Collusive relationships between journalists and politicians in new democracies
Collusive relationships between
journalists and politicians in new
Theories of politics-media
• Media as instrument/channel of informing the citizens
(symbiosis: dependent on politicians & politicians depend on it)
• Media as players in the political process, e.g. watchdog role,
• Grey zone between interdependence and corruption has been
largely ignored in academic, policy research and by the NGOs
Politics-media relationships in
• Embracing press freedom.
• Leapfrogging into ‘third age’.
• Footprints of the old regime on structures and
practices of political communication.
• Dysfunctional transition.
What is corruption?
• People controlling something that does not belong to them and they fail the rules
and trust placed in them
• Corruption analyzed only from institutional point of view
How to measure it?
• Perception of general public and stakeholders
How does it happen?
• Corrupt contracts are not enforceable by law, but instead by self-enforcing (long-
term; overlapping interests), informal enforcing institutions (mafia, ethnic groups…),
perverse use of formal enforcing institutions (blackmailing with compromats and
creating interlocking dependencies)
• The act of corruption creates a bond as both sides share the guilt
Why is media corruption so under-research?
• No will to do it; too fuzzy to identify
What is media corruption?
• Liberal market and everything being for sale – where is the boundary
• Market and/vs. social function of media
• Functional interdependency and corruption interdependency
• Corruption as a consequence of professionalism of media-politicians relation
• Personal transactions (often), but a structural problem (usually)
Who is who in media corruption?
• Poor journalists “media proletariat” vs. rich editors “media bourgeoisie”
• Do politicians corrupt media or vice versa?
The study, data
Project “Political Communication in New Democracies: Government-
Media Relationships in Transition” (British Academy, LRG-45511).
8 countries from 4 continents.
Here: Bulgaria, Brazil
Semi-structured interviews with politicians, journalists and
intermediaries (total N used here: 55)
Question wording: “To your knowledge, are there journalists here in
[country] who accept money or any other favours in exchange for
favourable news coverage?”
End of communist rule in 1989, but begin of reforms delayed until
EU concerns about high level of corruption, but growth of mafia-
style organised crime.
End of military rule in 1985, but continued veto power of the army.
Closed circle of elites control political and economic power. History
of impunity of corruption.
Signs of change: recent large-scale corruption trials.
To what extent are the media able to keep distance; to what extent
are they part of the system of clientelism and corruption?
Journalists and corruption in
Bulgaria and Brazil
Media corruption – does it exist
and to what extent?
Frequent, pervasive phenomenon
• Media hijacked by political and economic
[commissioned publications] are inseparable from our
media life (P3BG)
… problems are the corruption and business interests in
politics as well as the intrusion of economic & other
interests in media (P6BG)
• ‘Watchdog coverage’ = smear campaigns
The ‘big’ talking does not mean that the truth is coming
out. There can be economic and political interest behind
• Predominantly on local level;
exchange of favours (not cash)
…this still happens all the time in small cities. But
since it has proven ineffective with the big media, it
is no longer done in the main cities (I5BRZ)
• Threat of main media by corporate
I don’t quite believe that the Brazilian press is
free… the Brazilian press is controlled by large
economic groups (J6BRZ)
All stakeholders (politicians, journalists &intermediaries) talk about corruption &admit its existence
Who is corrupt?
Pressure is passed down to journalists,
who see themselves as victims of
[The politicians] would normally call the bosses;
they know that calling the journalists wouldn’t do
it. Such decisions can only be made by the big
bosses of the media (J6BG)
How can you expect the journalists to oppose the
external influences if their managers are not able
to resist and protect media integrity? (J3BG)
Regional editors or political owners
strike the deals; but frequently collides
with journalistic ethics
There are people who call the editors up to complain
about a piece of information or to prevent it from
being published (P2BR)
When a politician runs a media group , for example, his
personal enemies will automatically become his
corporation’s enemies as well (I7BRZ)
I know about some colleagues that have been through
that, especially in the regional media. If that ever
happens to me, that is the day I will retire. (J7BRZ)
Attributed to high-level (editors, owners) rather than to low-paid journalism (envelope journalism)
Mechanisms of media-politics
Brazil Economic dependency used to pressure media
– Advertising and political ownership
Mostly the big newspapers, the ones that don’t depend on government
advertising to prosper, those tend to be more responsible. Those that
depend on ads from Petrobrás [Brazilian oil company], and so on, can
never be trusted upon. (J1BRZ)
In order to survive, today the media have merged into big corporations.
So, the businessmen who run the companies are linked to the economic
and political powers to some extent. … I’ve seen politicians pressurising,
…a politician blackmailing and saying: “If this continues like this, I’ll
withdraw my sponsorship of this TV programme” (I8BR)
– Government funding
The regional media have sold themselves out. They buy, they are bought,
they are constantly depending on government funding to continue in
Mechanisms of media-politics
Bulgaria A two-way relationship
• Advertising and other business interests
They are subject to the political approval as they, directly or indirectly,
receive funding from political clans. […] through different economic
entities and their advertising if those entities belong to the state, the
municipalities or political figures. (P8BG)
• Media as active players: Racketeering politicians,
black funds and elections
Who pays? The politicians do. They have to […] After [the media] write
some explicitly negative articles about you, you know you should pay […]
even though they haven’t asked for it explicitly (P5BG)
Here is a paradox: the media constantly make noise about the financial
resources, which the political parties spend during their electoral
campaigns, and at the same time, the media themselves racketeer the
politicians horribly during the campaigns (I1BG)
National level web of vested interests
Lack of democratic values and maturity
in society and media
Small and not-vibrant market, lack of
protection against unfair business
practices, especially out of the capital
Transition strengthens the role of
institutions and media as watch dogs
Dependence on few key advertising
sources due to ownership
concentration in Brazilian economy,
especially in local media
Unclear media ownership – non-transparent political & business alliances
Transition in progress
Corruption in journalism is widespread and often
disguised under a rhetoric of press freedom.
It is not confined to a poor ‘media proletariat’ (Coman
2004). Rather, an emerging media elite
becomes/remains entrenched in collusive relationships
with the politico-corporative power elite.
Lack of clear solutions, but presence of factors that would
minimize media corruption:
• Increased transparency of ownership and political alliances
• Effective system of horizontal accountability and enforcing
• Financial independence of media
• Professional associations to strengthen journalistic
independence and professional practices.