Freedom / Information (F)

This structural feature refers to each specific country and its media landscape. According to this feature, freedom is better guaranteed if the relevant news media are available to all citizens and are widely used by them. The following two indicators deal with the distribution and consumption of news.

(F1) Geographic distribution of news media availability

The first indicator – geographic distribution of news media availabilityconcerns the geographic distribution of news media. It seeks a media landscape that is characterized by high levels of public access, including marginalized groups, and by the possibility of efficient use of technology to gather and distribute news and information. news media should therefore be widely available and regional divides should not exist. This implies a high degree of technical reach and unrestricted access to news media so that a full supply of all types of news media can be guaranteed. Geographic distribution as an indicator of freedom should not be underrated. It has always been a key principle of media structure, closely connected with social structure: “Differences of geography may also coincide with ethnic, religious or language differences within the national society” (McQuail 1992, p. 115).

QuestionAre the relevant news media available to all citizens? Is there a regional divide?
RequirementThe higher the level of distribution and availability, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points[3] news media are widely available all over the country
[0] news media are available to the urban population only
Criteria– coverage of all areas/ nationwide access
– strong radio or television signals via cable, satellite, terrestrial networks
– access to online media without restrictions
– use of multiplatform delivery systems (e.g., making radio and TV available online)
Data sourceStatistics, Reports

(F2) Patterns of news media use (consumption of news)

The next indicator in this field relates to the reach of the primarily used news media. It focuses on the daily share of newspapers, television, radio, and online media use. It shows which news media reach the largest group of citizens and which media therefore have a potentially greater influence on public opinion. What Berelson et al. stated, already in the 1950s, still provides the normative foundation for current political communication research: Democracy needs well-informed citizens (1954, p. 308).

QuestionWhat does the distribution of media use look like between newspapers, television news, radio news and online-media? What is the reach of the main news broadcasts?
RequirementThe more the news media are used, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Distinguish whole population from younger population (approx. 12-25 years old)
Points[3] entire population young and old watch/read/listen/use news regularly
[0] news is of minor importance compared to entertainment, etc.
Criteria– high reach of main news broadcasts (evening news)
– high reach and circulation of quality newspapers
– high reach of radio news
– high reach of news-oriented online media
– high reach among different social segments of the population
Data sourcesStatistics; Audience research; Public opinion surveys

(F3) Diversity of news sources

The following performance feature refers to selected news media and focuses on the status of editorial and journalistic autonomy within media organizations. In this respect, working free from any interference is a basic principle of media in democracies (Hardy 2008, p. 109; Christians et al. 2009, p. 116). It calls for the preservation of some degree of independence from internal and external influences and pressures. This indicator also assumes that the selection and composition of news needs to be executed according to professional rules and through use of a plurality of sources (kovach & rosenstiel 2001, pp. 135-6), and that the news combines results from in-depth interviews with the selected media sample and external research findings to reveal the diversity of news sources used in the news media. The indicator assumes that the use of different news sources better promotes democracy, as it ensures the validation of facts and a plurality of standpoints (Christians et al. 2009, p. 117). First, this implies a large variety of news agencies and no dominance of just one national or international agency in the newsroom. Furthermore, a diversity of news sources implies the use of non-elite sources (e.g., political blogs), the rejection of pr material, and the employment of national as well as foreign correspondents. The selection or omission of relevant news sources for political or ideological reasons reduces the degree of diversity, as it indicates the partisanship of news media. Furthermore, it is asked whether the media cooperate and build up a content syndication and supply each other with certain news sections, such as foreign news.

QuestionHow diverse are the sources used by the leading news media?
RequirementThe more diverse the sources used by the leading news media are, the better democracy will be promoted.
Points[3] large variety of sources, no dominant sources
[0] dependency of leading news media on one source (e.g., national news agency)
Criteria– dominance of the national news agency
– presence and relevance of other news agencies
– researchfindingsontheuseofPRmaterialbythemedia
– number of own national and foreign correspondents
– content syndication (do leading news media supply one another with relevant news sections, such as foreign news?)
– relation between elite and non-elite sources
– selection (or omission) of sources on political grounds
Data sourcesInterviews, external research findings

(F4) Internal rules for practice of newsroom democracy

Indicator F4 is called Internal rules for practice of newsroom democracy and concerns the principle of checks and balances, which is essential to democracy and describes in particular the idea of newsroom democracy and conditions of freedom for the editorial staff (Christians et al. 2009, p. 92; 96). It looks for organizational structures that guarantee the independence of the individual member of the editorial staff and thus the promotion of responsible and responsive journalism (objective reporting). If actual rules aiming at internal democratic practices exist, it is more likely that democratic freedom will be guaranteed and democracy promoted. The indicator seeks to ascertain whether any formal procedures (or strict rules) have been established to ensure journalists’ participation in decision-making. There can be different ways to ensure the internal freedom of the press and to involve journalists in the management of information and in important decisions at the heart of a media organization, such as the existence of a newsroom council, internal rules of electing or appointing the editor-in-chief.

