INDICATOR: Equality / Interest mediation (E)

The structural feature Equality / Interest Mediation refers to the country and its entire media system. According to this feature, equality is better guaranteed if there are large numbers of different media outlets (quantitative external diversity). Ownership structure and diversity are accordingly regarded as important elements. Moreover, news should reach the citizen by means of different formats. Finally, there is a greater chance of achieving equality if the mass media are employed by minority groups (alternative media, third sector) and if the dominant mass media report on a regular basis about minority claims.

(E1) Media ownership concentration national level

As many other economic activities, media systems are also subject to market concentration. This happens when companies increase the relative or absolute number of units they control both by growing internally (creation of new products, innovation, and accumulation) and externally (purchasing other companies). This way, media systems might display horizontal integration (few companies dominate products within the same type of business), vertical integration (the whole supply chain is operated by the same or few companies), and diagonal growth (few media firms operate across several media sectors and even beyond media and communication industries) (Mastrini & Becerra, 2008).

Claims concerning the threats of ownership concentration for the fulfilment of media’s democratic role have been discussed widely among scholars from liberal and critical perspectives. For example, Doyle (2002) affirms that media concentration narrows the range of voices and can lead to over-representation of certain political opinions. Along similar lines, Baker argued that ownership concentration must be seen as contrary to the fundamental ideas of democracy: “Concentrated media ownership creates the possibility of an individual decision maker exercising enormous, unequal and hence undemocratic, largely unchecked, potentially irresponsive power” (Baker, 2007: 16).

Drawing on this theoretical framework, the MDM assumes that ownership concentration in the media may compromise the plurality of the media landscape and undermine their democratic performance. Despite some belief that the abundance provided by the Internet would make pluralism concerns outdated, more careful analysis indicates that online communication is characterised by even more concentrated market shares, overwhelmingly favouring incumbents and large conglomerates (Hardy, 2014; Hindman, 2018). Technological development is raising fixed costs and lowering marginal costs of cultural production, turning economies of scale even more profitable, a classic predictor of market concentration (Noam, 2016; Picard, 2010). As news media have become more intertwined with electronic and digital technologies in the last decade, a high and growing degree of ownership concentration should be observed by empirical research. Indeed, previous findings already point to increasing consolidation of news media all over the world, with additional strength in highly commercialised media systems and sectors (Abernathy, 2018; Saffer et al., 2020).

This indicator addresses the issue of concentration at the national level. A national market controlled by one operator (monopoly) or two (oligopoly) can be problematic in this regard. Ideally, more than two competing news media outlets should therefore be available in each news media sector, such as newspapers, news magazines, radio, television, and online media. Data about ownership, market share, and extent of public scrutiny allows for the assessment of concentration at this level.

Question
What is the degree of ownership concentration at the national level?
Requirement
The lower the national ownership concentration, the more democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: low concentration ratio (CR3 lower than 0.40) and more than two competitors for all news media sectors (television, radio, newspaper, generic online media)
2: moderate concentration ratio, with some market dominance by large companies; CR3 is between 0.40 and 0.70
1: competition is weak, and most media sectors are controlled by one company; CR3 is higher than 0.70
0: private monopoly at the national level

Criteria
  • plurality of ownership at national level
  • transparency of ownership
  • if there is a monopoly: Is it publicly controlled? Is it state-owned?
Data Source
Statistics: data, calculate the market share CR3 of all media in the country

(E2) Media ownership concentration regional (local) level

The second indicator measures the degree of ownership concentration in the market of local or regional news media. Ideally, more than two competing news media outlets should be available in each news media sector. With lower media concentration, a larger number of players have access to the news markets, and more diverse opinions are likely to emerge. But the already alluded phenomenon of increasing numbers of news deserts, when entire regions become under-served by news media due to closures (Abernathy, 2018), predicts an even higher degree of ownership concentration at the regional level. In fact, local and regional news media are more strongly hit by the news media crisis of the last decades than national groups (Napoli et al., 2018; Nielsen, 2015). At the same time, it is important to notice that most discourses of news media crisis are often based on the developments in the US alone. Scholars in other countries challenge the idea of crisis or point out other causes (historical and political) rather than present-day and technological ones (Brüggemann et al., 2016: 534). Anyway, strong media ownership concentration at the local level is particularly difficult for local politics, as politicians have no alternative means of communicating with their electorate other than through the local monopoly media company or their social media channels. These technologically enabled alternatives can indeed help, but research indicates that the decline of local news media often translates into citizens following national news instead (Darr et al., 2018). Therefore, networked communication is no ultimate solution. Local news media should still fulfil a specific democratic role, and they are likely to better perform under a lower degree of concentration.

