INDICATOR: Freedom / Information (F)

In the first dimension, indicators refer to structural conditions for receiving and imparting information. The assumption is that news media play an important role in upholding the right of freedom of expression in democratic societies. Indicators cover the reach and consumption of leading news media, the autonomy of news producers both from political and commercial interference, access to the means of production by historically marginalised groups, and conditions against abuse in online communication, such as the spread of misinformation and hate speech.

(F1) Geographic distribution of news media availability

The first indicator concerns the geographic distribution of news media. According to this feature, freedom is better guaranteed if citizens have access to the relevant news media through the whole territory and rely on them to be informed and participate in public affairs. News media should, therefore, be widely available, and regional divides should not exist. This also implies a high degree of technical reach, such as coverage of radio and television signals and broadband access, guaranteeing full supply of all types of news media. 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. Regions not served by leading media outlets might struggle to properly participate in national politics, as “differences of geography may also coincide with ethnic, religious or language differences within the national society” (McQuail, 1992: 115). In fact, geographic availability of news media is a factor of media pluralism (Valcke et al., 2015). It is true that the last decade has exhibited a steady growth in broadband access. On the other hand, in the wake of the erosion of their ad-based business model, news producers are struggling to survive, and scholars point out the increase of so-called news deserts, that is, cities or even entire regions completely excluded from journalistic coverage (Abernathy, 2018; Pickard, 2020). This indicator seeks to assess these general trends and provide a more nuanced account for each country.

Question
Are the relevant news media available to all citizens? Is there a regional divide?
Requirement
The 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
2: some parts of the country are not served by local or regional news media
1: large and important parts of the country are not served by local or regional news media
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 Source
Statistics, Reports

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

The traditional normative theory of news media has long held that well-informed citizens are a necessary condition for a healthy democracy (Berelson et al., 1954; Delli Carpini, 2000; Miller & Vaccari, 2020). This indicator relates to the reach of the primarily used news media and takes patterns of media use and consumption of news as proxies to estimate how successful news media are in the task of reaching and informing citizens. An important measure is 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. Comprehensive data, such as the Reuters Institute Digital News Report (Newman et al., 2020), indicate that interest in news continues to be very high in most stable democracies. But more granular data can help indicate whether this interest reflects similar patterns of news consumption or there are relevant gaps, and what the implications are for each country.

Question
What 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?
Requirement
The 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, watches, reads, listens to, or uses news regularly
2: a considerable majority of the population is reached by news media; some gaps between young and old
1: news media reach elites, rather than the whole population; considerable gaps between young and old
0: news is of minor importance compared with 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 Source
Statistics; Audience research; Public opinion surveys

(F3) Diversity of news sources

News media have been regarded as the main source of exposure to dissimilar political views, a crucial feature for democratic dialogue (Mutz & Martin, 2001: 97). In the 1990s and 2000s, the popularisation of the Internet unleashed claims that networked communication would provide a more diverse information diet. However, current research shows that, despite the actual contribution of networked communication, editorial media still play the central role in raising citizens’ awareness of political difference in most liberal democracies (Benkler et al., 2018; Stier et al., 2020; Yang et al., 2020) – hence the importance of media outlets themselves accounting for diversity and pluralism. Accordingly, this indicator assumes that the selection and composition of news must be executed according to professional rules and through the use of a variety of sources (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007: 135–136). By using different news sources, media organisations should be better equipped to address plurality within democratic societies; 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), sensitivity to gender, age, and ethnic representation, the rejection of public relations material, and the employment of national as well as foreign correspondents. The selection or omission of relevant news sources for political or ideological reasons is considered bad performance, as it reduces the degree of diversity. Furthermore, the indicator asks whether the media cooperate and build up a content syndication and supply each other with certain news sections, such as foreign news.

