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Germany – (C7) The watchdog and the media’s mission statement

Score in short:

There is no widespread use of mission statements that explicitly foster investigative journalism. However, most interviewees emphasized the importance of investigative journalism.

Score in detail:

Our findings corroborate the results of a previous survey showing that no more than 24 % of German journalists see themselves as watchdogs (Weischenberg, Malik, & Scholl 2006, p. 279). The journalists we have asked about how they would define their role in a democracy did not use the term “watchdog” or refer to the corresponding profile of an unflinching watchman over, let alone a critic of, politics and politicians. Only WAZ explicitly used the term watchdog – not only for the newspaper but also for all newspapers in this publishing house. They prefer to define their function as providers of impartial, fair and balanced information. Some editors pointed out that the media are not legally obliged to play the role of controllers of state powers, and that it would consequently be presumptuous to play this role and the part of a fourth branch of government. Others of our interview partners also feel that part of their role is to empower citizens to participate in the political process. In accordance with the fact that most journalists do not identify with the role of a watchdog, there are fewer mission statements that promote this self-image. An international comparison of journalism cultures underlines these assumptions: German journalists do feel obligated to the role of watchdog to a high degree, but consider the role of information provider to be much more important (Hanitzsch 2009; Hanitzsch & Seethaler 2009).

Likewise, there are no mission statements that explicitly advert to active investigative journalism. However, most interviewees emphasized that the importance of investigative journalism was so clearly a part of their self-image and work routines that it did not need to be set out in writing. However, especially the daily news media are often confronted with too many events – investigation and deep research therefore are not always possible. Nevertheless, most of our interview partners stated that critical coverage is obligatory. It is again WAZ that claims to have an extra investigation team of five newsroom journalists.