Democracy Beyond Elections: Government Accountability in the Media Age

By Lydia Finzel March 16, 2020 Weekly Graphs

In her recent book Democracy beyond Elections: Government Accountability in the Media Age, V-Dem visiting scholar, Dr. Gergana Dimova explains the relationship between media scandals, executive accountability, and the crisis of democracy.This week’s graph illustrates some of her findings using the horizontal accountability index of the V-Dem dataset.


Dr. Dimova’s book explores whether investigations and sanctions of government officials resulting from media accusations benefit or undermine democracy. Based on an analysis of about 6,000 media allegations in Russia, Bulgaria, and Germany, Dr. Dimova finds that government accountability through mechanisms other than elections can improve democracy through broader inclusion of verbal exchanges, institutional investigations, and sanctions. 

This represents efforts at horizontal accountability, or the power of state institutions to oversee the government and to guarantee checks between institutions. The V-Dem horizontal accountability index measures the degree to which the judiciary, legislature, and other oversight agencies can investigate and sanction the executive for wrongdoing. The scale of the horizontal accountability index varies from low to high (0 ­– 1).

This week’s graph illustrates important differences in how horizontal accountability has unfolded since the end of the Cold War for the three countries in Dr. Dimova’s study. Whereas checks on the executive from other government bodies has remained constant for Germany between 1989 and 2018, this has improved for Bulgaria and declined for Russia. Dr. Dimova explains these differences as de-parliamentarisation in Germany, judicialisation in Bulgaria, and presidentialisation in Russia.

There are also different factors of the allegations that play into these findings. While it is more important who makes the allegations in Russia, i.e. the identity of the accuser, the type of allegations counts stronger in German cases. This results in the media initiating allegations in Russia and the opposition most commonly initiating allegations in Germany. Bulgaria thereby describes a middle position between the three countries. In Bulgaria both, media and opposition frequently act as important agents of accountability. While sanctions in Germany and Bulgaria tend to be policy-oriented, sanctions in Russia are clearly personal-oriented.

To learn more about the V-Dem accountability measures and our online analysis tools, visit

Back to article list