Question
What is the degree of ownership concentration at the regional (local) level?
Requirement
The lower the regional (local) ownership concentration, the more democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: more than two competitors in all relevant regions for all news media sectors (newspapers, television, radio, etc.)
2: most relevant regions are addressed by more than two media companies
1: only few relevant regions are addressed by more than two media companies
0: full news control by just one private media company in all relevant regions (integrated media companies: newspaper, local television, radio, and online)

Criteria
  • plurality of ownership in the regions
  • transparency of ownership
  • if there is a monopoly: Is it publicly controlled? Is it state-owned?
Data Source
Statistics (data, calculate the market share CR3 of main regions in the country)

(E3) Diversity of formats

A long list of news formats through multiple types of newspapers, television, radio, and online media indicates plurality of information. Each medium has its own specificities for the presentation of news and potentially adds to the diversity of news and information on offer. Some media, such as newspapers, tend to increase political knowledge for already educated people, while audiovisual media benefit the least educated “almost as much as the most educated” (Van Aelst et al., 2017: 17). Especially younger generations long for news formats that harness affordances provided by mobile communication (Newman et al., 2020: 57). Thus, this indicator assumes that variety of formats is a positive feature of media systems. Moreover, ownership diversity is unlikely to automatically translate into news format diversity, hence the specific importance of this indicator.

Question
Is there a diversity of different formats of news presentation?
Requirement
The higher the diversity of formats, the more plurality of information and democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: abundance of news formats in all media sectors
2: good variety of formats; some news formats dominate but are challenged by others
1:  few formats are available; public attention is focused on dominant news formats
0: minimum diversity of news formats; very few formats dominate

Criteria
  • degree of diversity of formats (deliver a list of different format of news, including online-outlets specialized on news, 24-hour news channels, etc.)
  • multiples types of news media
  • special forms of news presentation
Data Source
Reports; audience research, format research

(E4) Minority / Alternative media

It is uncontested that media can contribute to diversity by reflecting differences in society: “Media are expected to represent the prevailing differences of culture, opinion, and social conditions of the population as a whole” (McQuail, 1992: 144). This feature belongs to democratic mediation, especially in societies marked by so many different interests and identities:

“Adequate representation of different cultural values, lifestyles, languages, and heritages in mainstream media, development of minority media, and minorities’ access to media services have been repeatedly considered to contribute to a culture of tolerance, media pluralism and consequently, consolidation of democracy.” (Klimkiewicz, 2015: 82)

Accordingly, all major minorities within a given society should be served by a variety of special minority or alternative media and be well represented and recognised by mainstream media based on rules or conventions. More democratic equality is likely to be established if minority groups have easy and even privileged access to the leading news media in order to argue their causes. Governance rules within media companies that entail legally binding obligations for the media in favour of positive discrimination of minorities are considered helpful tools in establishing more equality (both in public service media and in private commercial media).

Question
Do minority / alternatives media exist? Are all sorts of minorities served by media? Do they have their own media? As minority qualify: ethnic groups, disabled people, women, minority languages, etc.
Requirement
The more minority/alternative media exist, the more democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: a plenitude of minority media exist; largest minorities are served by them
2: large and mid-size minority groups are recognised by existing media and operate their own media
1: only large and powerful minorities operate their own media and are recognised by leading news media
0: no such media exist

Criteria
  • quantity of minority/alternative media
  • do main / largest minorities have their own media or access to media on a regular basis?
  • use of languages that reflect the linguistic diversity of the media’s target area
  • use of languages relied upon by marginalized groups
  • existence and relevance of Weblogs of minorities / ethnic groups, etc.
Data Source
Research reports; audience research

