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Switzerland (2011)

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There are hardly any company rules against external influence.

The external influence on media content is a well-known problem and part of the daily business. However, our current findings and statements from the interviews with editors-in-chief show that there is a certain danger in downplaying (or justifying) the influence of external stakeholders. In fact, the question seems to be delicate. The given answers pointed more to (non-)existing external influence but not to (non-) existing company rules.

Interviews with editors and journalists conducted in the course of another research project show that only a few media companies have some basic rule meant to prevent an external influence on media output. One regional newspaper does not allow their editorial staff to be active members of a political party (cf. Meier et al. 2011). Thus, rules are rare.

Sweden (2011)

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Outside influences on newsroom decisions are not problematic according to news editors.

National interviews reveal no manifest anxiety or unsettled conflicts in this area. The editor-in-chief holds a strong position according to press laws, and the bonds that once existed between political parties and their press are almost non-existent, except for the editorial pages. When it comes to radio and television, public broadcasters have built-in shields against political influence on the news. Public service charters are normally decided for six-year periods. As the election cycle is four years, new governments cannot change conditions for public service media when they take power.

The income streams vary across media. Public broadcasters rely almost only on licence fees, while advertising is not at all allowed in public service media. Private broadcast media are financed by advertising or subscriptions (pay TV). Morning papers’ incomes come from advertising, 65-70 %, and the rest mainly from subscriptions, afternoon tabloid papers’ print editions receive about 75 % of their revenues from copy sales and 25 % from advertising, while online news services’ revenues mainly come from advertising and a small part from subscriptions.

Sponsorship in public television is strictly regulated and the current government has further sharpened the conditions and the number of yearly events possible to sponsor. In commercial TV, rising revenues might be hidden product placements by external production companies. The public service company Swedish Television has started in-house training to enhance the capacity of their personnel to identify and avoid product placements. regional media companies see no real problems with external pressure in terms of lobbying, news management efforts or linkages between newsroom work and outside business interests.


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Although news media generally receive revenues from a multitude of advertisers, they are increasingly permeable to advertising formats that allow some confusion between the editorial and the commercial areas.

Portuguese news media, in general, face a serious problem of economic survival: because the audience rates and circulation figures are generally very low, their major (or unique) source of income is advertising. But the advertising market itself is small for all the existing competitors, which puts them all under an enormous pressure, as they must accept either some unpleasant advertising formats or important price reductions. In recent years, it is more and more common to find ‘intrusions’ of advertising in the editorial area. In spite of this, all the editors interviewed in our sample strongly deny any abusive interference from external parties. Independence from advertisers is rather common in the biggest or more important news media, but the same does not apply to smaller companies (regional or local newspapers and radio stations).

Regarding sponsorship, some newspapers now have the good habit of informing readers whenever their reporters travel by invitation of some company or institution.

The big problem seems to be the economic weakness of Portuguese media companies. There is strong competition and, in such a scenario, it becomes easier for advertisers to get what they want; if they don’t, the likelihood is great that another competitor will.

The Netherlands (2011)

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Rules or by-laws provide for the formal separation between editorial and commercial considerations. The majority of the journalists interviewed are in principle opposed to any outside influence. Some news media tend to accept more non-spot advertising and advertorials or commercial specials for the job, real estate and travel markets. Such practice will make it more difficult to insist on respecting the editorial rules.

Rules or by-laws provide for the formal separation between editorial and commercial considerations. The majority of the journalists interviewed are on principle opposed to any outside influences. This is also clear from the practical positions taken by several editorial teams: “any interference from advertisers is bound to fail” (De Telegraaf), “we feel very strongly about editorial responsibility” (RTL), “if any doubts arise, ties with the sponsors will immediately be ruptured” (BNR Nieuwsradio), “any commercial interference would do damage to the sound and reliable image of the newspaper” (Het Financieele Dagblad); and see F5 for the position of NRC Handelsblad/ Apart from editorial rules and the Media Law, NoS also has an indirect way of separating editorial and commercial interests. The Stichting Ether Reclame (STeR, ‘Foundation Advertising on Radio and Television’) distributes advertising air-time to the various media platforms of NPo and collects the revenue. The revenue is then transferred to the government, which puts it in a fund for newspapers in distress, a fund managed by the Stimuleringsfonds voor de Pers (‘Press Fund’). At the same time, STeR secures the independence of NoS with regard to advertisers and media agencies.

