In the febrile contemporary political climates of many Western democracies, journalists have been increasingly seen as part of the political story rather than simply its narrators. Insurgent ‘populist’ political movements have placed major media organisations at the centre of their anti-establishment critique, while opposing forces have posited ‘media complicity’ in the promotion of divisive discourses and populist misinformation. All the while, traditional media organisations are being rocked by deep structural and technological change that is fundamentally shifting the practice of journalism and changing their relationship with an increasingly sceptical and polarised public.
While much has been written and discussed about the media’s role in the ‘populist turn’ in Western democracies, the actual experience of journalists in responding to these turbulent political times has been little explored. The following analysis, therefore, aims to foreground the perspectives of print, broadcast, and online journalists working in the UK – and to contrast these against the experiences of the German media, through a case study prepared by Das Progressive Zentrum in Berlin.
In selecting these countries, we assess how the evolution of journalism practice has played out in two quite distinct media and political systems, particularly through a focus on two unique recent operating contexts: the European Referendum in the UK and the refugee and migrant crisis in Germany. We explore the extent to which traditional norms of journalistic practice share natural affinities with populist politics and discourses, and ask in what ways can journalists be better supported and equipped to critically engage with divisive political movements in the digital age.
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