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Germany – (E8) Level of self-regulation (performance)

Score in short:

There are parts of a self-regulating system, but these parts are not implemented by formal rules, even though more media seem to establish codes of conduct.

Score in detail:

To begin with, mission statements are not the rule in the main German news media. The public broadcasting services do not have a mission statement, but they are legally bound by their public mandate to provide balanced reporting. Only one of the newspapers in our sample has any kind of explicit mission statement: WAZ currently works on a mission statement that defines the newspapers of the company as independent watchdogs defending the principles of democracy and liberty. The remaining news media in our sample do not have such mission statements, but when asked about their self-image, their representatives claimed that they naturally would help to foster democracy.

As we have stated before, a national code of ethics is implemented and widely used, and the journalists’ unions believe it is common in most of the media companies. A code of conduct exists in only two cases; in one case it is currently under development. The other investigated news media do not have a set of rules or editorial guidelines in written form. By way of explanation, all of our interview partners argued that a code of ethics / code of conduct was unnecessary, either because it would just reflect the generally accepted and well-established journalistic routines, or because their employment contracts contained special clauses against corruption. Accordingly, a specific ethics guideline was regarded as superfluous. Furthermore, they agreed with the statement that any violation of journalistic standards and suspicion of such violations would be discussed in the editorial conference. None of our interview partners mentioned current violations, though one explained that the code of conduct was developed with harsh sanctions because of grey areas in journalists’ behaviour towards local politicians and companies.

In all cases, there is some kind of ombudsman committee or workers council whose authorization is restricted to employment law and that has no say in editorial or ethical matters. The public service media have a special ombudsman for problems with corruption. All the same, many of our interview partners reported that there are daily conferences, which are open to all editors, and which allow for criticism. Furthermore, there exists the possibility of discussions between the editor-in-chief and all journalists. However, it should be noted that these rights are generally not formalized; they are just part of a corporate culture and their acknowledgement depends on the executives rather than on a written code. Journalistic ombudsmen do not exist in many of the main news media. Only WAZ prints a daily column of the ombudswoman.

To sum up, parts of a self-regulating system exist, but these parts are not implemented by formal rules: they could be described as being part of a tradition or of socialization within the news corporation. In comparison with the former report, German media perform better with this indicator, but we actually do not know whether this is a sample effect or a general trend. It has to be monitored.