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Drivers of Journalistic Coverage of Parliamentary Questions

The final paper in this ECREA 2012 session is by Rosa van Santen, whose interest is in when journalists consider politicians' statements as newsworthy. In particular, this focusses on the parliamentary questions of MPs in France, the Netherlands, and Germany, and examines the content of the question (criticism, attribution of competence or incompetence, causal attribution), the actors involved (government or opposition, ministers or minor parliamentarians), and the preceding media coverage leading up to the question. Does critical questioning of government actors lead to more media attention, for example?

At the macro level, are there differences between the countries? In some countries, major government actors are answering questions, while in others it is their state secretaries; in some, questions can be asked without notice; in some, further debate and follow-up questions may also ensue. In Germany, many questions may be asked, but question hours are rare, and state secretaries answer; in the Netherlands, only four questions are asked per week, but ministers answer and follow-up questions are possible.

The study examined questions in non-election years, and studied newspaper coverage in the days before and after parliamentary question hours. In the Netherlands, some 32% of questions generated follow-on media attention, while in Germany, only 5% were covered. In France, blame or causal attribution tended to lead to more coverage, and in the Netherlands and France, criticism of government also increased the media attention in the follow-up.

None of these factors are present in Germany, pointing to a very different use of parliamentary questions in the German context. Micro-level factors generally seemed to make very little difference – overall, then, it seems that what mainly influences media coverage of parliamentary questions is the established role of parliamentary question time, rather than very specific aspects.