DFG project: Collective Bargaining and the Media

The mediated public in political and economic negotiations


Funding agency: German Research Foundation – DFG


Duration: 01.07.2017-31.07.2021


Researchers: Prof. Dr. Oliver Quiring, Dr. Mathias Weber, Dr. Christina Viehmann, Marlene Schaaf



Important political and economic decisions are often the result of negotiations behind closed doors. Be it coalition agreements, the conditions of the Brexit, mergers of major enterprises, or collective labor agreements. In recent years, the traditional concept of closed negotiations has however been subject to increasing criticism (e.g., the debate about the TTIP talks). The most frequent concerns raised by critics are: Closed negotiations lack transparency, they enable corruption and nepotism among elites, and they hinder a sound attribution of responsibility. From the perspective of negotiation theory, however, excluding the public is considered as functional, if not indispensable, because it facilitates making concessions and striking compromises. The tension between calls for more transparency of negotiations and confidentiality as a (supposed) precondition for achieving sustainable outcomes rises with increasing medialization of the political and economic sphere. The mass media reports extensively about negotiations of broad public relevance and the public increasingly expects this media coverage to extend to all aspects of the negotiation process, not only to what negotiators purposely publish before and after sessions. Digitalization has further added to the pressure of looking behind closed doors with online publishing enabling (almost) real time reporting about important negotiations.

The objective of the research project is to analyze the role of the mass media in economic and political negotiations, with focus on collective bargaining in Germany. In a first step, we aim at investigating the negotiators‘ individual perceptions of and expectations toward mass media and public communication. In a second step, we seek to determine the role of these media-related perceptions and evaluations in the negotiation process itself and in the negotiators’ own public communication activities. Understanding the interactions of labor unions, employers’ associations, and journalists during the process of negotiating collective labor agreements is vital for understanding how labor conditions are defined for a substantial part of the German population. In addition and given many similarities with other types of negotiations, analyzing collective bargaining allows deducing insights for economic and political negotiations also on a more abstract level.

In a first step, qualitative interviews will be conducted with chief negotiators and public relations specialists from both labor unions and employers’ associations from major German industries. The insights from these interviews will inform a theoretical model on the role of the media in negotiation processes. This model will then be tested via a quantitative survey among all negotiators who have been recently involved in wage disputes in Germany.