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Journalists and Media Accountability

An International Study of News People in the Digital Age

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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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5. Media Accountability through the Eyes of Journalists: Feedback, Responsiveness, Interaction: Epp Lauk, Halliki Harro-Loit & Jari Väliverronen

Introduction

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Chapter 5

Media Accountability through the Eyes of Journalists: Feedback, Responsiveness, Interaction

Epp Lauk, Halliki Harro-Loit & Jari Väliverronen

In democratic societies, accountability has been regarded as a requirement of the media in return for the freedom and privileges (access to information, tax reductions, etc.) that they receive (see Carey 1974; Marzolf 1991; Hayes, Singer and Ceppos 2007). This has been achieved through legal regulation and the professional initiatives of the media, which serve the purpose of making the media accountable to society without jeopardizing free expression. The media also need to win the loyalty of their audiences, so accountability in one form or another is inevitable if public communication is to take place at all (McQuail 2003, 15).

These requirements led McQuail (2003) to suggest two models of accountability for free media: answerability (for quality of performance) and liability (for harm caused). The ‘liability model’ is legally imposed and is aimed at prevention, or, failing that, punishing for harm by demanding material penalties. However, statutory regulation does not contribute much towards building trusting communicative relations with media audiences. The ‘answerability model’ focuses on moral and professional values and adherence to the quality standards that guide journalists’ behavior. It presupposes the openness and readiness of the news media organizations and journalists to establish dialogues with their audiences and to accept both external and internal critical feedback. Answerability seems to have the greatest potential ← 83 | 84 → to improve the credibility of the...

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