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Germany – (F6) Company rules against external influence on newsroom / editorial staff

Score in short:

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.

Score in detail:

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 (Rundfunkgeb├╝hrenstaatsvertrag) 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.