Media and National Accountability in the European Union

An explorative study on the impediments EU - journalists encounter when fulfilling their accountability role towards national governments


  • Rebecca Tronci


accountability, watchdog journalism, European Union


In Western democracies, mass media are the main means through which citizens receive information regarding the European Union. Although national ministers play an important role at the EU level, citizens are not always aware of the national ministers’ activities within the Council. Since citizens mainly experience politics through the media, which act as mediators between the politicians and the public, this paper conceptualizes the media as an accountability forum. The research aims to explore the impediments EU-journalists face in fulfilling their watchdog role towards national governments. By conducting 26 in-depth semi-structured interviews in two EU member states Germany and Italy, this research explores the impediments journalists face at the structural and individual level. The findings revealed that although there is an increasing homogenization of the informational impediments, journalists seem to experience differences due to preferential treatments. Finally, organizational impediments such as political and economic pressure, and the way journalists conceptualize their role, also affect how and what they decide to report.


Alsaawi, A. (2014). A critical review of qualitative interviews. Ssrn Electronic Journal, (2014).

Anderson, P. J., & McLeod, A. (2004). The great non-communicator? the mass communication deficit of the European parliament and its press directorate. Journal of Common Market Studies, Vol. 42(5), 897-917

Anderson, P. J., & Price, J. (2008). An Evaluation of the Press and Communication Reforms of the Prodi Commission of 1999—2004: With Particular Reference to UK Europhile and Eurosceptic Journalists’ Perceptions of their Impact. European Journal of Communication, 23(1), 29- 46.

Baisnee, O., (2002) ‘‘Can Political Journalism Exist at the EU Level?’’, in: R. Kuhn & E. Neveu (Eds.), political Journalism: new challenges new practices (pp. 108-28). Routledge pp. 108-28.

Bennett, W. L., & Entman, R. M. (2001). Mediated politics: communication in the future of democracy (Ser. Communication, society, and politics). Cambridge University Press.

Berti, C. (2019). Rotten Apples or Rotten System? Media Framing of Political Corruption in New Zealand and Italy. Journalism Studies, 20(11), 1580–1597.

Besley, T., Burgess, R., & Pratt, A. (2002). "Mass media and political accountability," LSE

Research Online Documents on Economics 35988, London School of Economics and Political Science, LSE Library.

Bijsmans, P., & Altides, C. (2007). ‘Bridging the Gap’ between EU Politics and Citizens? The European Commission, National Media, and EU Affairs in the Public Sphere. Journal of European Integration, 29(3), 323–340.

Bovens, M., Schillemans, T., & Goodin., R. E. (2014). Public Accountability. In M. Bovens, R. Goodin & T. Schillemans, The Oxford handbook public accountability (pp.1-20). Oxford University Press.

Camaj, L., (2013). The Media’s Role in Fighting Corruption: Media Effects on Governmental Accountability. International Journal of Press/Politics 18 (1): 21–42.

Cook, T. E. (2005). The functions of the press in a democracy. In G. Overholser K. Hall Jamieson (Eds.), The press (pp. 115−119). Oxford University Press.

Cornia, A. (2010). The Europeanization of Mediterranean journalistic practices and the Italianization of Brussels: Dynamics of the interaction between EU institutions and national journalistic cultures. European Journal of Communication, 25(4), 366–381.

Cornia, A., Ghersetti, M., Mancini, P., & Odén, T. (2016). The Partisans, the Technocrats and the Watchdogs: Domestication in media coverage of the swine flu pandemic in 2009. Journalism Studies, 17(8), 1030–1050.

Dandashly, A. (2020, February 4). Introduction to Qualitative Methods [Slides]. Blackboard Archive. 1217549-dt-contentrid 6270878_1/courses/2019-2020-400 EUS2509/QRS%20I%20LECTURE.pdf

Fengler, S., & Russ-Mohl, S. (2008). Journalists and the information-attention markets. Journalism, 9(6), 667–690.

Gadamer, H., G. (1994). Literature and philosophy in dialogue: essays in german literary theory (Ser. Suny series in contemporary continental philosophy). State University of New York Press.

Gattermann, K., & Vasilopoulou, S. (2015). Absent yet popular? Explaining news visibility of Members of the European Parliament. European Journal of Political Research, 54(1), 121–140.

Gerli, M., Mazzoni, M., & Mincigrucci, R. (2018). Constraints and limitations of investigative journalism in Hungary, Italy, Latvia and Romania. European Journal of Communication, 33(1), 22–36.

Gerring, J. (2007). Case study research: principles and practices. Cambridge University Press.

Gleissner, M., & de Vreese, C. H. (2005). News about the EU Constitution: Journalistic challenges and media portrayal of the European Union Constitution. Journalism, 6(2), 221-242.

