Interview with the editors: Tobias Eberwein, Susanne Fengler, Matthias Karmasin
Can you please describe the key challenges to media accountability discussed in the book?
Journalists around the globe are currently facing immense pressure. Reasons for this trend are manifold and include various challenges on the political, economic and technological levels. Evidence is most easily discernible in the political arena – just think of the inflationary critique of the media that culminates in politically motivated catchwords like ‘fake news’ or ‘lying press’. At the same time, the ongoing economization of practical news work leads to an erosion of journalism’s financial basis, with consequences that are often drastic. Unfortunately, the technological innovations of the recent past have by no means helped to alleviate these tendencies. For years, we have highlighted numerous advantages that digitisation of public communication may bring about for journalism. By now, however, these high hopes have mostly vanished: the accelerated publication cycles of online journalism create a higher risk of editorial mistakes and misinformation; increasing user participation incites unparalleled waves of hate speech and trolling; and new forms of automated communication make it even more difficult to ascribe responsibility for published content. In the light of these challenges, it is no surprise that audience trust in journalistic products is waning in many parts of the world. In the given situation, media responsibility and accountability seem to be more important than ever, and our book intends to analyse and evaluate the instruments and practices that are available for safeguarding free and responsible media in Europe.
What is the original contribution of this book?
The anthology aims at mapping the state of media accountability in Europe – and at highlighting perspectives for future developments in this field: Which instruments of media accountability are currently prevailing in the various journalism cultures across Europe and how can their mode of operation be assessed? What are the particular problems and challenges they are facing? And which possible strategies can help to overcome these challenges? These and similar questions are discussed from an international and interdisciplinary perspective. By bringing together more than 30 scholars with different national and professional backgrounds, we hope to broaden the view on media accountability, which only becomes graspable if it is approached as a cross-sectional research topic.
How do you think Media Accountability in the Era of Post-Truth Politics can be important for other areas of research on media and communications?
Because of its interdisciplinary approach, the book offers relevant insights for many fields of research in media and communications: journalism studies, organisational communication, media economics, political communication, media law and policy, media ethics, but also audience and reception studies, digital communication, or mediatization research, to name just a few examples. In fact, media accountability is a typically integrative concept that can help to connect the various sub-disciplines of our scientific community, including both normative and empirical approaches to media and communication research. As such, it is a highly valuable concept – and it is surprising to see that it has been ignored in our discipline for such a long time.
Do you feel this is a timely publication in terms of public debates?
Absolutely! The current discussions about ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth politics’, the role of social bots and algorithms, as well as other disruptive influences on journalistic communication, leave no doubt that quality and responsibility of the media have – once again – turned into trending topics. As the integrity of the international media landscape is challenged by far-reaching transformations, the need for a functional system of media regulation is bigger than ever. In democratic societies, various instruments of media accountability (such as press and media councils, ombudspersons, or media journalism) assume a key role in the process of safeguarding responsible media performance. However, in the light of the aforementioned challenges, the established system of media accountability seems to be at a crossroads: on the one hand, the necessity of non-state means for holding the media responsible towards the public is largely undisputed; on the other hand, the effectiveness of such instruments as a guardian of press freedom and media plurality is often questioned – both by media practitioners and media researchers. The systematic investigation of these media accountability instruments from the perspective of the journalism cultures in Europe is the core objective of our publication.
How was the process of the ECREA book series, and how important was it for your publication?
The idea for this volume was conceived at a one-day pre-conference to the 6th European Communication Conference in Prague. This pre-conference brought together some of the most eminent media accountability scholars in Europe. While some of them had collaborated with us in previous projects, such as the comparative study “Media Accountability and Transparency in Europe” (MediaAcT) or our European Handbook of Media Accountability (Routledge 2018), others were newcomers to the growing international network of researchers with specific expertise in media accountability and media ethics. In the closing discussion, all conference participants emphasised the need for the future institutionalisation of media accountability research – be it in the form of further conferences and workshops, joint publications or other forms of more structured cooperation. This anthology, which contains selected papers that were presented at the ECREA pre-conference as well as additional original contributions, can be seen as a first step in the prospective process of institutionalisation. We are grateful for the opportunity to have the volume published in the renowned ECREA book series, which will hopefully increase its visibility. But we also hope that further steps will follow!
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Image 1: Tobias Eberwein,
Image 2: Susanne Fengler
Image 3: Matthias Karmasin