

Question What importance is attached to journalism training?
Requirement If effective professional training on watchdog journalism is provided, it is more likely that democratic control will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points [3] continuous “knowledge” training for journalists in news media
[0] no such training
Criteria – continuous training, obligation for continuous training
– not skills but knowledge training
– enough resources for each journalist (time & money)
Data sources Interviews

(C9) Watchdog function and financial resources

The following performance feature refers to the selected news media. A vital condition for exercising the watchdog role is that sufficient resources be available to journalists in the newsrooms. The more money there is at the disposal of newsrooms, the greater the number of news agencies that can be subscribed to, the more reporters that can be employed, and the more funding there is to be invested in investigative journalism, etc. (Schulz 2000, p. 3). Thus, the indicator refers to the financial resources of newsrooms for performing their watchdog function. To perform their mission as a watchdog in an appropriate way, it is crucial that they have the appropriate means regarding time and budgets. limited resources have often been cited as a potential cause of constraint on the independence of journalism. resources for their own investigations reduce the dependency on agency material. Additionally, news media perform better if they can make use of journalists who are specialists on given subjects. In this way, there will be more room for investigative journalism.

Question Are there specific and sufficient resources for exercising investigative journalism or other forms of power control?
Requirement If sufficient resources for the scrutiny of government and business are given, it is more likely that democratic control will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points [3] highest priority given to well-funded investigative journalism
[0] relevant news media rely on agency material only
Criteria – output composition (agency material, own material)
– funds / time / money for investigative journalism
– ad hoc provisions by the news medium for in-depth investigation
– foreign correspondents
Data sources Interviews