The most inspiring opening remarks at the conference this year were – as noticed by many participants – the official welcoming speech by the University Rector, Prof. Gábor Szabó. Referring to the best practical example being himself, he described the ways through which he – as an educational manager – deeply suffered on an almost daily basis. The problem is rooted in the current situation when he is often taken abash by the unverified news about his university that appears somewhere, sometime and by someone on the net, and is commented on further by hundreds unknown people. Then, any official correction or explanation released by the University thereafter always appears to be too late (the deadlines for explanations given by journalists are 2-3 hours) and dubious.
This story illustrates best the (low) quality and high speed of information, the dangerous twins, respectively disinformation nowadays followed by hate kind of comments that no one can either stop or defend from. Truth is nowadays left far behind the news, if of importance at all, and the next day truth is worth nothing. Professor Szabó dreamed of bringing back the real professional and quality journalism in times when in most of the countries of the region two extremely different truths exist in parallel. Similarly, there exists „this bad nationalism that all speak about“ while he could remember himself being a hero patriot/nationalist putting flowers at Petöfi’s monument under the Communist regime.
The rector made some other interesting remarks, adding to the impact of his emotional speech: first, in his view, there is increasing polarisation of communication and journalism in Hungary. Second, the University of Szeged actually appears to „own“ the city itself, considering that its budget is 40% higher than that of the city which is a great achievement of this intellectual and educational stronghold.
Super-modern presentation style – reading from a smartphone
The international participants representing a bouquet of experienced and young scientists seemed to equally suffer from the effects of modern communication – on the one hand, from a heavy addiction to it and on the other – from a desperate reliance on it. Most of them, very serious researchers knowing all the challenges of modern communication, showed no signs of sense of humour, and made an impression of busy scholars teleported to the conference by a force from behind their institute desks where they had all collected data, tables and questionnaires at hand. Several communication experts read their prin
ted hard copies instead of interactively explaining the issues, referred to summaries gazing at their mobile phones, or presented with both hands on two computers, one for clicking and one for reading. No eye contact, no gesture, smile or joke to the audience, just dry delivering of scientific content on ….communication. It was like robotization in action.
Although rightly pointed out during the Estonian/Finnish keynote presentation by Epp Lauk that the de-westernisation of journalist principles is a characteristic feature of the countries in the region, the socio-political situation, including the media systems, strategies and journalism cultures changed there 5-10 times during the 20th century. These were tragical ruptures challenging professional identities leading to a journalism crisis. Ruptures as explained by the lecturer appeared not only in professional identities but in values and knowledge as well. The understanding of the evolution of journalism from transformation towards democratisation – and back, the overall discontinuity, the generational shift (it is the time now for juveniles with no political past, experience and journalism background), the educational shifts behind the journalistic profession and the acute insecurity of the job is a complex matter. Changes were introduced after 1989, but the roots of these changes are weak. Do we need a new revolution, or do Western scholars have to come and teach journalism known from the Hollywood movies, again? What about purchasing media by the newly emerged rich oligarchs, and the former communist apparatchiks? These were some of the reactions of the audence. There was a short discussion wh
ether the Anglo-Saxon model of journalism is the one and utmost and whether we can speak also of a continental model of journalism, too, represented by the (quality) German language media, for instance. While the speaker claimed that this is just a modification of the Anglo-Saxon model of journalism – well, it is a rather significant modification at the end. In the same vein we could also think of the historically inspiring role of the French journalism with all its pros and cons.What Epp Lauk rightly stated was that CEE lacked serious comparative research focused on journalism and its development after the democratic reforms. Most of the scientific efforts during the years of transition were centred on the media systems and their modifications across the so called new democracies, however, if we want to have a comprehensive picture of the real amplitude of change in this part of Europe we have to find unexplored niches and apply new approaches.
Actually several presentations related to the past, to the often almost forgotten past of the divided by the Cold War Europe and the communist censorship. Considering this there are plenty of handbooks dedicated to the issues available by now. The shortcoming is that these publications hardly refer to the fast changing and tough current situation in the region, unfortunately. The reasons might be that recent changes still remain too fresh to be evaluated properly, or it is politically risky to dwell on these thorny issues, or may be the gap is due to the lengthy research and publication process.
In the general exchange and rethinking of the communist legacy Ferenc Hammer brought in a rather atypical topic for discussion: Rock around the blocs – State and popular music between 1977 and 2017 in Hungary. The presentation was among the best one from an aesthetic point of view. Certainly, popular music, and especially rock music and other types of niche music (“non-conformist cultures“) played an important role challenging the authoritarian regimes in former communist countries. It appears that state/party influence (Fidesz) on popular music still exist in Hungary these days.
In fact, according to the presenter, the situation is quite similar to the past (before 1989), when the state/party has again managed to get influence on the access to the media (music radio), is able to influence commercial sponsors (via public procurements in other business with the state) and more or less directly or indirectly channels funding of concerts and festivals (e.g. via sponsorship and in-kind support by municipalities). There appears to be „bogus“ music conferences and festivals the purpose of which is actually money laundering. Nowadays some of the once „independent“ and „alternative“ musicians actually benefit heavily from direct and indirect sponsorhips by the establishment.