Question
How diverse are the sources used by the leading news media?
Requirement
The 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; freedom to investigate
2: restricted variety of sources, some dominant; fair amount of investigation
1: sources are uniform, but some investigation is done by journalists
0: leading news media depend on one source (e.g., national news agency); little to no own journalistic investigation

Criteria
  • dominance of the national news agency
  • presence and relevance of other news agencies
  • research findings on the use of PR material by the media
  • 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 Source
Interviews, external research findings

(F4) Internal rules for practice of newsroom democracy

This performance indicator concerns the existence of checks and balances within a newsroom that allow internal democratic practices to flourish. It assumes that newsrooms in themselves must be democratic places, providing conditions of freedom for the editorial staff (Christians et al., 2009: 92, 96). This is achieved when rules regarding internal democratic practices are in place and followed. Though national and individual factors might be even more important, a democratic organisational environment helps increase the editorial staff’s sense of autonomy (Reich & Hanitzsch, 2013), which increases the likelihood that democratic freedom will be promoted. Along these lines, this indicator looks for organisational structures that guarantee the independence of individual members of the editorial staff and whether any formal procedures (or strict rules) have been established to ensure journalists’ participation in decision-making. There can be different ways of ensuring the internal freedom of the press as well as the involvement of journalists in the management of information and in important decisions at the heart of a media organisation, such as the existence of a newsroom council and internal rules of electing or appointing editors-in-chief.

Question
To what extent do newsroom journalists practice internal democracy?
Requirement
If 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 newsrooms are implemented and respected
2: journalists have a strong say on internal decisions (e.g., by veto rights)
1: journalists are heard and participate in decision-making, but cannot decide
0: decisions in the newsroom are taken top-down and do not involve journalists

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 Source
Interviews

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

Extending the concept of freedom in the newsroom, this performance indicator aims to assess the degree of interference by the management and other internal supervisors in editorial decisions. According to McAllister and Proffitt (2009: 331), “Owners of media operations may exert influence over content and distribution in a variety of ways […], although this may be rare in large corporations”. Empirical evidence confirms that media outlets whose editors feel pressured by owners and management devote more positive coverage and apply less scrutiny to people and companies related to their parent organisations than their competitors, showing that boards, newsrooms, and news content are intertwined (Saffer et al., 2020). In the case of publicly owned media, newsrooms displayed a long history and different degrees of editorial independence around the world (Sussman, 2012). Most European public broadcasting systems set legal limits on freedom (McQuail, 1992: 117), but even in these cases, there is a range of practices varying from government capture to power-sharing (Hallin & Mancini, 2004; Reich & Hanitzsch, 2013). This indicator assumes that the newsroom must have freedom to decide independently on editorial matters. In order to secure the independence of newsrooms and journalists from the management or sales department, some internal rules are useful. A classic rule is that the newsroom and management must be clearly separated, preventing internal manipulation and influence. The sales department should also have no contact with reporting staff. But changing conditions, especially the growing employment of staff to produce paid content, defy this classical separation and put pressure on editorial freedom, which must be assessed as well (Conill, 2016).

Question
What 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?
Requirement
The more journalists decide independently on editorial matters, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: newsroom journalists enjoy full independence on editorial decisions
2: management, sales departments, and newsrooms are separated most of the time
1: management and sales departments meet newsroom staff regularly
0: journalists must execute management decisions, including those from the advertising sales department

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 Source
Interviews
Question
What 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?
Requirement
The more journalists decide independently on editorial matters, the more democratic freedom and the higher the potential that democracy will be promoted.
Points

3: newsroom journalists enjoy full independence on editorial decisions
2: management, sales departments, and newsrooms are separated most of the time
1: management and sales departments meet newsroom staff regularly
0: journalists must execute management decisions, including those from the advertising sales department

