[FoME] Two New MeCoDEM Working Papers

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Fr Mär 3 11:46:34 CET 2017

Two New MeCoDEM Working Papers:

Media framing of democratisation conflicts in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa: a content analysis (Nebojša Vladisavljević and Katrin Voltmer)

This working paper from the MeCoDEM series is now available for download at: http://www.mecodem.eu/publications/working-papers

Executive Summary
This MeCoDEM working paper presents an overview of the main findings from a quantitative content analysis covering different types of democratisation conflicts (i.e., conflicts over citizenship, elections, transitional justice  and distribution of power) in four countries: Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa. The sample involves 5162 newspaper articles and news stories in the four countries selected on the basis of two main criteria: the degree of independence of media outlets  from government and political parties, and their relevance. The key findings from the content analysis are organised around several themes: causes of democratisation conflicts, portrayal of conflict parties, preferred solutions to conflicts, perceptions of  democracy, role of the media, authoritarian past, and tone of reporting and polarisation. Although this paper focuses principally on description, we also speculate about the main factors that shape similarities and differences in media coverage of democratisation  conflicts. The main finding from the content analysis is that cross-national variations that we found in media reporting of democratisation conflicts appear to depend on several factors:

Our data strongly reflect specific country contexts (and contexts of broader regions from which they come from, including the Arab Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and postcommunist Europe) to be a consistent factor that shapes the pattern of media coverage,  reflecting the close interdependence between media and politics. Historical and geographical influences crystallise over time into specific political, institutional and cultural legacies and thus shape media framing in different ways. For example, the army  is perceived as a relevant political institution in Egypt (and much of the Middle East) – due to its dominant role in politics since independence from colonial rule – but not in other countries. However, the relationship between country context and media coverage  is not a simple 1:1 reflection and multiple transformations of meaning in public discourses can tilt interpretations of political events toward unexpected directions.

Regime type and the stage of democratisation matter when it comes to media framing of political conflicts because press freedom is an important aspect of democracy. As a result, countries that feature similar levels of democracy, or find themselves at similar  points in democratisation, cluster together on several (but not all) relevant variables. Across all four countries, media’s portrayals of the achievements of democracy differ considerably with the most negative reporting recorded in South Africa and the most  positive in Serbia. This finding is puzzling because these two countries can be seen as the two most advanced democracies in our sample. Factors that contribute to a positive evaluation of democracy are peaceful elections, the rule of law and economic growth,  2 whereas institutional deficiencies, social inequalities and limited citizenship undermine beliefs in democratic governance.

In addition, media reporting also varied depending on types of democratisation conflict – which reflect the main arenas of political contestation – though less so than on country contexts. Our data show that elections, as a highly institutionalised type  of conflict (though it also probably depends on regime type/situation), were covered somewhat differently than other conflict types. Across all countries, the quality of media coverage is limited by bias, emotionalisation and – most importantly – polarisation.
In particular, conflicts over the control of power trigger sharp polarisation, whereas elections – contrary to existing literature – seem to force media towards a more restrained style of reporting. Further research, which draws  on other sources, including the qualitative analysis of media content, interviews with journalists, civil society and political actors, as well as document analysis, is required to explain how exactly and why all these factors shape media coverage of democratisation  conflicts.

Structural working conditions of journalism in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa: Empirical findings from interviews with journalists reporting on democratisation conflicts (Judith Lohner, Irene Neverla, Sandra  Banjac)

This working paper from the MeCoDEM series is now available for download at:  http://www.mecodem.eu/publications/working-papers

Executive Summary
This report provides an overview of core comparative findings from MeCoDEM interviews with journalists in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa. It investigates the structural working conditions of journalistic actors in transitional societies across a set  of comparable democratisation conflicts. Empirically, the study builds on qualitative semi-structured face-to face in-depth interviews with 100 professional journalists working for local news organisations in the four countries. Interviews employed the reconstruction  method.

The analysis confirms that journalism faces highly complex, ambivalent, contradictory and changing structural conditions in all MeCoDEM countries.

The structural conditions of journalism are shaped by legacies of the past (marked by non-democratic regimes and sometimes colonial rule) and persisting power structures. The state and powerful political actors are perceived to play an important role in  the media sector, mirrored in different forms of political interference directed at newsrooms and individual journalists in the way of repressive legal frameworks, political ownership and advertising, economic censorship and blackmail, as well as threats directed  at the physical and psychological safety of journalists. Journalists perceive the relationship between different communities in society to be reflected in the constitution of and atmosphere among newsroom staff.

Even though journalists operate in a more liberal environment than under autocratic rule in Kenya, Serbia and South Africa, media privatisation has created new dependencies and pressures: Against the background of profit-making pressures in capitalist and  highly commercialised media markets, journalists claim to work under precarious working conditions, marked by time constraints due to short-staffed newsroom and juniorisation, high professional insecurity and poor salaries arguably making journalists vulnerable  to bribery and corruption. Challenges relating to journalistic professionalism also translate into insufficient training on conflict-sensitive reporting and safety measures for journalists reporting on conflicts, low professional organisation and self-regulation,  as well as a lack of professional solidarity and prestige.

The salience of different elements of structural constraints varies depending on the stages of transition and consolidation which imply different degrees of democratisation relating to media structures. These become evident, for example, in differing levels  of legal and practical media freedom, state interference in the newsrooms and the nature of threats against journalists.

Also, the nature and salience of structural constraints depends on the conflict context: Violent protests (such as the service delivery protests in South Africa or the Pride Parade in Serbia) become a challenge especially for the physical and psychological  safety of reporters working on the ground. Predominantly political conflicts (such as election campaigns) enhance various forms of overt and subtle political interference in the newsrooms and pressures against individual (mainly senior) journalists.

About MeCoDEM:
MeCoDEM began on 1 February 2014 and will run over three years. The project investigates the interplay of communication and democratisation conflicts in four countries, Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa, each of them representing  unique aspects of transitional / post-transitional divisions. Based on a comparative case study design, the research covers constitutional conflicts, civic conflicts and conflicts surrounding accountability and good governance. These conflicts constitute arenas  of dispute where the media interact with the communicative strategies of governments on the one hand, and political activists and political movements struggling for recognition on the other. MeCoDEM is funded by the European Union within the EU’s Seventh Framework  Programme. With a budget of 2.2 million Euros, the project consortium includes eight partner institutions from six countries: University of Leeds (coordinating institution), University of Belgrade, University of Hamburg, University of Cape Town, University  of Oxford, Stockholm University, Ruhr University Bochum and American University in Cairo.

MeCoDEM Contact:
Prof Barbara Thomass | Barbara.Thomass at rub.de
Website: www.mecodem.eu | Twitter:@MeCoDEM

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