(E5) Affordable public and private news media

According to this structural indicator, the news media should be available at a reasonable price to the whole population. In order to provide people with equal opportunities for informing themselves on a regular basis, the price of the available media must be within the financial means of the entire population. Quality news should also be affordable to the population; thus, no relevant difference exists between the price for popular or quality news. In fact, a characteristic of current media economics is price deflation caused by rising information supply (Noam, 2016: 12). Thus, technological and economic conditions predict lowering costs for access to news media, though simultaneous trends such as ownership concentration might push in another direction. It is also important to keep in mind the argument that consumers pay much of their consumption of digital information with their personal data (Stucke, 2018). But, as there is no consensus on the validity of this argument, and even less on how to measure this payment, this indicator limits itself to conventionally measuring the cost of access to newspapers (price of subscription or copy price for paper and online), television, and radio (licence fee, pay-TV), and online media (including the cost for broadband Internet).

Question
What is the price of the media in relation to average household income?
Requirement
If the price for news media is affordable, it is more likely that democratic equality will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: low price in relation to average household income
2: price excludes only few households from receiving news
1: price is an economic argument for households not to receive news
0: news media are only affordable for elites

Criteria

All in relation to average household income and to lower income household groups (quantitative):

  • average price for an annual full subscription for newspapers
  • annual tax/licence fees for television and radio
  • price of broadband access
Data Source
Statistics; prices
Question
What is the price of the media in relation to average household income?
Requirement
If the price for news media is affordable, it is more likely that democratic equality will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points
[3] low price in relation to average household income
[0] news media only affordable for elites
Criteria
All in relation to average household income and to lower income household groups (quantitative):

• average price for an annual full
• subscription for newspapers
• annual tax/licence fees for television and radio
• price of broadband access
Data Source
Statistics; prices

(E6) Content monitoring instrument

The next structural indicator refers to content monitoring instruments in the specific country and its mass media landscape. According to this feature, equality is better guaranteed if there is a large number of politically independent outlets (internal diversity) or a balance of politically aligned media organisations at the aggregate level (external diversity). Along these lines, this indicator illustrates whether a country’s media system has bodies or instruments to monitor news media content. Such instruments should be independent, operate on a regular basis, and the results should be publicly available. Such systematic and structured content monitoring might be institutionalised by the media themselves, supervising bodies, university institutes, or other organisations. The existence of a permanent content monitoring institution by itself is considered to have a positive impact on journalists’ behaviour and to help foster the idea of media accountability (Bertrand, 2003).

Digital technologies offer additional possibilities for automated content analysis (Boumans & Trilling, 2016; Karlsson & Sjøvaag, 2019) and (commercial) services, such as LexisNexis and others, provide content monitoring. However, democratic benefits can only be expected if such tools are used to turn quantitative analyses into theory-informed qualitative results. Simple binary metrics do not deliver adequate results with regard to democratic values.

Question
Is there a regular and publicly available issue monitoring instrument for news media?
Requirement
If an effective monitoring instrument exists, it is more likely that democratic equality will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: continuous and published content monitoring, provided by an independent organisation
2: news media provide content monitoring themselves on a regular basis
1: content monitoring is done irregularly or occasionally by various organisations
0: no public monitoring in place at all

Criteria
  • organized, permanent issue monitoring published by relevant news media on a regular basis (publicly available)
  • independence of the monitoring body / private company
Data Source
Desk research

(E7) Code of ethics at the national level (structure)

This structural indicator seeks to determine the existence and use of an institutionalised and effective self-regulation system for the leading news media of a country. The core assumption here is that the mass media respect ethical standards when reflecting and representing the diversity of views and interests in society. Ethical norms are by no means eternal and ubiquitous. While professional skills and ethical standards are well established in democratic societies, the digital transformation calls for a profound revision of such standards and norms. Ward (2014, 2019) argues that the digital age undermines traditional principles of journalism as advocacy for contemporary democracies and calls for a redefinition of such norms and standards. Such ethical groundwork has become even more relevant at times when digital platforms increase their significance in news use and contribute to the erosion of ethical standards (Roberts, 2019). Digital intermediaries categorically reject editorial responsibility for ethical standards. In retrospect, however, Twitter’s and Facebook’s shutdowns of former American President Donald Trump’s accounts in February 2021 might mark a turning point.