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 Source
Interviews

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

Interference from external parties, such as advertisers, news sources, and organised pressure groups, are also unacceptable (Hardy, 2008: 92) – this is the topic of this indicator. Healthy financial conditions are crucial for ensuring independence from external influence; otherwise, news media are more susceptible to commercial pressure. This, in turn, reflects on content, as more commercialised media systems tend to offer less political information and more soft news, requiring citizens to put more effort towards following public affairs (Aalberg et al., 2010). Therefore, in the case of commercial media, this indicator demands investigation of large and small advertisers as well as the balance between them. The more sources of income a media company has, the more independence journalists should have to investigate. On the other hand, when financial resources originate mostly from a single third party (e.g., the government or a single large advertiser or sponsor), it is difficult to claim full independence (McQuail, 1992: 106). A similar reasoning concerns public service media: when well and independently funded, they do not need to serve the demands of the current government. Mixed funding – revenues flowing in from not only licence fees and public subsidies, but also from commercial activities, such as advertising – can also minimise dependence on political forces and foster reporting freedom. However, in this case, there is the risk that public service media might “conform to tuning-in quota” (Bardoel, 2015: 4).

Question
What is the degree of interference by external parties (e.g., proprietors, advertisers, etc.)? Do news media receive revenue from a multitude of sources?
Requirement
The 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 commercial influence
2: some large advertisers, but newsrooms are not affected by them
1: newsrooms depend on a few large advertisers or sponsors
0: strong dependence on large advertisers or sponsors

Criteria
In 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 Source
Interviews
Question
What is the degree of interference by external parties (e.g., proprietors, advertisers, etc.)? Do news media receive revenue from a multitude of sources?
Requirement
The 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 commercial influence
2: some large advertisers, but newsrooms are not affected by them
1: newsrooms depend on a few large advertisers or sponsors
0: strong dependence on large advertisers or sponsors

Criteria
In 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 Source
Interviews

(F7) Procedures on news selection and news processing

This performance indicator asks about 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 promoted if there is regular internal debate on the selection and processing of news, because this may ensure both control and impartiality (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2007). Established procedures on news selection and processing can also be a safeguard against omission concerning structural inequalities. One example relates to gender: “The overall proportion of stories focusing on women has remained unchanged at 10% since 2000”, found the Global Media Monitoring Project 2015 report (GMMP, 2015: 71). Formal rules on news selection guarantee a high degree of professionalism and increase the chances of gender-fair headlines and balanced representation of social diversity.

Question
What rules are implemented and practiced in the leading news media regarding the selection and in-house processing of news items?
Requirement
The 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 practised day to day
2: internal debate on the selection and processing of news is practised more than once every day and is part of journalistic routines
1: internal debate is limited to the daily news conference
0: news selection and processing are done by the individual journalist based on their 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 Source
Interviews

(F8) Rules and practices on internal gender equality

This performance indicator is the first of the new indicators for 2021, and it concerns the principle of equality within newsrooms and the entire media organisation. It describes, in particular, the equality of pay and career opportunities for female staff. Gender inequality in media organisations is considered one of the most prevalent risks to media pluralism for democratic societies (Brogi et al., 2018: 2). Despite some progress in the last decades, in 2015, women still occupied only 27 per cent of the top management jobs in media organisations around the world, according to the aforementioned report from the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP, 2015: 45). Research indicates persistent discrimination in the assignment of tasks to women journalists and a gender pay gap and sexism from both work colleagues and news sources, even in European liberal democracies (EIGE, 2013). When women play a decisive role in media organisations, freedom and democracy are better served. Research shows that increasing the presence of women in the newsroom has a positive impact on the content, providing more diverse news sources and including women and ethnic minorities, whereas male-dominated news organisations rely mostly on official sources (GMMP, 2015: 46). This indicator seeks to assess to what extent newsrooms actively take steps toward more gender balance in their operations and internal functioning. While it takes as a departure point the proportion of women and men in staff – especially in decision-making positions – it also considers conditions of employment, benefits such as child care, and internal guidelines and policies for women’s protection and career progression, in addition to existing legal frameworks.

