Protecting and promoting media integrity

Media integrity research of the SEE Media Observatory will put special focus on media ownership and finances, but also examine the position of journalists.

SEE Observatory adapts the notion of “media integrity” to capture whole set of indicators of  qualities of the media sector crucial for its ability to serve public interest and democratic processes.

In order to grasp the scale of the issues covered by the concept of media integrity the risk indicators have been identified on the level of media policy development and implementation, but also on the level of media structures and institutions, as well as on the level of media practices and contents. Within that analytical framework the media integrity research of the SEE Media Observatory will  put special focus on media ownership and finances, but also examine the position of journalists.
The ultimate goal is to – by using the new analytical category -  gain better understanding why are the media (systems) in the countries of the region of SEE as they are,  and what influence their ability to serve public interest and democratic processes.
The media integrity research relies on and refers to the experience and findings of the media ownership research of the South East European Network for Professionalization of the Media (under leadership of the Peace Institute) in 2003/2004.

What is media integrity?

Media integrity encompasses qualities of the media system – policies, structures and practices in the media field, and their relations  – which enable the media to serve public interest and democratic processes, demonstrating in their operations and content:

-    freedom and independence from particular/special private or governmental interests,
-    transparency of own operations and interests including clear disclosure of exposure to or dependence upon particular private or governmental interests,
-    commitment to and respect for ethical and professional standards, and
-    responsibility and responsiveness to citizens.

Media integrity more specifically refers to:

-    ability of the media to provide accurate and reliable information to citizens without dependence upon, serving of and clientelistic relations with particular/special private or governmental sources, as well as to
-    provide citizens with access to and expression of wide range of views and opinions without exposure to bias and propaganda.

Media integrity also integrates:

-    capacities of journalists and other media professionals to apply professional autonomy and standards, demonstrating commitment to serve public interest against relations and practices which corrupt and instrumentalize the profession for particular/special private or governmental interests. Such journalistic capacities include:
-    transparency of dependence upon particular interests and sources and commitment of journalists to protect professional standards in such circumstances.


Institutional corruption and political clientelism

Media integrity relates to the notions of media freedom and independence, as well as to media pluralism, but within attempt to capture causes for and manifestations of dysfunctional democratic role of the media in South East Europe, the observatory tends to develop that additional analytical category focusing on institutional corruption in the media system, on manifestations of economy of influence and conflicting dependence (Lessig 2010) in the media sector.
Our analytical framework applies also the concept of political clientelism. According to Hallin & Papathanassopoulos (2002) and Hallin and Mancini (2004) political clientelism is “a pattern of social organisation in which access to social resources is controlled by patrons and delivered to clients in exchange for various kinds of support” (Hallin & Papathanassopoulos 2002: 184‒185). It is “contrasted with forms of citizenship in which access to resources is based on universalistic criteria and formal equality before law” (Ibid.). “While rational-legal authority tends to be associated with a political culture that enshrines the notion of the ‘common good’ or ‘public interest’, in a clientelist system commitment to particular interests is stronger” (Hallin and Mancini 2004: 58).

Key research questions

The media integrity research will be guided by the following key research questions:
Whether and in which way media systems in the countries of SEE integrate risks of institutional corruption and political clientelism? How these risks influence ability of media to serve public interest and democratic role? Particularly, how they are manifested in four areas: media policy development and implementation, media structures and institutions (specifically media ownership, finances and public service broadcasting), journalists and media practices (content)? Which policies, structures and practices can be considered “agents of change” in terms of protection of media integrity and advancing democratic media reforms?

Media integrity risks in the area of media ownership

Within the analytical framework, for example, the following media integrity risk indicators have been identified in the area of media ownership to be checked and examined by the researchers:
-    Media ownership is not gained and sustained, and media owners not driven by the strategic business interests in the media market, but by political interests to control and use media for promotion of own and disqualification of opposing political agenda, or by particular business groups which use the media in clientelistic relations with political groups (seeking to achieve various “rents” and concessions).
-    Media ownership patterns enable excessive instrumentalization of the media for particular political interests and conflicts or particular private business interests which disregard public interest and democratic role of the media.
-    Media ownership is concentrated – in terms of horizontal, vertical or diagonal cross ownership – in hands of (small number) of political or business groups to serve their particular political and private interests, disregarding democratic role of the media and public interest in the media.
-    Privatisation of state owned media is made or is still taking place in a non-transparent way and/or in a way to provide for particular political and private interests to gain resources, control and influence based on political connections and clientelism.
-    State owned media (completely or partially owned by the state) on national and local level have been governed and financed to serve particular political and business interest of the ruling political groups. It is reflected in appointment of key personnel and editorial policy. Such media are sometimes taken their resources (infrastructure, buildings, capital, professional capacities) or their resources are neglected or transferred to private structures, leading the state media to financial and professional collapse.
-    Foreign media owners, including (Western) transnational media corporations, take part and contribute to media integrity risks, integrating in own structures, operations, decisions and practices in our countries non-transparency, political instrumentalization and clientelism, and disrespect for legal and ethical rules.
-    Banks gained excessive control of the media, mainly through debt capital of media owners, making the situation instrumental for political and business interests of particular groups who are controlling the banks.
-    Organised crime and criminal groups are hidden owners of the media outlets, intervening in public and political communication with controversial content based on own particular interests.
-    Secret services are hiding behind formal/fake media ownership, intervening in public and political communication with controversial content based on hidden interest of particular political and business groups.
-    Owners of the media established or sustained with donor support ‒ which at the beginning of “media democratization” attained donations to strengthen democratic role of the media and improve access of citizens to independent news and analyses ‒ have turned to instrumentalize the media for particular political or private interests or sold them to new owners which serve such interests.
-    Non-profit, non-governmental, alternative and community media, providing news and analyses, and public space for discussion without dependence on and influence of local/national political and business interests, are based on weak and unstable organisational and financial structure, and dependent on project-based support from  international donors and their agenda.
-    Ownership of ethnic minority media is instrumentalized for particular business and political interests of dominant political group within ethnic minority, diminishing democratic and participatory potential and role of such media.
-    New media outlets are launched based on non-transparent ownership and source of investment, its operations indicate their instrumentalization for particular business and political interests.
-    Withdrawal or collapse of media outlets is not result of failure at competitive media market, but of clientelistic structures and relations disabling regular business operations and competition.



Hallin, D. C., & Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Hallin, D.C., & Papathanassopoulos, S. (2002). “Political clientelism and the media: southern Europe and Latin America in comparative perspective.« Media, Culture & Society 24:175–95.
Lessig , L. (2010). “Democracy After Citizens United.« Boston Review, September 4, 2010. Available at: (accessed 2. 3. 2013).
Petković. B., ed. (2004). Media Ownership and Its Impact on Media Independence and Pluralism. Ljubljana: Peace Institute.



Media Integrity