Media Performance and Democracy

Project website (in German)

Media performance is constitutive for a democracy’s functioning: Media of high quality are a basic requirement for the free discourse of opinions and positions. Due to digitization and the related pervasive changes on media markets, the discussion about media performance has intensified: How media performance can be permanently ensured seems doubtful. Reflecting on consequences of this development requires a reliable diagnosis of media performance and the structural factors it is influenced by. However, such a diagnosis remains to be made. The current project closes this research gap. The internationally comparative content analysis of the democratic performance of news media in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland comprises a broad media sample, involving all media types relevant for the citizens information and opinion making.

The functions of public communication that are essential to democracy are defined according to an up-to-date-concept of democracy which broadens the liberal conception of democracy (as established in the constitution of most Western countries) by elements of participatory theories of democracy: legitimacy through criticism and control, forum of political competition, integration of the citizenry. Thus, central standards for the evaluation of media performance can be derived from these functions: relevance, diversity and deliberation. Following this integrative approach, media performance for each of the three functions is evaluated by comparing the content analytical results with external benchmarks: Standard of comparison of the media coverages relevance are the political parties’ agendas and parliamentary activities. Diversity is evaluated based on value frames that show how far the diverse positions of parties and different societal groups are represented in media coverage. Deliberation is assessed based on professional standards of journalism, e.g. neutrality and balance. This relational approach to media performance is supplemented by the user perspective to clarify which segments of the population actually receive which level of media performance.

By means of international comparison, media performance can be adequately explained and evaluated in the context of media change: The three very similar countries differ in a few respects that theoretically should influence media performance decisively (most similar systems design). By merging research on media performance with comparative communication research – ours is one of the first studies to link these approaches – the project is able to show how different structural factors located on the micro-, meso-, and macro-level influence media coverage. Considering the projects’ high societal relevance, its results are pivotal not only for important scientific research areas such as fragmentation, framing, or agenda building, but also for journalistic practice and media policy.

Project Leaders

Mark Eisenegger (U of Zurich, Switzerland)
Uwe Hasebrink (Hans Bredow Institute/ U of Hamburg, Germany)
Olaf Jandura (HHU Dusseldorf, Germany)
Otfried Jarren (U of Zurich, Switzerland)
Josef Seethaler (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)
Birgit Stark (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Ralph Weiß (HHU Dusseldorf, Germany)

Project Staff and Cooperation Partners

Maren Beaufort (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)
Andrea Häupli (U of Zurich, Switzerland)
Sascha Hölig (Hans Bredow Institute, Germany)
Brigitte Hofstetter (U of Zurich, Switzerland)
Raphael Kösters (HHU Dusseldorf, Germany)
Merja Mahrt (HHU Dusseldorf, Germany)
Melanie Magin (NTNU, Trondheim, Norway)
Andreas Riedl (Austrian Academy of Sciences, Austria)
Miriam Steiner (JGU Mainz, Germany)
Josef Trappel (U of Salzburg, Austria)

Linards Udris (U of Zurich, Switzerland)


German Research Foundation (DFG; Project number 323375807), Austrian Science Fund (FWF), Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF)

Project Duration

(Preliminary work of the Working Group Media Performance: 2013-2017)