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Criticism - unknown to German journalists

In an international comparison, Germany's media workers bring up the rear when it comes to promoting a culture of criticism in their newsrooms. More than one-third of the questioned German journalists never or hardly ever criticize their peers; two-thirds are never or hardly ever criticized even by their supervisors. Conclusion: Although German journalists regularly attack politicians and managers, they lack the experience of turning a critical view on themselves.

This is a key result of an international study, coordinated by the Erich Brost Institute for International Journalism at the Technische Universität Dortmund, for which 1.762 journalists in 14 countries from Western and Eastern Europe as well as in the Arab world have been interrogated in a representative survey. At the same time there are many countries whose newsroom culture may serve as an instructive example to German journalists: Finland and the Netherlands for example. Here, flat hierarchies motivate critical exchange within the newsroom much more effectively.

These and further results by the project “Media Accountability and Transparency in Europe” (MediaAcT) were presented to an audience of journalists and media managers in a public conference at the Evangelische Journalistenschule in Berlin on Thursday, April 18. After an introductory lecture by Professor Susanne Fengler, director of the MediaAcT project, the findings were discussed with a group of high-level experts, among them the former German Federal Minister of Justice, Professor Herta Däubler-Gmelin, the director the German Press Council, Lutz Tillmanns, the spokesman of the German Association of News Ombudsmen, Anton Sahlender, and media journalist and blogger Stefan Niggemeier.

Prof. Däubler-Gmelin found much praise for MediaAcT’s recommendation to create incentives for media accountability processes. She pointed to similar suggestions by the EU High Level Group on Media Freedom and Pluralism which she had co-chaired recently – and which had proposed to distribute public subsidies only to those media companies that introduce codes of ethics, among other things. Lutz Tillmanns, however, made clear that he wants to preserve the autonomy of traditional institutions of media accountability at any rate. “The state must be kept out of media self-regulation”, he said. In the panel discussion, media blogger Stefan Niggemeier also argued that the German Press Council should be open for participation by other societal groups besides journalists and media managers, and Mainpost ombudsman Anton Sahlender suggested a closer co-operation between the German Pres Council and media ombudsmen. His idea: Media ombudsman could even be implemented in the press council's complaints' procedure, a strategy which clearly resonates in the recommendation by the MediaAcT project to strengthen media accountability initiatives on the newsroom level – which are still underdeveloped in many German media companies.

Further information on MediaAcT’s findings and recommendations can be found in the project’s newest press release on the Berlin conference (in German) – or on the project website mediaact.eu.


Text: Tobias Eberwein; Photo: Mariella Trilling

MediaAct News – April 21, 2013

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About MediaAcT

MediaAcT is a comparative research project on media accountability systems in EU member states as indicators for media pluralism in Europe.

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Funded by the EC

Project funded under the Socio-economic Sciences and Humanties

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