Does the 4th estate deliver? The Political Coverage Index and its application to media capture

Abstract

With the upswing of populist, right-wing, and EU-skeptical parties and politicians in Europe, as well as the success of Donald Trump in the 2016 US presidential elections, the media and its role in democracies are, once again, under scrutiny. To investigate whether the media fulfill its role as the fourth estate, i.e. providing another level of control for government, or whether there is evidence of media capture, first, we introduce the Political Coverage Index (PCI), a new measure of the relative positioning of media within the political spectrum. In contrast to existing measures of political positioning (e.g., language similarities, explicit endorsements, mentions of ideological references), we utilize the tonality of articles and newscasts on political parties and politicians. Then, we apply the PCI to 35 opinion-leading media in Germany, on the basis of more than 10 million news items on political parties and politicians between 1998 and 2012. Lastly, we use the PCI to investigate whether the media fulfil its fourth estate role. Our findings show that the media outlets in our sample report more negatively on governing parties, which we interpret as suggestive evidence that media is fulfilling its role as fourth estate in democracies.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    In addition, in communication and media science, there is a broad literature on the existence of media biases and its foundations. Examples include Ball-Rokeach (1985) as well as Ball-Rokeach and DeFleur (1976) on the dependency of the media-system, as well as Dunham (2013) on the measurement of media biases.

  2. 2.

    In this context, Ulbricht et al. (2017) use media data to improve economic forecasts.

  3. 3.

    There is also some research on political bias of German media outlets existing, provided by Dallmann et al. (2015) as well as Garz et al. (2019). The latter authors construct an index of media slant by comparing the language of outlets with that of the main political parties, compare their results with previous version of our paper and find a bivariate correlation of 0.39 Garz et al. (2019, 21).

  4. 4.

    The effect of media consumption on voter information in democracies is investigated by Garz (2018) as well as Larcinese and Sircar (2017). However, Kauder and Potrafke (2015) show that even if a political scandal is known and covered by the media it does not necessarily lead to a punishment of the incumbent government by the voters.

  5. 5.

    Further contributions in this context are Bernhardt et al (2008), D’Alessio and Allen (2000), Druckman and Parkin (2005), Gentzkow et al. (2011) as well as Morris (2007).

  6. 6.

    These contributions can be connected to the model of political agency or voter control (see Barro 1973; Ferejohn 1986).

  7. 7.

    For more information see: www.mediatenor.com.

  8. 8.

    CDU: Christian Democratic Union of Germany; CSU: Christian Social Union in Bavaria; SPD: Social Democratic Party of Germany; FDP: Free Democratic Party.

  9. 9.

    During the period of interest, the FDP entered coalitions with both parties on the state level, but coalitions with the CDU are the rule, while coalitions with the SPD are the exceptions. During this period, the Greens did not form coalitions with the CDU/CSU on either the state or federal levels.

  10. 10.

    Most of the political TV magazines analyzed are provided by regional member broadcasting services of the ARD (in particular: Fakt, Kontraste, Monitor, Panorama, Plusminus, Report BR, Report SWR), which is a joint organization of Germany's regional public-service broadcasters. However, we only include the political TV magazines that focus on national politics and were broadcasted on national ARD.

  11. 11.

    Earlier contributions on the comparison of human coding and computer assisted methods go back to Nacos et al. (1991).

  12. 12.

    The accuracy and reliability of the coding was regularly checked by Media Tenor, both with standard tests and random spot checks, based on the code-book. Each month, for each coder, three analyzed reports were selected randomly and checked. Coders scoring lower than 0.80, that is 80 percent accuracy in comparison to the code-book, were removed from the coding process. In no month did the mean deviation among all coders exceeded 0.15. As a result, Media Tenor's data achieves an accuracy of minimum 0.85.

  13. 13.

    Source: Emnid opinion research institute.

  14. 14.

    Note, that we do not use an intercept. By this means we are able to interpret the dummies‘coefficients as average PCIs during the respective coalition periods.

  15. 15.

    While the average PCI during the SPD&Greens coalition is 0.0344, the average PCI is 0.0209 during the CDU/CSU&SPD coalition. However, media reporting is measured by an average PCI of -0.0554 during the CDU/CSU&FDP coalition, indicating a difference of nearly 0.09 points.

  16. 16.

    Chancellor Schröder and his Agenda 2010 policy can be seen as an exemption.

  17. 17.

    This effect vanishes when taking into account individual campaigns in Sect. 4.3.

  18. 18.

    The top five right-wing media are identified as: Report (BR), Fakt, WamS, SuperIllu and Rheinischer Merkur. The top five left-wing media are found to be: Monitor, Die Woche, Report (SW), tageszeitung and Der Spiegel.

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Correspondence to Tobias Thomas.

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The authors are grateful to the editor, two anonymous referees, Adam Lederer (Berlin), Anya Schiffrin (New York), Robert Y. Shapiro (New York), as well as to the participants of the European Public Choice Society Meeting in April 2017 in Budapest (Hungary), the participants of the 8th Australasian Public Choice Conference in December 2015 in Brisbane (Australia), and, in particular, to Dennis C. Mueller for useful hints and comments.

Appendix

Appendix

See Tables 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and Figs. 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Table 6 Analyzed set of reports by medium
Table 7 Summary statistics of monthly unweighted PCI
Table 8 Summary statistics of monthly weighted PCI
Table 9 Average number of monthly reports on parties
Table 10 OLS regressions of unweighted PCI on monthly time series

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Dewenter, R., Dulleck, U. & Thomas, T. Does the 4th estate deliver? The Political Coverage Index and its application to media capture. Const Polit Econ 31, 292–328 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10602-019-09291-5

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Keywords

  • Political Coverage Index
  • Government bias
  • Tonality
  • Media capture

JEL classification

  • C43
  • D72
  • L82