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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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13. The (Behavioral) Economics of Media Accountability: Susanne Fengler & Stephan Russ-Mohl



Chapter 13

The (Behavioral) Economics of Media Accountability

Susanne Fengler & Stephan Russ-Mohl

Media observers often lament that the concept of media accountability is desirable, but that it does not function properly in journalism practice. The editor of the Guardian, Alan Rusbridger, once said, upon resignation from a committee associated with the British Press Complaints Commission, “If you have a self-regulation system that’s finding out nothing and has no teeth […], it’s dangerous for self-regulation. […] I believe in self-regulation because I cannot imagine a country in which the government regulates the press […]. But the press is in a very weak position today because its own regulator, its self-regulation, has proved so weak” (cited in Evers, Jempson and Powell 2011, 7). After an analysis of the US media sector, Campbell (1999, 755) similarly concludes that the examples of self-regulation that she looked at “do not provide a great deal of support for the claimed advantages of self-regulation.”1

Media scholars, as well as politicians and other groups of actors who have had their own experiences with the media, are often quick to generally condemn the lack of accountability in journalism. This chapter will take a different angle: we argue that besides its ethical dimension, media accountability is also in the business interest of at least some media organizations and newsrooms. We wonder why it is neglected nevertheless—and we try to find ← 213 | 214 → reasons why journalists and media managers too often ignore the...

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