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Germany – (F4) Internal rules for practice of newsroom democracy

Score in short:

In Germany, journalists are not in full democratic control of the newsroom. There are some significant barriers to an effective and democratic organization of newsrooms, especially with regard to the engagement of new staff.

Score in detail:

On the question of journalists’ involvement in staff decisions, the answers differ. Editors-in-chief usually are appointed by the management; in most of the cases, newsroom journalists are not involved in the process. There is, however, a specific characteristic of the public broadcasting service: The editors-in-chief are elected by broadcasting commissions (Rundfunkräte), which are staffed by representatives of the political parties, churches, unions and other social groups. In the case of new employment, it is obligatory to hear from both the staff and the works council. All in all, there are no greater efforts to involve newsroom journalists in staff decisions, although especially WDR claims to have transparency and employee involvement. Nevertheless, there are neither routines for nor obligations to newsroom democracy in electing the editor-in-chief, and there is also no discussion about the filling of other leading positions in the newsroom. Generally, the decision lies with the editor-in-chief or the heads of department. A prevailing hierarchical structure has to be detected.

There are some elements of democratic control of the newsroom, as in most of the cases, there is a newsroom council. Generally, this is referred to as a newsroom statute, established to ensure internal freedom of the press (innere Pressefreiheit). The impartiality of newsrooms is claimed in state laws for public broadcasting service, but there are no sanctions attached. All interview partners agreed that decisions on subjects and framing of the covered issues are debated in the daily editorial meeting, in which all journalists have an equal say. However, it is often the editor-in-chief who makes the final decision. FAZ and WAZ emphasized that controversial opinions on certain political issues among the newsroom journalists are expressed in the commentary.