Challenges of comparative media studies
Further in the sessions a lot of projects were presented evidencing the challenges of comparative media studies. Boguslawa Dobek-Ostrowska, one of the CEECOM founders, researched How the Media Systems Work in Central and Eastern Europe. This is a hard topic in itself due to both its size as well as changing parameters spurred by the dynamic political, economic and technological shifts. Within the context of a more comprehensive research Boguslawa mentioned the next challenge for scientists – to explore social media applying comparative analysis. Furthermore she stressed the importance of using a combination of both quantitative and qualitative studies while for instance, Western colleagues rely almost exclusively on quantitative methods when embarking on such comparative surveys. Moreover, it is important to publish results in good academic journals and produce or have available prior to these more comprehensive exercises good country studies, too. In Boguslawa´s view, the media in CEE are positioned between politicisation and commercialisation. In discussion, questions about community media were raised representing perhaps a missing research focus for the CEE scholars. Another participant demanded more elaborated conceptual categories in general.
Complementing Boguslawa’s conclusions Andrej Školkay shared his views on the causes and consequences of the murder of the journalist Jan Kuciak, including its media coverage in selected media. The message was that for the time being, there is a „mediacracy“ in Slovakia. In fact on can speak of collusion of low politicisation (meaning in this context low political affiliation of the journalists and the media) and high tabloidisation (emotionality in political reporting), as presented by Boguslawa Dobek-Ostrovska in her comparative overview (where Slovakia scored at the bottom of politicisation and highest at commercialisation/tabloidisation (together with the Czech Republic). As a result, the media are able occasionally to set the agenda and manage to influence state authorities‘ decisions such as the decisions of the Parliament, the government and even the Prosecutor General. In the discussion the audience demanded an explanation of the difference between mediacracy and mediatisation and whether it was correct to distinguish these two notions. The answer was positive. Another discussant mentioned that there were even more differences of the mediacracy concept, very well elaborated in a Russian language publication.
Three ladies from Croatia (Dina Vozab, Antonjia Cuvako and Zrinjka Perusko) dwelled on another interesting cross-sectoral issue dealing with the influence of the media on journalism practices.They explained now the structure of media systems and the media organization impact everyday journalistic work. The institutional framework determines the digital media system or mediascapes presenting four dimensions – contemporary multimedia markets, globalizations processes, cultural industry, and institutional inclusiveness. The data collected regards 28 western, central and EE countries as part of the 2012 – 2015 Worlds of Journalism study.The outcomes show political influence through politics and pressure groups, economic influence through advertizing and profit expectations and organizational influence through the media organization, ownership and editorial policy.The four European mediscapes are flexible because they provide information about the journalistic perceptions of work beyond their differences. Changes which will occur through time will demand a new analysis to be condudcted but not applying the same indicators – for instance, Estonia changed its position on the evaluation scale due to the adoption of a new media policy.The most significant inference from this study was that the media system understood as media structure, functions and internal organization comprise a powerful factor (negative or positive) for shaping journalistic activities and it is much more influential than the individual or professional chracteristics of journalists (see Perusko, Z., Cuvalo, A., Vizab, D.
How different nations perceive the new media: Ukrainians are happy with Facebook, Hungarians – too, and cooks there find inspiration on the web, Local people in Finland are in love with local news, Local media in Poland generate risks for corruption, Feel free but better be cautious in Russia, unlocking Belarus through websites the failure of media reform in Serbia and more stories from CEE
The information about the new media developments from the participating countries was surprising though, and quite interesting at the same time. Reports from Ukraine emphasized the importance of Facebook for its citizens as the best way of communication, community organisation and the most trustworthy source of information, immediately verified by numerous visitors to the FB sites. Facebook means trend watching, self-promotion, evolution from entertainment to Majdan protests and other serious matters, even fact checking, image care. Journalists are in direct touch with thousands of followers (of whom many harass them, unfortunately). They are often by-passed by politicians who communicate through their FB profiles rather than journalists. Everything seems easy thanks to FB there. Or…?
Gabriella Szabó with István Micsinai talked about Facebook as a pathway to news media. The case of Hungary. Hungary appears to be a top EU country considering the number of users (around half of total population). Within this context, „facebookisation of news“ seems to be the trend. The authors „scrapped“ all the entries that were published on the FB profiles of previously selected news media outlets between January 1 and April 8 in 2017, and in 2018 sequentially. The total number of the sample was 28,578 items (4,435 items for 2017 and 24,152 for 2018). Then, the sample was filtered for the top 500 most reacted (liked, shared, commented) entries. After manually coded all the post in the Top500 list, the sample was divided into two categories. One was for politically relevant topics and the other one was for non-political topics. The number of most reacted FB entries which have discussed politics wa 247 in 2017 and 435 in 2018. The main finding was that politics can be considered amongst the topics which are working well in the sharing environment, especially during the politically charged periods. Data reveals that the Fidesz and the current Hungarian government is the dominant actor of the most reacted FB entries. The citizens‘ offline actions such as mass rallies and demonstrations have also attracted a considerable amount of attention, too.
Nevertheless, despite the political engagement online the most popular websites in Hungary are those advertizing cooking recipes (and the latter can be immediately verified in any kitchen, too), and those with jokes that make life in Hungary funny for 1,3 mln people when they click at.
The condition of local media and journalism comprised another segment of the CEE mozaic presented at the conference. A Finnish project on readers‘ interaction with local newspapers published online brought just what could be expected from it: locals want just local news, and react exclusively to it with emoticons or wows, but hardly offer any text input themselves.