Question
To what extent do media outlets acknowledge and address challenges to gender equality in their own operations and internal functioning?
Requirement
Institutional commitment to gender-responsive practices in media organisations in relation to working conditions, career progress, and access to decision-making positions is a sign of media companies’ democratic orientation.
Points

3: employment conditions are equal between men and women
2: some inequalities remain, but the organisation has undertaken efforts to eliminate them and has already succeeded to some extent
1: inequalities exist and remain; the organisation slowly moves towards eliminating them
0: substantial differences exist with regard to payment, career and promotion, recruitment, etc., between men and women

Criteria
  • equal conditions of employment and benefits for women and men, including equal pay for equal work, and equal and transparent recruitment practices
  • existence of internal rules, recommendations, codes, or guidelines in media organisations to support and promote women journalists in their careers and access to managerial positions (in particular general gender equality policies, maternal and paternal leaves, and policies to support women getting their job back after maternity)
  • existence of mechanisms in place to remove obstacles to equal opportunities such as a gender equality advisor or department, devoted training activities, ot the offer of childcare
  • existence of female journalists’ associations that monitor media’s commitment to gender equality and promote good practices
  • existence of national provisions or legal framework regarding gender equality in the media workplaces
Data Source
interviews; gender-related reports and studies

(F9) Gender equality in media content

This performance indicator refers to the level of gender equality in media content and the promotion of free expression and inclusion of diverse voices in reporting. There is a relevant gender gap in news content, with only 16 per cent of the portrayed subjects in politics and government news being women. Furthermore, while men are more often portrayed as government officials, politicians, or experts, women appear mostly as simply residents, parents, homemakers, students, or victims (GMMP, 2015: 9). Such entrenched inequalities contribute to replicating and reinforcing gender stereotypes. Although there is a long-standing movement to hold media accountable for gender-related failures in coverage, recent developments such as the #metoo campaign – which turned global in 2017 – seem to have finally brought awareness within media organisations all over the world of the need to correctly portray underrepresented segments of societies (Krijnen, 2020). Accordingly, we assume that democracy is better served in cases where gender sensitivity in reporting is fully respected and journalists promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the news. This indicator assesses the existence of rules and practices in media organisations to guarantee gender balance and diversity in news subjects. This way, the MDM corresponds with both objectives of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action regarding women and media, adopted at the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 (United Nations, 1995), namely to increase the participation of women in news production (F8) and promote a non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media (F9).

Question
To what extent do media outlets acknowledge and address challenges to gender equality in media content and promote free expression and inclusion of diverse voices?
Requirement
Gender parity and awareness across editorial content of the news and current affairs are crucial for the media to reflect the plurality of voices in society, thus fostering women’s freedom to express their diverse knowledge and experiences and contributing to societal democratic development.
Points

3: gender equality in reporting is codified and fully respected in daily routines
2: such codified rules are in place, but little efforts is made to respect them
1: no codified rules are in place, but there is informal consensus to report in gender-sensitive ways, and most journalists respect this
0: there are no specific rules on gender equality in reporting in place, and each journalist decides whether or not gender equality is respected in reporting

Criteria
  • commitment to selection of sources to news-making that reflect societal diversity in terms of gender, age, and ethnic origin
  • explicit efforts are made, and mechanisms are in place, to monitor and guarantee gender balance in news subjects (balanced numbers of women and men in the news) (e.g., monitoring and sex disaggregated analysis of news and current affairs content)
  • existence of internal rules, recommendations, codes, or guidelines regarding the promotion of gender equality in media content
  • newsroom commitment to cover gender (in)equality and diversity issues
  • newsroom discussions on how reporting of such issues should be made, including the use of gender-fair headlines, pictures, and language
  • existence of internal rules, recommendations, codes, or guidelines to produce gender-sensitive coverage of gender-based violence
  • existence of women’s alternative media, offline and online
  • existence of national legal frameworks concerning gender-fair and relevant media content (e.g., media policies including gender equality goals or gender equality strategies including reference to media responsibilities)
Data Source
interviews; gender-related reports and studies

(F10) Misinformation and digital platforms (alias social media)

