Across Europe, Far-Right and Populist Threat to Journalism Growing, University of Vienna Report Shows

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Source/Author: Media Governance and Industries Research Lab, University of Vienna

VIENNA, 03.05.2017. – Growing support for far-right and populist politicians presents a threat to journalism across Europe, a University of Vienna research report released on World Press Freedom Day shows.

The study, overseen by Prof. Katharine Sarikakis, head of the University’s Media Governance & Industries Research Lab examines press freedom in 12 European countries, in the context of the threat posed to the watchdog role of independent journalism in democracies by far-right and populist political parties.

“The research shows a correlation between the rise of far-right and populist political power in many countries across Europe, and intensified assaults on press freedom,” Prof. Sarikakis said. “It is vital that governments do all they can to ensure a climate is not consolidated in which attacks, of any kind, on media freedom are perceived to be acceptable.”

The countries examined are: Austria; Bosnia & Herzegovina; Bulgaria; Croatia; France; Germany; Greece; Hungary; Italy; Montenegro; Poland; Romania; and Serbia. The time period covered is 2012-2016, inclusive, which marks a rise in support for far-right and populist parties in a number of European countries.

Although particular attention was paid, in the research, to reports of physical assaults on journalists, a broadened interpretation of the term ‘assault on the media’ was used, to include legal action, threats, intimidation, verbal and online abuse, the leverage of employment precarity, and the abuse of monopolistic media positions by state and private actors.

The key findings of the report can be summarised as follows:

• Impunity is commonplace.

• Rises in the number of assaults are usually accompanied by increased concerns about the democratic health of a country.

• Online abuse is disproportionately directed at women.

• Media monopolies / oligarchies, constitute an increasing threat to independent journalism.

• The ability of far-right / populist politicians and parties to circumvent the mainstream media by reaching large numbers of supporters directly, online, in particular through social media, is creating echo chambers for political ideologies and in particular for vilification of the mainstream press.

• Most of the countries examined have experienced a drop in international press freedom rankings across the time period researched; the decline in ranking is particularly evident in countries that have witnessed a systemic rise in populist / far-right support.

• Economic dependence on the state and other actors endangers and compromises independent journalism, especially in times of prolonged financial crisis.

The complete report, including the full ‘Key Findings’, as well as ‘Recommendations’ can be found here.

The Media Governance and Industries Research Lab, established by Prof. Sarikakis in 2011, brings together international scholars from different disciplines, whose intellectual and sociocultural interests are focused on the systematic study of the policies and politics of media, culture and communication.