A study from Poland explored the relationships between local media and other local actors claiming that local journalists are under pressure. It is a challenge to be a journalist of one of the 3,000 local newspapers when they have to deal with a hierarchy of influences, calls from mayors and bishops who might cause the loss of jobs, and businessmen who might stop advertising. “Revolving door” bring in and out local officials who become chief editors and opposite, former journalists become town hall officials. In particular local newspapers are players courted by politicians because they are supporting the candidates for mayors. The pressure mainly stem from the many individual conflicts of interest due to the individual ties established between journalists and mayors. From a broader perspective journalists are only formally independent from political actors. It turned out that business relationships are much more agreed between the parties on a local level. However on the other hand, only a few journalists have made the radical decision to change their profession.
Russian media environment represented another topical issue for debate. Irina Kharuk discussed Online Journalists and Bloggers in Russia under the New Legal Regulations. The study was based on interviews with those two groups. A „Chinese-Style Firewall“ is not possible in Russia due to technical and economic reasons. This means that Russian Internet structures are build in different ways. Therefore, perhaps paradoxically, there is a perception that the Internet is free in Russia. Yet at the same time, there is an increase of self-censorship and related structural changes in editorial offices. Accidentally, we have found earlier versions of this report in German.
Internet communication in Russia was at the centre of the presentation of Anna Litvinenko and Svetlana Bodrunova who explored Russian political blogging evolving along various platforms. While in 2011 – 2012 FB had a prominent role in protests, currently videoblogging and Youtube are on the rise, a conclusion which allowed the presenter to speak of the youtubification of the political communication. Though the state has attempted to coopt the platform there are still no big restrictions imposed on Youtube but be cautious, legislative tools are available. Besides the oppositional core of Twitter is very good.The speakers analyzed what kind of public was created on the Russian Youtube during presidential elections 2018. Generally videos with political content were among top 12 of the Russian Youtube.Three categories of videos were published – professional, semiprofessional and amateur. The public that was created was a leadership critical audience, the role of the audience as positive and active part of this public on YouTube and Twitter contributed to boosting the popularity of the opposition videos.
Svetlana Bodrunova also presented on Mapping Oppositional Discourses in Today´s Belarus acrross Languages and Platforms. Her report was based on social media discourse, namely Twitter, Facebook and, to a minor extent, Odnoklasssniki (Classmates). This topic was interesting considering the lack of knowledge about the political and media situation in Belarus. Indeed, as she explained, both political and media systems in the country are heavily under-researched. Not so suprisingly, the public sphere in Belarus is polarised along pro-Russian versus pro-European axes. However, there is no proof so far of a direct correlation of these divisions with pro- and anti-Lukashenko views. For liberal-nationalist intelligentsia, the support of language revival is, not so suprisingly, related to the escape from the Russian influence. But there are significant counter-trends in the public sphere, as Belorussians were the most wholehearted bearers of post-Soviet identity in the whole post-Soviet block.
In contrast to our beliefs, the Belorussian autocracy actually has active party life and there are permanent street protests; the majority of TV stations are private and there is access to a number of foreign TV channels. However, the Internet service providers are legally under state control, and the tactics of preemptive authoritarianism that push the opposition out of the country has also spread to the online world.
In Belarus, the oppositional discouse on social media does exist, but it is relatively scarce and in the forms of politicised social talk and sarcastic talk. Moreover, oppositional Belorussian voices live in their echo chamber, but, in comparison with Russia, the oppositional talk is more institutionalized and diverse in terms of participation of oppositional media, social movements, and NGOs.
Following media developments from a country to country a point for debate was also the recent history of public media in Poland (often compared to Hungary). How it happened that previously state owned media were renamed to national media (without calling them nationalistic instead, as a voice from the audience noticed). Actually, what they seem like nowadays should be called one leading party media, or even one- man media so similar to Russian RT or Sputnik in content, but this kind of comments or a wave of hate speech based on political preferences in the region were not present during the conference discussions. In such a situation it is impossible to speak about trust and standards, and even better one should not speculate about possible future consequences (lack of interest, “normalisation” in dachas again, shift to alternative media, pure Orwell’s propaganda in place of journalist reporting).
The exchange on the current status of the Polish public service media (PSM) expanded along the topic of their real nature – public or national and how politicians perceive their role in society (Michal Kus). After the Law and Justice party came to power the media scene in Poland has undergone deep changes. Public service media have been turned into a completely new institution – a nation media structure destined to pursue national values. The media take one-dimensional views on social and political life and are under the constant attacks of the private media. Logically the level of trust enjoyed by public-national media is much lower from a general perspective but again such conclusion is relative and depends on the relationships between this type of media and the respective social groups – supporters of the party in office trust PSM, while others do not trust.Another significant detail is that the element of national in PSM is no longer perceived as part of the commonly cherished European values and these two stay in opposition to each other. (How sad Karol Jakubowicz would be had he been alive – the creation of genuine PSM in Poland and in CEE was the mission of his life!)
The representative of a Polish Catholic university devoted his and other participants time to speak about Polish Christian churches‘ reaction to Merkel’s migrants (including terrorists) welcoming policy. He described their extremely neutral positions and stressed the importance of Catholicism in Polish politics. However, the lecturer failed to say that the Catholic church actually stimulated xenophobic government policy and actions, rapidly has lost followers and smaller churches had been discriminated. The relationship between journalism and religion is also a hot topic in Hungary, where religion has been channelled out of the mainstream media, although Christianity still enjoys hegemony.