Because the editor-in-chief and the commercial manager are both on the management team, the practice has developed in some news media to accept more non-spot advertising and advertorials or commercial specials for the job, real estate and travel markets. In most cases, it is understood that formal design must differ from that in editorial articles in the paper, for example as to column width and/or letter size. Still, the reliability of the advertisement will be perceived to be greater as the text is placed in the context of a specific newspaper. This is what we find in free papers or on news sites, but also, for example, in the regional paper De Gelderlander. Media historian Huub Wijfjes is of the opinion that it will become more and more difficult to insist on respecting the editorial rules on this particular point. In his view, the only concession that one may realistically hope for is an explicit note that the article in question is an advertorial written in co-operation with commercial parties.

Lithuania (2011)

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It is difficult to draw a firm conclusion here: some of the news media have clear and transparent rules (reporting policies), but this is not applied as a regular and established practice in all media organizations. One of the failures to meet this criterion is the public service broadcaster, which not only lacks transparent and planned funding procedures, but its funding is negotiated with the government on an annual basis.

News media receive income from a multitude of sources such as advertising and sponsoring, and a few media receive public donations ( In the case of the public service broadcaster, close to 40 % of the funding comes from advertising, while the rest comes through state allocations.

Although program sponsoring is not a new practice in the Lithuanian media (media law has a special chapter on how this type of advertising is regulated, that advertising is forbidden in news programs and restrictions apply in other programs), with the media crisis it has taken a different shape. normally, sponsorships are indicated clearly in texts and TV programs, but, as reported in different studies (TILS 2007; Jastramskis 2009), hidden advertising is often found in the mass media (in spite of the fact that media companies are fined for such practice and all cases become public in the media)9. It is necessary to mention here that some news media have written rules to indicate that journalistic work was funded through external sources. Another group of media companies also announce their policies on the Internet (that they support quality and high standards of professional journalism), mark advertising and audit circulation.

An exceptional case in program sponsoring discussion is linked to reporting about EU-funded projects. The EU parliament members do fund programs on radio, sections on European news are available in different news portals (funded through the European Parliament members or the European Commission Representation in Lithuania), and TV and print media also receive a significant amount of funding by giving visibility to EU-supported projects in science, education, transport or agriculture. This can certainly be treated as a chance to bring new (European) themes into the public agenda by raising public awareness on important issues; yet, in most cases, the news presented as European news lacks the essential professionalism requirements (news value, critical analysis, sufficient background information) and their presentation style resembles PR writing. Hence, the overall practice is considered to be professionally degrading (nevinskaitė 2008). one respondent in our study said that their company is taking part in EU reporting because they have won a competition from the Ministry of Finance to write about EU-funding and that their journalists will write about these projects, but will uphold journalistic standards and indicate the source of funding (and also make this information free for other news media).

In addition to what has been discussed above about potential external pressures on the media, the situation surrounding funding of the public service broadcaster needs very close consideration. Despite the continual requirements to establish clear and transparent procedures for LRT funding, the government has failed to develop an adequate long-term funding program, thus the broadcaster is still funded on an annual basis. The potential political influence on decision-making regarding budget allocations is the least well-functioning aspect of this practice. With the economic recession, the LRT budget for 2010 has dropped to the levels of 1996, which is a severe drop compared to the budgets of other public institutions, which were not cut so harshly (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Budget allocations to LRT, in million Litas

Source: Annual Report of LRT 2010.

It needs to be mentioned here that the Lithuanian public service broadcaster is among the least well-funded of the publicly funded broadcasters in Europe.

GERMANY (2011)

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There are no reported cases of external influence, but in the case of the commercial media, there are neither explicit rules nor structural boundaries against such influences.

First of all, it is important to note that, for this indicator in particular, sample effects were to be expected. As the leading German media of our sample are part of bigger and (more or less) well-financed companies, external influence is quite unlikely, because no big advertiser could sustain a boycott for a longer period of time. Also, this indicator involves sensitive data that most of our interview partners were reluctant to share. There is no information about formal rules, but the influence in question seems to be quite insignificant.

With regard to income composition, we find a greater variance that can be explained easily. There are two public broadcasting companies that are almost entirely financed by fees and therefore largely free from advertising.2 Newspapers and newsmagazines have income through sales and advertising; rates are between 40 % up to 50 % for sale and 50 % up to 60 % for advertising. These findings can be underpinned by current data: The average income composition of German newspapers in 2008 consists of 45.2 % advertising, 46.2 % sales and 8.6 % newspaper supplements (BDZV). Finally, the commercial broadcaster N24 and its online outlet are nearly completely financed by advertising. If we look at the share of TV advertising revenue, RTL holds 25.9 %, SAT1 18.2 % and ProSieben 17.7 %; the public service media have a very small share of 1.9 % (ZDF) and 2.8 % (ARD) (Television 2008, p. 190). None of our interview partners explicitly recognized a tendency towards a few major advertisers. All sample members that depend (to a varying degree) on advertising asserted that this fact did not interfere with their standards of critical journalism. Most of them emphasized their ability to withstand pressure because their management backs their editorial autonomy. Two editors mentioned that there is critical coverage of big companies even if they are big advertisers as well. While one of them stated that this kind of critical reporting did not have any effect on the advertising activities of these companies, the other one mentioned one case, in which the news media had to waive some millions in income because of their reporting. WDR stated that ads that sound like news are rejected and that there is generally no sponsoring.

