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Journalists and Media Accountability

An International Study of News People in the Digital Age


Edited By Susanne Fengler, Tobias Eberwein, Gianpietro Mazzoleni and Colin Porlezza

Media accountability is back on the political agenda. Debates about the phone-hacking scandal at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World have shown that the need for free and responsible journalism is more pressing than ever. Opinions, however, differ on the measures that need to be taken. Do existing structures of media accountability – such as press councils, codes of ethics, and ombudspersons – suffice, or do we urgently need new instruments and initiatives in today’s converging media world?
These questions were tackled in an international survey of 1,800 journalists in twelve European and two Arab states conducted by the EU-funded research project, «Media Accountability and Transparency in Europe» (MediaAcT). The results provide a solid empirical basis for the discussions taking place. This book advances research on media accountability and transparency, and also offers innovative perspectives for newsrooms, media policy-makers, and journalism educators. Its systematic comparative design makes it an unprecedented venture in international journalism studies.
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2. Mapping Media Accountability—in Europe and Beyond: Susanne Fengler & Tobias Eberwein



Chapter 2

Mapping Media Accountability—in Europe and Beyond

Susanne Fengler & Tobias Eberwein

Media self-regulation and accountability structures have distinct traditions in different media systems and journalism cultures. Media accountability instruments (MAIs), like press codes, press councils, trade journals and media criticism, have long been established in Anglo-Saxon as well as Northern European countries. However, MAIs barely exist in Southern Europe, and are still emerging in Central and Eastern Europe. For example, neither France nor Romania has a press council. In Estonia, two press councils compete for legitimacy among media professionals. Ombudsmen are more popular in Southern Europe than in Northern Europe, and media blogs have enabled the freedom to criticize the media in those countries where the media is heavily influenced by politics. The same is true for the Arab world, where journalists’ associations and ‘media councils’ have long been government tools to control access to the profession. Here, the concept of media self-regulation in practice meant censorship in most countries before the Arab Spring.

This chapter summarizes the key results from the comparative Media-AcT desk study on the infrastructures of media accountability in the project countries, which preceded the journalists’ survey that is presented in the following chapters of this book. For the sake of brevity, we focus on a short comparative analysis of four exemplary MAIs: (1) press councils and (2) media criticism in the mass media as key MAIs at the professional level; (3) ombudsmen as an...

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