Another detail about Poland was related to the Polishness in the discourse of Jaroslaw Kaczynski discussed by Jacek H. Kolodziej.This presentation reminded participants of the deep historical and psychological roots of societal and individual human behaviours. In short, sometimes these can result in the melding of pseudo-religious ritual and politics, called „religion of Smolensk“ (Zbigniew Mikolejko, a philosopher of religion). Kaczynski appears to pursue a „permanent counter-revolution“ with the aim to achieve permanently changed (and then with fixed values) conservative society. History comes back to political life through two archaic-conservative traditions: Great Catholic Poland and autocratic Polish state (under Pilsudski), combined with a re-gaining „dignity“ programme. Especially the last normative agenda explains why one can predict more troubles in the future with the current Polish political elites. Moreover, it helps understand how it was possible to hold continuously monthly Marches of Remembrance until a monument dedicated to the victims of the 2010 Smolensk plane crash was unveiled in Warsaw in April 2018. However, some believe that Kaczynski is „a completely rational politician“ who doesn’t even believe in the Russian conspiracy plane attack himself, but he consistently pushes that narrative in social life because it suits his needs (sociologist Jakub Bierzynski) A petty detail regards the fact that the monthly memorial services once attended by thousands, have drawn only hundreds of mourners in the last months. So it turns out Poland is not entirely irrational, although around 27 percent of the Polish citizens believe it was not a coincidence the plane went down near Smolensk, but rather it was a purposeful Russian attack. In discussion, the topic concerning the mystery of the mass acceptance of such weird ideology was raised, but no clear answer came to the fore.
Dinko Gruhonjic explained some Problems with Project Based Model of State co-Financing Media Content Production in Serbia. His presentation was put into the general framework of the failed media reform in Serbia. The causes of these „problems“ were multifold, and included legal difficulties, lack of evaluation criteria, lack of expertise of evaluators, lack of media management ability and, finally, the Serbian authorities did not understand what was supposed to be the role of these financial mechanisms. (We do not know anything about the follow-up discussion on these issues since humidity/temperature in the room reached extreme values and forced the reporter to leave the room – this decision was facilitated by a bit boring form of the presentation). The audience could extend their knowledge about Serbian media environment listening to Jelena Kleut (with two colleagues) presentation on the Media framing of „Stop the Dictatorship“ protest in Serbia“. The study was a typical quantitative one, thus bringing not much surprise for the locals, but assuring international audience about the reliability and the validity of the results (and bias coverage or lack of it among media sample). There appeared to be a question whether some of the applied (originally) British theories might actually strongly reflect local conditions in the UK in the 1970s.
It was interesting to learn that local historical frames and precedences can be actually used by both sides supported by different arguments (e.g. we have got rid of Milosevic in this way, and now we have got him here again – it may get even worse then again and not better). Nevertheless, the protest was one of those modern protests which are self-organised via Facebook.
An interesting (this time) experimental study has been conducted by the Czech team dedicated to the topic Trust in Media in Polarised Times. The study, although well theoretically grounded, had its deficit in sample selection – being represented by university students. We learned a lot about theoretical concepts on polarisation, as well as about reflexive (professionalism) and affective (representation) trust in media. The results suggested that polarisation might not drive information processing but instead distrust in media influences information processing. Another important predictor of impact of other factors on attitudes seems to be (not so surprisingly) actually respondents´prior attitudes.
The second Keynote speech – perhaps interesting to bring in the issue of the variety of communications spaces, but not novel
The second keynote speech put forward the very promising topic of public landscape as a communication space, telling us where to go and how to go as well as the barriers in front of us. Commerce is using space, as it is necessary for commerce to publicize and that is why public space is used for advertizing. The space perspective is a complex and changing one reminding us of rules, buildings, street art and live performances.
The conclusions of this presentation were not that optimistic about the future of the public space as a communication hub. The dilemma is apparently business v. pluralism. Major threats come from the governments seeking to monopolise public space, commerce is invading it, and heritage watch promotes a museum city concept. Some participants rightly emphasized the existence of a more acute problem – the problem of billboard pollution and the forgotten, if not neglected, capability of the urban space, to change ethnic ghettos into multicultural spaces. Interestingly, smokers (as well as drinkers, drugs addicts) make a difference in an urban landscape, and do matter there.
Public institutions have learned from business that better communication could be done through introducing logos, building regions’ image based on its peculiar identity features, and mostly using photographs and videos trying to depict the spirit of places. Expanding on similar concepts several presentations tackled the intermingling of communication, culture and urban development from various aspects. The “nationalization of space” and the emergence of the concepts of the metropolitan cities was one of the key processes of the modernity in the 20 th century. According to the thesis of Benedek Toth both spatial bounded processes (the evolution of the metropolis-concept and nationalization of space) refer to new ways of the construction of modern environment.
Another presenter connected the new social space to its primary medium – the press, which represents an element of a broader media culture. Through the prism of the attitude towards the two main cities in Turkey (Istanbul and Ankara) Gulbin Kiranoglu touched upon the political processes unfolding in the country. Her presentation focused on the nationalizing of Istanbul in the mid- 20th century. The presenter compared the different periods in the Turkish history and the political perception about Ankara and Istanbul. In the early Republican period Ankara – the new capital was the purer city, while Istanbul remained the symbol of nostalgia and the old neighbourhoods there epitomized the real Turkishness and the lost world of power and grandeur. Now Ankara is no longer the city bearing republican significance and Istanbul is elevated to the position of a stronghold of the current government. Possibly surprising for the Europeans was the explanation that since the late 1980s historians in Turkey have argued against the understanding of Istanbul as a cosmopolitan city. Studies concentrate to a greater degree on the relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims living in peace but it is generally a complex matter.