Hallin, D. C. and Mancini, P. (2004). Comparing Media Systems: Three Models of Media and Politics. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-511-21075 2. OCLC 896991703.

Hanitzsch, T., Hanusch, F., Mellado, C., Anikina, M., Berganza, R., Cangoz, I., Coman, M., Hamada, B., Elena Hernández, M., Karadjov, C. D., Virginia Moreira, S., Mwesige, P. G., Plaisance, P. L. Reich, Z., Seethaler, J., Skewes, E. A., Vardiansyah Noor, D., & Kee Wang Yuen, E. (2011). Mapping Journalism Cultures Across Nations: A comparative study of 18 countries. Journalism Studies, 12(3), 273–293.

Hobolt, S. & Tilley. (2014). Blaming Europe? responsibility without accountability in the European Union. Oxford University Press.

Holzhacker, R. (2007). Democratic Legitimacy and the European Union. Journal of European Integration, 29(3), 257–269.

Hood, C. (2007). What happens when transparency meets blame-avoidance? Public Management Review, 9(2), 191–210.

International Press Association (IPA). (2010). IPA insists on independent quality information, http://

Johnson, D. E. (2014). The mass media’s dual role: ‘Watchdog’ and guardian of their own interests. Journal of Public Affairs, 14(3–4), 369–378.

Koopmans, R. (2007). Who inhabits the European public sphere? Winners and losers, supporters, and opponents in Europeanised political debates. European Journal of Political Research, 46(2), 183- 210.

Koopmans, R., & Statham, P. (2010). Theoretical framework, research design and methods. In R. Koopmans, & P. Statham (Eds.), The making of a European public sphere: Media discourse and political contention (pp. 34–59). Cambridge University Press.

Laursen, B. (2013). Transparency in the Council of the European Union: Why journalists don’t get the full picture. Journalism, 14(6), 771–789.

Lecheler, S. (2008). EU membership and the press: An analysis of the Brussels correspondents from the new member states. Journalism, 9(4), 443- 464.

Martins, A. I., Lecheler, S., & De Vreese, C. H. (2012). Information Flow and Communication Deficit: Perceptions of Brussels-Based Correspondents and EU Officials. Journal of European Integration, 34(4), 305–322.

Mellado, C. (2014). Professional Roles in News Content: Six dimensions of journalistic role performance. Journalism Studies, 16(4), 596–614.

Meyer, C. (1999). Political Legitimacy and the Invisibility of Politics: Exploring the European Union’s Communication Deficit. Journal of Common Market Studies, 37(4), 617–639.

Meyers, C. (Ed.). (2010). Journalism ethics: a philosophical approach (Ser. Practical and professional ethics series). Oxford University Press. dir_esc=y#v=onepage&q&f=false

Mills A. J., Durepos G., & Wiebe, E. (2010). Encyclopedia of Case Study Research. SAGE

Minichiello, et al. (1990). In-depth Interviewing. Researching People. Longman Cheshire.

Norris, P. (2008). “The Fourth Estate.” In Driving Democracy: Do Power-Sharing Institutions Work? 186–206. Cambridge University Press.

Norris, P. (2014). Watchdog Journalism. In M. Bovens, R. Goodin & T. Schillemans, The Oxford handbook public accountability (pp.525-544). Oxford University Press.

Raeymaeckers, K., Cosijn, L., & Deprez, A. (2007). Reporting the European Union: An analysis of the Brussels press corps and the mechanisms influencing the news flow. Journalism Practice, 1(1), 102–119.

Ripollés, C.A., Izquierdo-Castillo, J., & Doménech-Fabregat, H. (2014). From Watchdog to Watched Dog: Oversight and Pressures between Journalists and Politicians in the Context of Mediatization. 18.

RSF, (2021). World press freedom index.

Schmidt, V. A. (2013). Democracy and Legitimacy in the European Union Revisited: Input, Output and ‘Throughput.’ Political Studies, 61(1), 2–22.

Statham, P. (2008). Making Europe news: how journalists view their role and performance. Journalism: Theory, Practice & Criticism 9 (4): 398–422.

Statham, P. (2010). Making Europe News. In R. Koopmans & P. Statham (Eds.), The Making of a European Public Sphere (pp. 125–150). Cambridge University Press.

Trenz, H. (2008). Understanding Media Impact on European Integration: Enhancing or Restricting the Scope of Legitimacy of the EU? Journal of European Integration, 30(2), 291–309.

Tufford, L., & Newman, P. (2012). Bracketing in Qualitative Research. Qualitative Social Work, 11(1), 80–96.

Waisbord, S. (2000). Watchdog Journalism in South America. News, Accountability and Democracy. Colombia University Press

Žuffová, M. (2021). Fit for Purpose? Exploring the Role of Freedom of Information Laws and Their Application for Watchdog Journalism. The International Journal of Press/Politics