Press Councils Around The World: Unraveling a Definitional Dilemma

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Reports results of a survey of the establishment, aims, operations, financing, and procedures of the 32 press councils that have been formed in industrial democracies; notes that they all aim at preserving press freedom and helping the press assume its social responsibilities, but that they differ in their determination of how these goals should be reached. (GW)

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... Its approach, however, is clearly anchored in the practice of media self-regulation and therefore lacks a sound theoretical basis as well as clear definitions. This problem is only to some extent amended by authors such as Bradley (1972), Fischer, Breuer, andWolter (1976), Bertrand (1978), and Rampal (1981), although they succeeded in introducing structured instruments (e.g., questionnaires) to collect empirical data about their objects of study. Among the more recent accounts, Nordenstreng's (1995) Reports on Media Ethics in Europe have long offered the most elaborate and current empirical assessment of press councils from a comparative view, including an analysis of the foundational period of different press councils, their organizational structures, and their options to sanction journalistic misbehavior. ...
As organizations of media self‐regulation, press councils try to safeguard the quality of journalistic coverage while holding off possible threats of intrusion by the state. They have a long tradition in democratic‐corporatist media systems, although their impact on practical journalism is often put into question. Press councils are facing manifold new challenges, especially in the digital age. This entry discusses the functions and failures of press councils from a comparative point of view and highlights future perspectives—also with regard to new research initiatives in this field.
Two media scholars--one from Germany and one from the United States--discuss in point-counterpoint style issues pertaining to press self-regulation in their respective press systems. Their intent was not only to assess press freedom and press responsibility in their own countries but also to offer reflections on each other's observations. The German perspective argues for more press freedom in Germany, while the North American perspective maintains the need for more press responsibility in the United States. Authors conclude that insights about one's own press system can be gained from considering factors in other systems.
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