Public creativity and cultural identity in modern Belarus presented through a study based on various discourses was the theme of Anton Dinerstein’s paper. It provided an indepth cultural analysis of terms and symbolic forms being used by current Belarussians when discussing creative public events. According to the lecturer four types of cultural discourses are vivid – old style culture of old style Soviet speaking people, state counter culture of European minded citizens, alternative Belarussian culture and active citizen counter culture of active Russian speaking people. It is a study which explores how individuals in Belarus reshape their lives and the purpose is to demonstrate that Belarus is not only a dictatorship. An interesting accent of the presentation related to the atmosphere fo the capital Minsk and how it fitted into the picture of different discourses. The answer is ambivalent. On the one hand, it is the official Minsk with its gigantic Stalinist style monuments, the capital of the whole Belarus and on the other, the neighbourhoods boasting of the attempts of their population to make the everyday life more colorful and human are situated there, too. Young people definitely stay behind the creative reinvention of spaces in Minsk and they unravel their creative energy in factories and districts remote from the centre.
The analysis of spaces and their significance in various contexts continued with their exploration from the perspective of national memory, traditions and rituals. These presentations put the emphasis on the role of historical sites, narratives and festivals for the development of political processes.
Aron Kerpel-Fronius’s case study of Poland and Hungary dwelled on the construction of a new civil religion in these countries through historical figures and sites of memory. After Fidesz came to power in 2010 in Hungary the checks and balances of the state significantly deteriorated, however, a symbolic system represented by a collection of beliefs, symbols and rituals began to rise. The reconsideration of historical events leading to the creation of new myths, the elevation of Christian figures, the adoption of pagan elements and the reevaluation of controversial cultural personalities have aimed at building a new understanding of the Hungarian state. A similar process of changing street names, propagating martyrdom of some politicians and unveiling the major contribution of ethno-nationalist politicians and artists who were unjustly kept out of the public attention through the years has been developing in Poland. Both Hungarian and Polish governments are rewriting the national history and are putting efforts to appearing in public in a ‘positive symbolically charged context”.
Though Yugoslavia does not exist any longer the “Yugoslavia” discourse appears to be very popular in recent times in Serbia. The symbols of the Yugoslav period are evident and they bear public nostalgia to the former federation. Yugoslavia is presented as an island of happiness through a number of symbolic sites – cultural institutions and museums. Natasa Simeunovic Bajic and Marija Vujovic claimed that cultural heritage as mediatized cultural memory consist of goods and practices that represent part of everyday life with special symbolic value. On the basis of a survey made it turns out that the generations born during the disintegration of former Yugoslavia possess deeper and more vivid memories of this state, while younger generations design their memories under the influence of the new media and thus the Yugo-mania gradually fades away.
The paper of Hanneleena Hieta and Laszlo Mod discussed the Hungarian festival tradition of Szobori Buszu in the sense of its continuity and eternity. The festival site at Ópusztaszer National Heritage Park is associated with the Hungarian nomadic conquest in 896 and it attracts an annual gathering for many years. Nationalization of the space has taken place and different intentions and motivations have been mixing about the site through years. Czobori Buszu is particularly related to the festivalization tradition which started after 1989 – 1990 in Hungary and became an object of great media attention. The officially declared goal was the revival and survival of local community culture. According to the presenters the festivalization was a typical post-socialist phenomenon resulting in invented traditions and the latter underpinned a new local identity.The festivalization is also a pan-European phenomenon pursuing the transformation of ethnic minority culture and traditions into a market force.
Populism on the agenda
Since the beginning of the 20th century we have witnessed Internetisation of the media and mediatisation of the net at the same time, or convergence. The result of this process is that tech companies practically perform as media corporations, , outperforming traditional media and individual websites, but without editorial responsibility. One of the results is that users or content cosumers mix truth with untruth, and populism is on the rise again. All populists speak about unity, they are hostile towards hierarchies and elites, call for simplicity of solutions, distrust modernisation, and permanently fight against what they perceive as hegemony.
In some of the panels national media development models were discussed revealing also populist tendencies – Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria (media, showbizz and politics).With respect to Bulgaria the role of populist political communication in the Bulgarian media ecosystem was explicitly treated by Lilia Raycheva (Populism II). The presentation was full of information, definitions and text in general, but perhaps presented less of actual findings except some general ones such as that eclecticism is what mainly distinguishes the style of populist political leaders and political parties. Indeed, one can agree that no systematic knowledge exists on the systematic differences in the style of language used by mainstream parties and by right-wing and left-wing populist parties in Bulgaria.
In the group of presentation devoted to populist issues (Populism II) Marius Mircea Mitrache attempted to present a too big by content topic – The Influence of Romanian Populism on the Political and Media Landscape. An Electoral History and Discouse Analysis (1990-2012). Not so suprisingly, the result was reading of a lot of text and data which was difficult to follow. In a nutshell – the rise of populist violence – allegedly started with bloody Romanian revolution, and continues untill today. There were some interesting observations, but well-known for locals. For example, how former journalists or anchors or football club owners moved into politics through their public presence or media ownership. Clearly, comodification and mediatisation of politics reached a high level in Romania. Nevertheless, in the future, chairs of pannels could perhaps check presentations in advance and advise younger scholars what and how to present.