Scholars have pointed to a large variety of possible measures for implementing such standards both at the company level (internal guidelines, mission statements) and the national level (press councils, ombudspersons, etc.). Informed scholarly debates can be followed in Routledge’s pertinent Journal of Media Ethics. Relevant for this indicator is the national level and whether codes of ethics exist and are implemented and respected by the leading news media. It checks whether the internal tools for editorial policies (such as mission statements, editorial guidelines, etc.) are implemented in line with formal rules.

Question
Does a code of ethics at national level exist, requiring news media to provide fair, balanced and impartial reporting? Is it known and used?
Requirement
If an effective code exists, it is more likely that democratic equality will be guaranteed and thus that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: code is implemented and frequently used by all leading news media
2: code exists, but not all leading news media respect it
1: code exists on paper only, and is not part of newsroom practice
0: no code or not in use

Criteria
  • existence of a press complaints commission, etc.
  • existence of independent journalist associations, which disseminate good practice, e.g., improving skills and raising ethical standards…
  • are there any provisions regarding the accountability of the media to civil society?
Data Source
Interviews

(E8) Level of self-regulation (performance)

Along similar lines, this indicator is geared towards self-regulation instruments within leading news organisations in each country. Such self-regulation instruments are part of media governance in a broad sense, understood as the collective rules organising media systems. It is assumed that instruments such as clear internal rules that apply to all journalists in the newsrooms help to increase quality and provide journalists with guidelines on their day-to-day routines. Such guidelines work on the condition that rules do not only exist, but are used regularly. Self-regulation instruments can be formal or informal; however, formal self-regulation rules are more transparent and possibly more helpful for journalists than a set of informal rules applied at the discretion of editors-in-chief. One example familiar to journalists is compliance rules regarding presents and invitations by individuals or institutions. While some news sections such as travel, lifestyle, and mobility are notorious temptations to transgress the line between editorial and sponsored content (Hanusch et al., 2020), new digital para-journalism exercised massively on digital platforms has fully blurred the boundaries.

Democratic best practice obviously requires clear and formal rules in newsrooms. News organisations with a sophisticated, highly developed, and continuously updated set of internal self-regulation rules are considered to better advance the cause of democratic equality.

The structural indicator E7 is combined with the performance feature E8. This indicator is geared towards self-regulation instruments within leading news organizations in each country. Such self-regulation instruments are part of media governance in a broad sense, understood as the collective rules that organize media systems (Boeyink 1994; Freedman 2008; puppis 2010). It is assumed that instruments such as clear internal rules that apply to all journalists in the newsrooms help to increase quality and provide journalists with guidelines on their day-to-day routines. Such guidelines work on the condition that rules do not only exist, but are used regularly. According to McQuail (2010), such self-regulation instruments can be formal or informal. However, formal self-regulation rules are more transparent and possibly more helpful for journalists than a set of informal rules that are applied by editors-in-chief at their discretion. news organizations with a sophisticated, highly developed, and continuous ly updated set of internal self-regulation rules are considered to better advance the cause of democratic equality.

Question
Does a media self-regulation system exist at the main news media, requiring the provision of fair, balanced and impartial reporting? Is it effective?
Requirement
The better the media’s self-regulation system is, the more democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: highly sophisticated self-regulation instruments in every relevant newsroom, and used regularly, e.g., during newsroom conferences
2: Leading news media have self-regulation instruments in place, but do not use them (only occasionally, e.g., in seminars for new staff)
1: self-regulation instruments exist, but are not notified; there is some “oral culture” in newsrooms
0: no such instruments at all

Criteria
  • existence of a mission statement/ code of ethics/code of conduct, which refers to democratic values and contains journalistic obligations to report politically balanced
  • existence of internal rules for the right to reply
  • existence of formal systems for hearing complaints about alleged violations of ethical standards
  • do ombudsmen have their own space in the media? Are they independent
  • existence of sanctions against journalists who violate ethical standards – organized process of self-criticism
Data Source
Interviews

(E9) Participation

This performance indicator examines the extent to which news media give citizens the opportunity to voice their own views and reactions to news stories they see, read, or hear. This indicator analyses how well and successfully the media encourage citizens to participate in the production of news by commenting on news and generating content themselves. Such an approach requires that the news media be open to forms of cooperation with citizens. It can be argued, generally speaking, that the higher the number of citizens who participate, the greater the chance of representing existing opinions and interests.

