The Impacts of Modern Day Media on Right-Wing Populism

With the final reading response of the semester, we have come full circle: In Week 2 on Defining Terms, I wrote the following: 

Defined as “a set of ideas focused on a fundamental opposition between the people and the elite,” I believe populism has in part gained prominence due to increased online connectivity. The media landscape today…allows for a broader range of opinions and values. 

Week 11’s readings echoed the above idea that populist parties have utilized online environments to connect and mobilize a broader audience of potential voters. Hatakka notes the rise of right-wing populism in Europe has coincided with online far-right activism. According to Mudde, this is no mere coincidence: today’s media landscape has provided access and coverage for populist politicians that were not formerly available. 

While an engaged populous is good for democracy, there are dangers with the modern day networked society. As indicated by Slavíčková & Zvagulis and Doerr, “new racism” has emerged and consequently facilitated hate speech in the media. Slavíčková & Zvagulis’s study considers how new racism is found in the wording of news stories, including journalistic skewing and the absence of minority voices. Doerr’s take on new racism instead looks at media imaging, specifically arguing how visual devices like political cartoons reinforce anti-immigrant discourse. This likens back to the Matthews article, as he argues European right-wing populist parties such as UKIP, Front National and AfD have used the media to spread anti-immigration messaging, in particular racist messaging against Islam. 

Hate speech is certainly not new to Europe: Göle harkens back to the destruction of the Mostar Bridge— a symbol connecting the Muslim and Christian communities in Bosnia—was strategically shelled as a not so subtle religious statement by Croatian gunman while fighting the Bosnian Muslims. However, the “connective action” online phenomenon described by Hatakka offers much different conditions for media networking as what came before. Now, the internet has eased the ability for people with similar political interests to meet, organize, debate and expand their outreach like never before. 

While increasing online engagement is often positive for society, Freedman argues the current liberal approach to media policy has enabled the far-right to exploit communication systems. Notably, populists have effectively spread political messages based on sentiment over fact. This is important, as Feldmen argued in Week 2 how notes how nationalism morphed into fascism by going beyond politics and building a king of “political religion.” As we see populist leaders have continually played on people’s emotions, Freeman emphasizes the dangers of the policy inaction to mediate racist populist messaging and skewed media environments. 

At the conclusion of the semester, I still believe my words from Week 2, that “under a democratic democracy, we will not see the likes of fascism in the West reborn.” However, after Week 11, I believe the knock-on effects of a run-away media landscape dominated by right-wing, anti-immigrant rhetoric cannot be ignored. 

Regulating Media, Populism in the liberal market


Des Freedman in “Populism and media policy failure” argues that media has failed in four ways and that populism continues to be given credence in an unregulated media market. Populist use media to transmits sentiment over fact, Freedman asserts, appealing to the political outsider to send a message. I argue that appealing to the ‘outsider’ is a method of creating and subsequently appealing to the proposed desires of the ‘common people’ that media has produced. This appeal to the ‘common’ is a tactic of Populists, a concept I explored last week.  As Freedman points out, media created with failed regulation has allowed for Populists to transmit sentiment over fact, often appealing to one group rather than the other. Alt-right alternative media carries a message to the ‘common’ people who are not represented by the elitist’s traditional news sources such as the New York Times.


The failing of policy regulation of the media industry include:


1.       Concentration of ownership

2.       Little to no regulation of social media

3.       Failure to protect the ‘fourth estate’ (investigative journalism)

4.       Failure to protect public service media.


These fallings have come to pass under a policy regime that has “vested interests that dominate at any one time; communications policy is a highly political, value-laden, interest-driven field of decision-making. Since the 1980s, this has generally followed ‘the logic of the marketplace’,” wrote Freedman. In this way the economy, specially the liberal marketplace, is a driving factor in shaping the conditions of the media industry allowing Populist to win out by way of market failure. The structuring of the liberal economy to reward the success of some at the loss of others keeps many on the margins. It is in appealing to the those placed on the margins and also those categorized by capitalism that media carries the message of Populists. This appeals to economic anxieties to further unit the ‘common’ under a banner of rhetoric. “one potential solution is regularly proposed,” wrote Freedman,  “an independent public service news media that is strong enough to defy the pressure of both government and market and to serve citizens without fear or favour.”


D. Freedman, “Populism and media policy failure” European Journal of Communication

33(6)(2018): 604-618

Playing the victim, or blaming the victim?

By Daniel Williams

Mainstream media is a catchphrase that has gotten a lot of traction recently. It’s use tries to coalesce a sense of ‘Big News’, similar to Big Pharma or Big Oil. The concept is that there exist a large number of major news media formats and organizations that are intertwined, promoting messaging that benefits all of them through sensationalizing stories, building up dangerous messages, and keeping the general public in the dark by only ever displaying one side of the story.

This is the focus of Populism and media policy failure. In this article, the news is portrayed as having effectively been complicit in the rise of major populist figures. It suggests that structural conditions within news media have effectively established requisite conditions to cause populist figures to use fake news, half-truths and conspiracy theories to fuel their rise.


The Relationship Between Journalism and Populism

As right wing populism has become more salient so too has the institution of journalism alongside social media. With this in mind, can we track the role that journalism has played in shaping the development of right wing populism? Moreover, can we distinguish between the role that specific journalists have played from the institution of journalism itself? 

In the case of Czech journalist’s depiction of roma peoples in the media as highlighted by Tess Slavíčková and Peter Zvagulis in their article “Monitoring Anti-Minority Rhetoric in the Czech Print Media: A Critical Discourse Analysis,” the media reported on Roma peoples in very derogatory terms. So much so that the Roma fight was ultimately put out of context. It takes the event out of context and provides fodder for racial tension. But is this reflective of the misgivings of actual journalists or problems in the institution of journalism in a broader sense? We ought to consider that journalists might not actual receive proper training to handle complicated events like the above mentioned. The article does pose this question, but maybe we can take it even further and ask if the institution of journalism itself is entrenched with racism that has not yet been addressed. 

The role of journalism and journalists is at the epicentre of “Populism and media policy failure” by Des Freedman. It addresses the way that the mainstream media affected the results and reactions to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Specifically, there was a shared atmosphere of shock and disbelief in response to the elections. However, these reactions failed to acknowledge the way that the media is often complicit, though not solely responsible for, the rise of right wing populism. The article particularly takes to task media “elites” and liberal news media who fail to represent these issues in a nuanced and diverse way. 

To conclude, while journalists and journalism should not shoulder the blame for the prevalence of right wing populism, it at least needs to be included in the conversation. In doing so, it can become a means with which to contest these movements.