Passive Media Creates Passive Audiences

October 19, 2017

What are the most pressing problems journalists face in captured media environments across Central and Eastern Europe? How can journalists remain committed to the core values and ethics of journalism if they need to fight completely unprecedented challenges? These issues were addressed by one of the panels at the annual conference of the Alliance of Independent Press Councils of Europe (AIPCE), co-hosted by the Editors’ Forum Hungary and the Center for Media, Data and Society at CEU’s School of Public Policy at Central European University on October 12-13.

Speakers of the panel “Ethical questions in captured media environments – The situation of the media in Central, Eastern and South Eastern Europe” included Marina Tuneva, executive director of the Council of Media Ethics of Macedonia, Marius Dragomir, director of CMDS and Tamás Tófalvy, assistant professor at the Budapest University of Technology and Economics. It was moderated by Daphne Koene from the Netherlands Press Council. In his presentation, Dragomir listed the key challenges journalists and media outlets are facing in the region, including the growing political control over media, the increasing presence of government-friendly oligarchs in media ownership and the massive market distortion effect of non-transparent state funding, which has grown at an alarming rate over the past years.

In terms of the crisis of public media, Dragomir cited CMDS fellow Davor Marko, who wrote that “the first threat is that of political colonization and instrumentalization of public service media, which is the consequence of illiberal tendencies and the politicization of the media landscape in general. That means political elites control and use the public media as an instrument to pursue their own interests.” Dragomir called attention to the crisis of trust in journalism, stating that a key factor in this is that journalists don’t check with audiences what they want to read about.

Tuneva described the current state of the media in Macedonia as highly critical, with a huge credibility crisis also reflected by the fact that the country ranks as 111on the 2017 World Press Freedom Index of the Reporters Without Borders, and with this result they are the last in the region. Tuneva emphasized that regulation is needed to address hate speech because it is very much used as an instrument in electoral campaigns. Tuneva warned that passive media creates passive audiences but if journalists take action, their activism can lead to change.

Tamás Tófalvy stressed that there has been a radical shift in the methods of repressing media, saying that “censorship is not cool anymore – media capture is the wonderful new method and it’s completely legal since it's backed by the necessary legislation framework”. He also warned that there are different journalistic traditions existing parallel to each other in Hungary (the American legacy style vs. partisan journalism), and a big problem with partisan journalism is that they are biased but don't openly admit it. Clickbait journalism generates a further problem in the current crisis of the media, also rendering it impossible to focus on important issues. “Journalists have always struggled between editorial and business”, noted Tófalvy, stressing that there has always been a Chinese wall between the sales team of a media outlet and newsroom. If sales and newsroom are brought closer to each other, it will lead to companies who advertise having a bigger say in the content.

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