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

Score in short:

There is a quite high degree of media monitoring by media journalism, professional journalistic journals and to a growing extent by blogs, although there is no permanent public debate about the role of media as watchdogs.

Score in detail:

Besides extensive monitoring of the media in academic research projects, there are several instruments to control media performance. First, there is the regular coverage of media and journalism in specific sections of every national quality daily newspaper. Second, the regional public television NDR hosts a weekly media magazine called ZAPP. The latest but still well-established development includes media observers in specialised Internet blogs. There are several blogs that comment on just one newspaper, like Bild-Blog and; others report on media issues in general, such as or Stefan Niggemeier-Blog. The DJV, the biggest German journalists’ union, also maintains a blog with a specific focus on freedom of the press. One can assume that the reach of media blogs is quite low, as well as that of professional journalistic journals like Journalist and Message.

There is also some institutionalized political control of the media. The Landesmedienanstalten, publicly funded supervising authorities, control the content of the commercial programmes in every federal state, making sure that certain standards laid down in their broadcasting licence are met. These standards include, most prominently, a minimum quota of news and cultural programmes, and threshold values for the ratio of advertising and programme content. Public broadcasting service stations are to some extent supervised by special broadcasting councils representing highly influential social groups, such as parliamentarians and church representatives, which consequently indicates a certain amount of political influence on public broadcasting.

In general, the journalists’ unions believe in the capacity of these institutionalized mechanisms of control of the controllers. For DJV, it is undoubtedly the case that the Press Council and the Landesmedienanstalten fulfil their controlling functions. However, the unions state that public discussions on media ethics and the media’s performance for democracy remain restricted to very specialized media coverage or union congresses, but do not gain much public attention.