The role of the media regarding populism in Europe
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The role of the media regarding populism in Europe
The rise of populist movements in Europe is partly explained by the power of mass media. The press, public and politicians keep each other prisoner. The media increases incidents and looks for personal stories while politicians respond to those stories in order to be noticed by the public. Therefore this report investigates the role of the media regarding European populism.
There used to be a clear division between democrats and populists. Democrats are considered to be good, populists are bad. The current interest in populism shows that in modern society the emphasis is placed more than ever on what the majority thinks and less on the government.
The French political philosopher Pierre - André Taguieff has been analysing the modern populism and describes two models. The first model Taguieff identifies is the 'Protestataire' and the second model is the 'Identitaire'. Both models are based on the aversion against the enemy but in the first model the enemy is defined as the elite and in the second model the enemy is identified as the immigrants.
In order to define whether populism in Europe is growing The Eurobarometer 61 has measured the public opinion within 15 European countries. The results are as follows: 16 percent of the European citizens trust their political parties and 35 percent trust their national parliaments. The overall level of trust in national governments in 2005 is 30 percent. In contrast, television earns the trust of 54 percent, the army 63 percent, and the police 65 percent. Most strikingly, political parties are the least trusted institution, and national governments are less trusted than the European Union and the United Nation. According to Albertazzi, author of the book Twenty-First Century Populism, the success of populist movements in Europe is not a temporary phenomenon. Therefore populism is not easily defined. Although the right wing parties are mostly connected to populism there is another variant of populism, the left wing populism. This second variant claims that the people stand in front of a capitalistic elite consisting of bankers and bureaucrats. The theory about populism is illustrated by three examples of recent populism in Europe. These examples consist of the Front National in France, the FPÖ in Austria and the PVV in the Netherlands.
In a democracy the media can be described as an intermediary between politics and citizens. The media fulfils three different functions. Firstly, the media plays an informational role in order to inform citizens about certain policies. Secondly, the media has an expressive function. Thirdly, the media has a critical function. The role of the media concerning a populist movement is illustrated in how Pim Fortuyn, a Dutch populist, handled and interacted with the media and how the media reacted to Pim Fortuyn and his political party.
The literature of the media does not only refer to the old media, printed press and public broadcasting, but also to the new (social) media. Politicians, councillors and members of the European Parliament receive more messages from citizens than ever. At first there were only e-mails, now there are responses, comments and tweets posted online.
When putting the literature about populism and the media together there is one country that best shows how populism and media interact. Italy, where the Prime Minister owns three commercial television channels which cover an average of 40 percent of the Italian public. Italy has a long history of fascism and communism. During World War II Mussolini strictly controlled all the press in Italy and used several media to improve his image and to gain more votes. After World War II the First Republic was introduced. This republic was characterised by fragmentation of parties, and tumultuous politics with a strong communist party constantly in the opposition, until 1994. The first candidate for the national elections in 1994 was Silvio Berlusconi. The political message of his party was the aversion of communism, a strong belief in the American model which is based on free entrepreneurship and consumer freedom. Berlusconi presented himself as an intelligent businessman with great talent and a bit of luck, and as a caring father to the national economy. Berlusconi was democratically chosen by the Italian population. During the nineties, Silvio Berlusconi became Italy's richest man by owning, for example, three commercial television channels. For each of the campaigns Berlusconi had free access to the public because of his non-stop appearances on television and the exploitation of the news monopolies. The manipulation of the media by Berlusconi goes beyond advertising his own products and slandering his opponents. One of Berlusconi's greatest successes was the way a referendum was handled in 1995. In Italy 70 percent of Italian voters receive the news exclusively via television. Therefore it is not surprising that, for example, many non-educated housewives that watch the television channel Rete 4, vote for Berlusconi.
The future of Italy will not be rosy. According to Professor Pardi there will only be uniformed information published while the main idea has always been, regarding the Italian television channel RAI, that different sides of a story should be heard. Besides, the enormous power of Berlusconi is hard to fight. Berlusconi has mentioned that he might not be running for the presidential elections in 2013, but there is already a successor: Marina Berlusconi, the daughter of Silvio who stands at the head of the big family company Fininvest.
The overall conclusion of this research concerning the role of the media regarding populism in Europe is that the role of the media is immense and has two faces. On one hand, the media allows European citizens to participate in European politics, but on the other hand with this enormous power the media restricts the movements of especially populists.