European issues: Can love to EURo and activities of ECB save the EU?, protection of freedom fo expression on an European scale and others
Agnes Jele´s presentation The Reflection of (European) Central Bank Communication in the Media: (De)constructing a Common European Public Sphere highlighted a very important topic about the role of the ECB and its communication in Europe. First, she stressed the changing role of central banks in general. The central banks has moved from secrecy and communication silence in the 1970s/1980s towards rather pro-active communicative roles, partly related – at least in the case of ECB – to the use of uncoventional monetary policies. Second, the presenter pointed that ECB was designed as super-independent bank with much less political role to be played than it is actually the case today. Both Mr. Draghi, the president of ECB (“Chancellor of Europe“) and, as mentioned, the German Chancellor Merkel are aware of the importance of ECB for the survival of the eurozone and ultimately, for the survival of the EU. On the other hand, Agnes Jele focused on some critical, indeed satirical questions raised by German journalists at press conferences of the ECB. Yet it is questionable whether this latter approach represents a genuine attempt to „deconstruct“ either the eurozone or the EU itself.
Considering the examples from the year 2012 about the relationship between Draghi and the German media (FAZ, Der Spiegel, Süddeutsche Zeitung, Bild) we can see the changing behavior of the media about Draghi’s policy. After getting open criticism from the German central bank governor Jens Weidmann, the German media turned against Draghi and became ironic and sarcastic in press conferences and also in interviews and opinion leading articles. The „deconstruction” term was actually related to the European public sphere and not to the eurozone/EU which is maybe different. Two questions could be pertinent in this situation: first regarding the political power of a non-elected institution and second related to the fragmentation of the media which seem to be far away from the imagined common European public sphere. Earlier analyses about the media coverage of the economic and financial crises showed that the crisis evoked the deep cultural division between northern and southern Europe, where the south was considered homogenized and downgraded, and hence southern Europe being portrayed as lazy and irrational, and Germany praised as industrious and rational. According to presenter, after examining the relationship between Draghi and the German media, similar behavior can be witnessed. The examples show such a tendency which can be expose how the different views of “Europe” have shaped the relationship between the eurozone countries during the crisis.
Judit Bayer‘s presentation focused on the limited competences and values of the European Union, sometimes called the Copenhagen Dilemma (emphasis on fundamental rights but at the same time limited tools to defend them within EU itself by the Commission). Within current institutional and legal framework, fundamental rights are taken for granted, but historical changes defy this assumption. In particular, the state (in some countries, apparently especially in Hungary) has deeply penetrated into the media market. The state is present in the close relationships between third sector companies and media companies, the nontransparent system of state subsidies is in operation and the indirect ownership by proxy owners is widely present. Judit Bayer suggested some policy measures that could address these challenges. Her second presentation posed another hot issue: Could Publication through Platform Providers be Regarded as a Human Right? Instead of a clear answer to this question the presenter posed a set of new challenging questions: #1 is there a right to disseminate content anonymously through an intermediary? #2 in case of „private censorship” is there a legal remedy for the user against the platform provider? #3 can we draw the line between consciously facilitating speech (Semir Güzel v. Turkey) and automatically transmitting speech (Delfi)? #4 investing into the compulsory monitoring system favors big operators and distorts pluralism. There were several comments from the audience about the precision of the terminology used by Bayer when speaking about platforms and their institutional media right to freedom of expression. Another point was about the carrier of this institutional right and more precisely about the characteristics of the platforms as media which according to the Council of Europe recommendation on the new notion of media (2011) should meet at least three key of all six enlisted criteria.But once a new media subject (platform) can qualify as media it has the institutional right of free expression which has to be protected.
Publicness and transformations in CEE
The second day of the conference was the one when old fashioned fans were distributed among the participants with the hope they would survive +31 degrees of Celsius. This day was also devoted partly to the past as the plenary session started with a talks about the dinosaurs of communications (TV) that lived half century ago but did serve some purposes of public service like basic official information, education and little of entertainment during communist regimes( Sabina Mihelj in her keynote speech). In short, the major difference in content or purpose was even under the Cold War among, on the one hand public (then state) televisions, and, on the other hand, commercial televisions. This was documented by sharing data on various types of programmes and commercial TVs showed the highest ratio of entertainment among the programmes.
After 1989 the media marked a decline in publicness accompanied by its capture by post-communists and newly rich owners, and later followed the global trend of public space shrinking continuously. Actually, this has not been a matter of transition but – as some argued in the discussion – possibly also a result of the globalisation and of the development of the Internet and most recently of social media growth. The irreversible – as hoped – opening up to the World, symbolised by iconic Berlin Wall fall collided with challenges like unwanted legacies and market tensions. Then came the illiberal turn – illustrated, literally, by Viktor Orbán, victorious, standing in front of flags. This moved CEE from un-freedom to freedom and again back to un-freedom a story that sounded quite pessimistic, and did not apply to all states in the same way (the presenter´s study was based on a research in five countries), as some participants might remind about their half-freedom ways to building democracy.
Coming back to more scientific issues, the presenter pointed at two different understandings of the concept of publicness. First, publicness is about sharing and media are seen as purveyors of public goods and performing a public mission. Second, it is about publicness as visibility, when the public sphere comes into play. The media here represent the fourth estate, performing a monitoring function. While the first concept is present both in communist and liberal-democratic media systems, the second concept is present only in liberal-democratic media systems. Currently, it appears that the media can not be unequivocally perceived as institutions charged with the provisions of public goods, argued Sabina Mihelj from Loughborough University in the UK.