QuestionTo what extent do newsroom journalists practice internal democracy?
RequirementIf effective rules aiming at internal democratic practices exist, it is more likely that democratic freedom will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points[3] democratic practices in the newsrooms are implemented and respected
[0] decisions in the newsroom do not involve journalists at all
Criteria– newsroom journalists have a formal / equal say in how to portray and frame political issues
– newsroom journalists have to arrive at a consensus on how to frame political issues
– newsrooms have clear editorial guidelines aiming at impartiality, with sanctions attached
– existence of a newsroom council
– internal rules for electing/appointing editor-in-chief, other positions, etc.
– journalists chose their editor-on-chief
Data sourcesInterviews

(F5) Company rules against internal influence on newsroom/ editorial staff

The following performance indicator relates to the degree of interference by the management and other internal supervisors in editorial decisions. It assumes that democratic freedom is greater when more journalists can decide independently on editorial matters: “Owners of media operations may exert influence over content and distribution in a variety of ways […], although this may be rare in large corporations” (McAllister & proffitt 2009, p. 331). The question certainly does not arise in the same way when government has legitimate control over the media (as in most european public broadcasting systems) and sets legal limits on freedom (McQuail 1992, p. 117). In order to secure the independence of newsrooms and journalists against the management or sales department, however, some internal rules are useful. An important rule, for instance, is that the newsroom and the management must be clearly separated. This prevents internal manipulation and influence as well as involving the newsroom in advertising relationships.

QuestionWhat is the degree of independence of the newsroom against the ownership/ management? Are there rules on the separation of the newsroom from the ownership/ management? Are they implemented?
RequirementThe more journalists decide independently on editorial matters, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points[3] full independence on editorial decisions by the newsroom journalists
[0] no participation in staff decisions;
Criteria– formal rules to separate newsrooms from management including the board in both private and public service media
– are such rules actually effective in daily practice?
– representation of journalists in management
– representation of journalists on the board
– presence/absence of advertising department in newsroom meetings – Is editor-in-chief or publisher the formal leader of newsroom work?
In case of public service media:
– does the public service remit provide for independence from the state/ government?
– is the selection procedure for the editor(s)-in-chief of public service media independent from the government?
Data sourcesInterviews

(F6) Company rules against external influence on newsroom/ editorial staff

In general, any interference from external parties in the media is regarded as a negative factor for media freedom (Hardy 2008, p. 92). This indicator concerns the degree of interference by external parties in editorial decisions. This refers to such influences that derive from pressures in the operating environment of the media, particularly from advertisers, news sources, and organized pressure groups or public relations bodies. In theory, no commercial conflicts should interfere with the reporting (Foreman 2010, p. 32). In practice, media often rely on several simultaneous sources of income – a condition that conventional wisdom holds to be better for freedom. particularly in the case of newspapers, we can say that the more financial resources originating from a third party (e.g., government, a single large advertiser or sponsor), the less plausible is the claim of full independence (McQuail 1992, p. 106).

QuestionWhat is the degree of interference by external parties (e.g., proprietors, advertisers, etc.)? Do news media receive revenue from a multitude of sources?
RequirementThe higher the diversity of revenue streams, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points[3] no single large advertiser, no effective political influence
[0] strong policy interventions, dependence on large advertisers/sponsors
CriteriaIn the case of mixed financed media companies:
– multitude of income streams (sales, advertising, license fee, others)
– multitude of advertisers, each having only a minor share of the total
– sponsoring agreements with influence on content (such as “infomercials”, etc.)
In case of single revenue financed media companies (e.g., some public service media):
– formal rules and practice of distance between revenue source (e.g., State/Government) and news media
– are public service media financed over a short/long period? Can financial provision be changed from one year to the next?
Data sourcesInterviews

(F7) Procedures on news selection and news processing

The last feature of this dimension refers to formal rules on how to select and process news. It asks for routines and guidelines for news production: Is a stylebook on news selection available and being used? Do new journalists receive training in news values or selection criteria, what procedures precede publication? Democracy in the newsroom is better established if there is a regular debate on the selection and processing of news, because this may ensure both control and impartiality. Formal rules on the selection guarantee a high degree of professionalism.

QuestionWhat rules are implemented and practiced in the leading news media regarding the selection and in-house processing of news items?
RequirementThe more internal debate about news values (selection criteria) and the choice of news that occurs, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points[3] formal rules on how to select and process news exist and are practiced
[0] news selection and processing are done by the individual journalist based on his/her own preference
Criteria– stylebook available on news selection
– in-house training for new journalists on the job
– defined stages for any news item before it is published/aired/put online
– regular newsroom discussions of past and forthcoming decisions regarding news values and news selection
Data sourcesInterviews