Over the years, some media (sometimes public service broadcasters) developed participation formats integrating the audience (for example “open mic” formats in radio). However, simply placing spectators into the television studio, for example, for game shows or sport reporting, does not qualify as participation in this indicator. Scholarly research shows that “mainstream news organisations do not really fulfil the promises they make of citizen participation”, and entirely new models may be required “rather than simply further opening of existing models” (Scott et al., 2015: 756).

While incumbent media often make use of the Internet to provide a forum for comments and criticisms on their websites, online media, as well as digitally born news formats, are well placed to organise such a forum by providing space online for user participation. In general, the Internet provides various modes of citizen participation in the public discourse with fewer gatekeepers and a redistribution of communicative power, away from established news outlets like television, radio, and newspapers. However, this form of online participation has a downside as well. Critics, such as Matthew Hindman (2009), claim that differences remain and that the computer skills necessary to participate are even more stratified than in the analogue world.

Question
Is there an organized way for people to participate in the news process?
Requirement
The more people that participate in the news process, the more democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: newsrooms sometimes open to public; online space for citizens’ voices and comments on each news item frequently used
2: newsrooms normally closed; selected news items are open for comments by citizens
1: newsrooms always closed; some space for comments online, but in online forums (e.g., Facebook), not underneath news items
0: no such possibilities

Criteria
  • newsrooms open to the public (sometimes, always)
  • existence of rules for the right to reply / possibilities to give feedback
  • do leading news media offer / organize public debates and discussions?
  • do people participate in online fora on news issues offered by the media?
  • do leading online media offer public postings?
  • if leading news media provide space for user generated content: For what reasons? What is the internal justification?
Data Source
Interviews

(E10) Rules and practices on internal pluralism

Along with the process of media ownership concentration (E1 & E2), the importance of internal pluralism increases. This performance indicator displays to what extent newsrooms are aware of the democratic value of internal pluralism and how leading news media operate internal pluralism. Different voices in society are well represented if the leading news media allow for a high degree of internal pluralism in the newsrooms. Denis McQuail (2010: 199) stipulates:

“Media should reflect in their structure and content the various social, economic and cultural realities of the societies (and communities) in which they operate, in a more or less proportional way. […] Media should serve as a platform for different interests and points of view in a society or community.”

While in earlier stages of media development external pluralism was provided by a great number of independent news outlets (newspapers in those times) with a wide array of opinions, media concentration and the demise of the party press require higher levels of internal pluralism within leading newsrooms (Jakubowicz, 2015: 39–40). From the perspective of democratic equality, different views and opinions should be represented, irrespective of the requirement for each newsroom to follow an editorial line. Public policy intervention can help foster internal pluralism, but ideally, it should rather be part of the newsroom culture. Dire working conditions in emergent digital newsrooms such as overwork, long hours, high stress, burnout, job turnover, and low pay (Cohen, 2019: 571) create new challenges just to maintain the accomplished level and standard of internal pluralism.

Empirical evidence can be collected from close observation of the newsroom output (which is not done in this research) or by discussing with members of the newsrooms. Internal pluralism is realised when divergent voices are represented within the same newsroom, when different experts’ opinions are being voiced, and when the feedback culture of the newsroom is open to all sides.

Question
How do media organizations ensure that different views and perspectives are being reported?
Requirement
The more different voices are reported by the media, the more democratic equality is guaranteed and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: newsrooms follow known and standardised procedures to ensure internal pluralism and give voice to various groups
2: no formal rules, but newsroom meetings regularly discuss and check for pluralism
1: it is the personal responsibility of the editor-in-chief or chief-producer to check for internal pluralism
0: no such procedures; no regular control for pluralism

Criteria
  • how are different positions accommodated within the newsroom?
  • what rules apply to present divergent opinions of journalists within the same newsroom?
  • are there regular internal debates on different positions
  • existence (and observance) of internal rules/guidelines specifying that all relevant information and socially significant views must be given their appropriate weight in the coverage
  • are journalists free (and expected) to also use information and views favouring the other side when a medium is allied with a particular party or ideology?
  • are politicians / experts from all sides given the chance to present their case?
  • is the medium‘s feedback culture (e.g., readers‘ letters) open to all sides?
Data Source
Interviews