From the Communications archives – follow up
The history and the role of intellectuals in 1980-ties was another theme stemming from the communications archives and presented by András Bozóki. Idealistically minded intellectuals or liberals lived a long time ago replaced by celebrities in the media, but in our politically hued times inrellectuals still have a social role to play and they have to decide about their possible involvement in social movements aiming at destabilising illiberal regimes. The intellectuals‘ choice has always been between staying in their ivory towers, floating freely or going out from academic discussions to public discourse that sometimes was perceived as moralizing (e.g. green parties).
Even before 1989 and almost for a decade the intellectuals in Hungary had been acting as democratic actors. Suddenly the democratic changes came and they became the founders of the new state. At first they had to become legislators., then they were elbowed and replaced by technocrats who focused primarily on the economic reforms (2008). Aftrewards intellectuals were totally forgotten and some left the country for good.
There are good things in Hungary – like this „málna“ soup with ice cream!In 2018 we witness how the nationalist populist discourse is paramount in Hungary as political parties (or, rather Fidesz) have colonized civil society and the media. Elitism is provoking all the time a reaction as populism despises democratic procedures. What governs the country now is nativism – it is about true people against the others, anti-institutionalism as institutions and rule of law according to populist understanding slow down processes. Populism is Hungary is perceived as being destined to steer the country towards what people really want. Politicians are relying on traditional values and propaganda and this is how the populist discourse redefines society. In practice traditional mentalities and religion have won the battle against rule of law and traditional elites.
What happened actually with the old intellectuals? Forced out from the media, they migrated to gardens, then to the Internet and finally – abroad. The perception of reality changed dramatically during these years. New elites suddenly appeared from nowhere and the digital divide got only deeper across countries. Thus, Hungary moved fom (mainly) liberal discourses between 1981-1993, through technocratic-elitist discourses between 1994-2008, to the current stage of nationalist-populist discourse, symbolised by the phrase „We the People“ versus „Unwanted others.“
A lot was said about Hungary under Kádar‘s rule when there was no direct censorship but other instruments controlling journalists and the media were in place. The sad conclusion was that propaganda is now back. We experience in Hungary the same vocabulary of journalists-warriors, party collaborators and missionaries of ideologies, often anonymous, full of cynicism, perhaps even not journalist‘s professionals. During the last half century, there have been only a few short periods of free media in Hungary, unfortunately. So there have been sporadic attempts to speak about today and recent past. Hungarian half-way success story of the Two-Tailed Dog Party with 100,000 FB followers, active more on the Internet than in the real world needs to solve the problem how to change likes into votes. Their irrational parody non-expert style makes their delegitimisation so easy.
Russian mediatisation of politics was described in layers of which some top ones are untouchable and ritualised while the lower ones can be challenged. Medio-politician Navalny case was mentioned as a success story of using social networks to criticise ineffectiveness of federal government. Oppositionists in several countries had only a chance to become public while online, away from the mainstream media. Their actions tended to be media events rather than old style manifestations.
There was presented a strange project on websites of EU heads of states aimed to compare the practices but it resulted in obvious conclusions that everybody has a website, mostly in English, and illustrated with photos. Participants were told about digital diplomacy efficiency measured while many royal families or presidents have relatively little to do with everyday diplomacy. Use of local languages eliminated many countries from this study, as their websites had no diplomatic meaning.
Romanians measured and compared on-line self-presentation of six public key figures in their country, found out their roles as presented: saviour, insider, wise man, family values protector, and associated website content with the grid of election dates.
A similar research was done in Hungary, where one discussed influenced attention-based politics related to self-presentation in social media or just on-line. Typically, politicians love to appear there and tell what they want but hardly ever read any comments or respond, so this is just one way and one day exercise, gone tomorrow. They take a race not only with time but in order to increase their attention share need to struggle with attention gaining competitors like celebrities, ISIS and natural disasters. Audience has limited capacity and perception is often automatic. They need to calculate expenses per voter, and create crowd by drawing attention to.
Germany, Portugal, Romania and Hungary have a joint project on revision of journalist education so it fits to contemporary conditions and responds to challenges like data collection, collaboration among journalists, especially in investigation, new business models and ethics regarding fake news and hate speech.
Another project was initiated by Visegrad4 states on cross-border investigative journalism that started with cooperation related to the murder of Kuciak and Kremlin propaganda. The initiative follows the trend started by Panama Papers case.
There is no bubble on Facebook
Presentation Media consumption, networks and political attitudes in the age of hybridity by three Hungarian co-authors (presented by Béla Janky) actually showed there is NO bubble on Facebook. The major driving force for the development of (a smaller) informational bubble on the left is selective exposure in personal communication (+ tv+newspapers). The validity of the study was a bit compromised by the unrepresentative sample with more participants who supported oppositional parties. But this deficit was fairly acknowledged by the presenters themselves, although the explanation for it was not a consensual one. Anyway, the results seem to debunk fears of political/ideological bubbles on the Facebook, when most of the (Hungarian) respondents seemed to be exposed to different political opinions. What still matters more is TV broadcasting for forming political opinions, and a bit less so newspapers, but no so much Facebook.
