We are happy to present ECREA special panel at IAMCR 2019 that will take place on 7 - 11 July 2019 in Madrid.
Panel title: Rethinking journalism under conditions of post-truth epistemology (OCS number 23797)
Panel chairs: Ilija Tomanic Trivundza and John Downey
Recent electoral and plebiscitary gains of politicians and parties claiming to represent the unrepresented, and election-backed consolidation of regimes with autocratic tendencies have (re)ignited the debate on the democratic project’s “backsliding” into illiberal models of governance. Within Europe and beyond, this narrative of democratic backsliding, articulated through a set of keywords, such as populism, post-truth, fake news, illiberal democracy, has been portrayed as a consequence of manipulation of gullible publics and electorate in and through a dramatically altered information ecology. This panel, however, places focus not on gullible publics and illiberal politicians but on gullible journalism. Institutionalised journalism has largely failed to adequately respond to the post-truth strategies and illiberal tactics of political actors, leading to widening of the epistemological gaps between the post truth politics and the dominant liberal conception of journalism. If journalism is to no longer be a gullible party, it needs to reconsider its basic paradigmatic and epistemological principles in response to post truth politics. The panel, drawing on a variety of case studies from Europe, offers tentative suggestions for such renegotiation.
Risto Kunelius (University of Helsinki): Critical moments of journalism
The gullibility of journalism has a history where professional journalism was made based on three interrelated ideas. First, at the level of reporting practice, a structural dependency of “legitimate sources” was camouflaged with a detached and critical style, a performative version of autonomy. Second, at the level of institutional relations, journalism leaned (in the last instance) on the epistemological, cultural and moral authority of a differentiated modern institutional order and its capacity to tackle social problems. Third, at the level technology journalism relied on the practical necessity of mass media (technology) for constructing attention and translating it to political (social) power. Post-truth politics hits journalism on all these three fronts, simultaneously. It effectively plays norms of reporting against journalism, exposing the independence of journalism as a front for elite power. It abandons the logic of differentiation and the idea of expertise and replaces bargaining and compromise with loyalty, revelation and charisma. It rejects the need for legitimation of policy in imagined public sphere, embraces the techniques of attention control, and weaponizes small group communication lessons into mobilization of a political base. This multi-layered attack is powerful because it takes advantage of real weaknesses and contradictions of the inherited political communication. After outlining this diagnoses, this presentation considers briefly two interrelated strategies of supporting more truth-oriented, rational and deliberative political communication: 1) differentiated responses to the three broken moments and 2) a (wicked) problem-centered orientation to developing new practices.
Susana Salgado (Instituto de Ciências Sociais da Universidade de Lisboa): The populism-journalism puzzle
All politicians need visibility to achieve their goals. The interplay between media and politics has been central to this, first with legacy media, now with both legacy and social media (Chadwick’s hybrid media system). Much has already been written about this interplay and about the role of journalists in democracy, in framing and shaping democratic principles and behaviors. Schudson (1995), for example, emphasizes how journalists de-construct complex issues and thus help citizens to make sense of reality. Journalism’s part in the spread of populism has been receiving increased attention, but as yet there are still more questions than answers. This presentation aims to discuss whether and how journalism fits in the current populism puzzle and introduces the Portuguese case, where mainstream journalists have been stonewalling some populist actors and ideas, notably those linked to a radical/extreme right wing positioning. Could this be somehow related with the (up to now) lack of electoral success of populist parties in Portugal? Should journalists act as firm gatekeepers or should they simply provide reports without any interpretation of reality? Drawing on extant research about the role of journalism in democracy and introducing the Portuguese case, this presentation discusses the role(s) that journalists play in the spread of current forms of populism.
John Downey (Loughborough University): What do you do about Tommy? Mainstream media, social media, and the ‘far right’ in the United Kingdom
Tommy Robinson, ex-leader of the English Defence League, is currently according to You Gov opinion pollsters the ninth most popular ‘other UK public figure’ and the 11th most famous. Sixty-one percent of people in the UK have heard of Robinson, 13% of people have a positive opinion of him. This is partly the result of Robinson’s extensive use of social media such as Facebook and YouTube. It is also partly the consequence of reporting by mainstream media. Have they contributed wittingly or unwittingly to Robinson’s popularity?
Cinzia Padovani (University of Southern Illinois, Marie S. Curie Experienced Researcher University of Loughborough): Mainstream media and the ultra-right: Focus on Italy
In this presentation, part of a larger inquiry into the contemporary developments and comparative history of the relationship between mainstream media and ultra-right political actors in the UK and Italy, I will focus on the latter as a case study. After highlighting some of the conditions that have characterized the relationship between professional journalism and the political party system in Italy (Mancini 2009; Habermas 2006; Padovani 2005), this study will underline some of the differences between the so-called “social right” (a euphemism used to indicate the re-emergence of the neo-fascist right, a movement that surfaced out of the shadows of Berlusconesimo in the early 2000s and that is still active today) and the so-called “populist far-right” of more recent history; and then interrogate the ways in which mainstream media have historically reacted to and interacted with these different political actors.
Ilija Tomanic Trivundza (University of Ljubljana) and Igor Vobic (University of Ljubljana): Reconsidering gullibility of professional journalism in post-truth: Lesions from Slovenia
While the Enlightenment principles of reasoning have lost its dominance as means of social integration and political action, the post-truth epistemological coordinates rely on vagueness enabling construction of alternate political and cultural realities with unclear boundaries between knowledge and justification. In this context, professional journalism remains loyal to the ideal of objectivity as it has re-articulated in the last century or so and therefore appears gullible and devoid of proper answers in post-truth—not only as a critical link in public life based on facts and reasoned arguments, but also as a builder of community and collective sense-making. This case study explores how professional journalism in Slovenia reacts to fake news tactics of political power holders and elaborates how journalistic responses have deepened the paradigmatic gap between vague epistemology of post-truth and the dominant principles of professional journalism – not by dismantling the post-truth, but by effectively feeding into it. On this basis, the paper argues that the post-objectivity paradigm of journalism needs to be invented and practiced if we want to continue to meaningfully engage with matters of social relevance.