As public service media can be described as a single revenue financed media, we have to look at the details of rules and practices of this financing. In Germany, public service media are financed by a fee that is charged by a public authority. This authority is part of the public broadcasting system and not of the government. The amount of the fee is determined by a treaty between the federal states (Rundfunkgebührenstaatsvertrag) on the basis of a proposal by a financial commission of the public service stations (KEF). usually, the amount of the fee is fixed for five years.

FINLAND (2011)

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Direct influence by external parties on newsroom decisions is not seen as a major problem.

All editors-in-chief interviewed insisted that there is no interference by individual advertisers or any other external parties. Many of the editors-in-chief acknowledged that they are regularly contacted by external lobbyists, but that any attempts to influence journalistic decisions are categorically rejected. In line with the previous indicator, most interviewees considered the level of journalistic autonomy and integrity to be fairly high. Strong professionalism was also seen as the most effective safeguard against external influence.

The leading news media all have multiple income streams and a multitude of advertisers, none of which are in a dominant position. Many editors-in-chief also maintained that a strong economic position in part ensures that no single external party can exert influence. It was suggested by some respondents, however, that the degree of external influence may be higher on the local level and in smaller media organizations, which rely more heavily on few major local advertisers. The editorin-chief of the local newspaper examined acknowledged that tensions occasionally emerge between the editors and local advertisers or authorities, but it was denied that external parties would succeed in directly influencing editorial decisions.

Sponsoring agreements and various forms of product placement have recently become more common in commercial television. Their influence on the contents of current affairs or news programming was strongly denied, although it may be problematic to strictly define current affairs. In case of newspapers, the editors-inchief insisted that even those sections that contain product reviews are produced entirely on journalistic criteria.

As noted above, the independence of the public service company from any external parties is emphasized on all levels of the public service remit and internal company values (see indicator F5). The government sets the level of the license fee, in line with the criteria set for fulfilling the public service mandate. Thus far, decisions on the level of funding have been made on a long-term basis, but the proposed transition to direct budget funding has raised some concerns that the level of funding will become more susceptible to changes from one year to another.

AUSTRIA (2011)

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All editors-in-chief strictly denied the direct influence of external parties on newsroom work and content, although such attempts were occasionally reported.

Most editors-in-chief mentioned negative impacts on investments due to the tense worldwide economic situation in 2008. While in private media companies two thirds of revenues were obtained from advertising before the crisis, this percentage is decreased to 60 %. In 2008, the ORF earned 25.3 % of its revenues from advertising and 48.5 % from license fees2. This means a decrease in advertising revenues of 16.7 % (ORF 2009, p. 14). Concerning the online medium in our sample, sales revenues are non-existent and 60 % of revenues come from advertising. Nevertheless, the editor-in-chief stressed its exceptional position, generating 35 % from the recruitment and real-estate sections not common in other online media.

Cancellations of advertising contracts due to news coverage do occur in Austria. However, all editors-in-chief stressed their relative independence from such attempts of influence, as single advertising clients never contribute more than 10 % of total revenues. All editors-in-chief regard it as their duty to prevent any advertiser’s influence on the newsroom to avoid long-term reputation damage. According to the journalists’ union, not all influence can be blocked by the news media and in particular the double function of stakeholders (being politically influential and economically important) is becoming more problematic in times of increasing economic pressures. Attempts to influence the newsrooms of the ORF are reportedly made more frequently by political stakeholders than by advertisers. In 2010, for instance, strong interventions by political parties in staff decisions caused journalists from the ORF to publicly protest against and reject any further intervention.


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The strong position of Australian media proprietors protects the newsroom from external influence.

Conversely to internal influence on the newsroom, the strong position of media proprietors protects their media companies from external influence. Throughout Australia’s history, it is the influence of media owners and editors on politics which has been evidenced rather than any influence in the opposite direction (Griffen-Foley 2003). Interviewees from commercial television spoke of the attempts of advertisers to shape content but rejected the idea that this was successful.