As common wisdom suggests, misperceptions have negative effects on political debate and public policy (Flynn et al., 2017: 35). There is little doubt that the Internet triggered a flood not only of information, but also of misinformation. Although misinformation did not begin with digital platforms, they have allowed it to arrive faster and reach more people than in the age of mass communication; however, the problem is more complex. Besides structural political-economic factors that make citizens more prone to produce, reproduce, consume, and believe in misinformation, news media play an even more crucial role in either spreading it or mitigating its effects (Benkler et al., 2018; Humprecht et al., 2020). This means that, if news media are to assume their responsibility in democracy, they must fight contemporary misinformation strategies. Well-equipped news media are likely to be the most important check a society can impose on false information. Newsrooms are therefore requested to exercise particular practices to identify misinformation and avoid spreading fake news. Democracy is well served if specially trained staff are available to check doubtful news and discuss them internally before distributing it. This can be done in-house or by professional fact-checkers, with or without algorithm-based tools. The more sophisticated misinformation becomes, the more important the fact-checking mission is for leading news media.

Question
How do leading news media protect and defend their content against misinformation delivered through digital platforms and social media?
Requirement
The more sophisticated the mechanisms and measures are in place to identify and prevent misinformation originating in digital platforms from being published, the better democracy is served.
Points

3: control by specially trained experts is in place, also using algorithm-based tools
2: information from doubtful platform sources must undergo specific checks
1: regular internal meetings to discuss potential misinformation
0: single journalists decide on their own when including content originating from digital platforms

Criteria
  • specific rules apply and checks are implemented, additional care is taken in newsrooms if the source of news is a digital platform
  • algorithmic tools or other machine-based instruments are provided and in use
  • training on how to distinguish facts from misinformation is provided on a regular basis
Data Source
interviews with newsroom journalists

(F11) Protection of journalists against (online) harassment

Increasingly, journalists (often female) are targets of online harassment, “shitstorms”, cyberstalking, attacks, and even death threats aimed at preventing them from investigative reporting (Intergovernmental Council of the IPDC, 2020). Online communication evolved into an ecosystem providing fertile conditions for these practices (Gillespie, 2018: 56). Harassment is a violation of the freedom of expression, which is an essential human right to voice and the cornerstone of a democratic society, and so affects the quality of democratic societies and “the right of society to access a plurality of information” (Chocarro et al., 2020). As democratic freedom is constrained when journalists, especially from minority groups, are under such threats, this requires strong and determined replies. While we assume that penal legislation is in place to protect all citizens (including journalists) from harassment, this indicator seeks evidence that media organisations support their staff in cases of intimidation and abuse. We look especially for the existence of contractual protections, codes of conduct, and guidelines to address harassment against reporters, but also to the availability of technical resources, such as encryption technologies, to provide safer online communication.

Question
How do leading news media support and protect their journalists in case of harassment, particularly online?
Requirement
Democracy is better served if journalists can work free from threats and harassment. Leading news media are therefore required to establish mechanisms to support and protect their news journalists from harassment and threats, for instance, by providing them shelter, hiring security personnel, and enabling them to use encryption technologies.
Points

3: leading news media provide full and unlimited legal and other forms of support for their journalists in case of harassment, “shitstorms”, insults, etc.
2: journalists can rely on their employers in such cases, but cost or other reasons sometimes compromise the assistance provided by news media organisations
1: leading news media normally provide assistance, but there are repeated cases where support and protection did not work out or was strictly limited
0: journalists work at their own risk in this respect, and news media do not provide any support

Criteria
  • relevant provisions in work contracts
  • (recent) cases that demonstrate the degree to which leading news media provide support
  • specialised legal services at hand provided by news organisations
  • possibilities for journalists to use encryption technologies to prevent them from being hacked
  • specific provisions (code of conduct, ethical code, or guidelines) addressing instances of gender-based harassment so as to protect and support particularly women professionals targeted online
Data Source
interviews with newsroom journalists and editors-in-chief; reports in trade press; cases in recent years