István Hegedüs‘s main thesis was that we will face radicalisation of Orbán´s regime. Fidesz is certainly an intersting example of total ideological transformation of a political party within a decade. Today´s Fidesz is characterized by its anti-liberalism in social and political values and unorthodox economic policies. István’s opinion presented more or less the consensus existing among Hungarian academics – Hungary represent „a hybrid regime“, with defensive nationalism and channelling resources to the domestic oligarchic elite. This seems to have an economic consequence. The local Szeged newspaper compared share of GDP of selected CEE countries within the EU, and only Hungary actually showed stagnation….all other reported growth of their shares…
Presenations on social media resarch agendas in V-4 countries by Andrej Školkay, Tomasz Anusiewicz and Gergö Hajzer did not attract many participants. The authors discussed problematic aspects of assessment of research output in this region, when either much of the materials is not so easily accessible (Poland) or sometimes there are the same articles published under different headines (Hungary).
Culture, science fiction politics, expression formats and immersive documentaries – gazing at the future
These panels involved participants into novel and unexplored or rarely touched upon themes. They were both informative and inspiring because they spurred imagination and creativity. Csaba Toth made an interesting presentation about democracy and dictatorship in mainstream science fiction universes. Discussing Star Wars, Star Trek and Dune Universe he claimed that the science fiction universe is presenting flawed democracies that can signal there are no perfect democratic systems in the real world. Though this can sound pessimistic, arguments for democracy are still prevalent in fiction works. The explanation is that the problems encountered in the narrative structure of these works would not arise under real democratic circumstances.Though democracies can exhibit flaws and deficits, the democratic solutions always work better than non-democratic. The Politics of the Expanse was the focus of Robert Imre’s paper analyzing the political issues. The plot tells us about the future where humanity has colonized the Solar System but a conspiracy that threatens the peace and the survival of humanity occurs. According to Imre this is a soap opera but it reveals the same problems contemporary society is stuck in. Moreover may be some people consider a traditional debate on democracy boring and we need science fiction to get a novel glimpse on eternal issues. The values and attiudes underpinning the Estonian music criticism was discussed by Madis Yarvekulg who researching dedicated publications has identified two groups of musical critics. The first one is the serious group which enjoys classical music, it is emotional and underscores the superior status of classical music, the group shows also a religious state of mind. However, critics belonging to this community do not recognize the complexity of popular music. The second one is the popular group it displays individualization of attitude, fictional language, authenticity and personal engagement. The style is self-expressional and original.Why the high/low distinction has endured in Etonia? It is because state-funded publications are a major instrument of cultural policy. A more inclusive concept of artistic legitimacy in the state-funded publications would contribute to the recognition of cultural diversity in the music policies of a small eastern European country. The research is part of a larger survey centred on the power relations‘ reflection and the impact of the distinction between high and low music criticism on creative industris in Estonia. Continuing along the same cultural lines Daniel Jurg tackled satire which increasinglyh acquires a more important role nowadays (Beyond post-modern political satire). In 2015, the German filmmaker David Wnendt released his political satire Er Ist Wieder Da (EIWD) – a complex attack on the logic of contemporary popular media culture and the rising populistic tendencies. The film features Oliver Masucc as Hitler interacting with ordinary Germans while in character, interspersed with scripted storyline sequences. “Our idea was to find out how people react to Hitler today, and to his ideas and to ask does he have a chance nowadays,” director David Wnendt told the Guardian.“Unfortunately yes.” The paper presented in Szeged argues that EIWD is a model of dealing with the reflexive nature of satire in postmodern society and it provides an immanent critique by blurring the real and fictional universe itself. While infotainment thrives on making fun of politics (Trump was the example the audience recalled), EIWD shows that things cease to be amusing when they get too ridiculous. According to the presenter different audiences react differently to the novel approach to satire – while the Anglo Saxon public recognizes this, it will be interesting to know how the public with less democratic experience perceives it.
A set of presentations threw light on various problems of digital space helping its comprehensive understanding beyond the simple web analysis. In her presentation Agnes Buvar discussed the new advertising formats and the role of typical advertising knowledge in their recognition. The point here is about persuasion knowledge about advertising and how it works under the new conditions. The presenter reminded of the new advertising formats which have sprung today, the changing consumer behaviour and the blurring between the editorial message and content due to the proliferation of the new technological approaches. The outcome is that advertising messages have become challenging for the consumers. Further she elaborated on the persuasive knowledge model which is based on the assumption that the target has to be aware of the persuasion attempt. A survey on the subject was presented using a mixed method of study – collecting information about typical advertising, its description, comparing old and new advertising formats – similarities and differences plus quantitative analysis assessing advertising recognition and advertising attitudes. The conclusion was that persuasion knowledge affects all groups of respondents and though interaction exists it varies through items.
The features of digital space permitting immersive experiences are a modern and fruitful issue for exploration. Sohail Dahdal presented his research of documentaries as immersive digital space. He has premised his approach on the virtual contact theory presupposing the appearance of virtual contact points between the user and the digital space. The research question was whether interactive documentaries took the viewer into a virtual digital space and whether immersion was sufficient to create a contact zone. In his study he examined four types of interactive documentaries and he also considered immersive journalism latest types of videomaterials. He also added interviews to these methods.The analysis showed that while watching the Block documentary users reported interactivity but not enough proximity; when playing the game Darfur is dying people thought it did justice to a serious topic but not to the game] there was no association with the actual act, the designed digital space did not create a contact point] the Last Chair which is a 360 documentary there was a low interaction but persons took down the goggles because they felt that the action was as if taking place in the room and mentioned 10 sec actors were looking at them. The project Syria of the renowned specialist in immersive journalism Nonny de la Pena which utilizes 3 D objects has been received with mixed emotions by the audience – people reported that they did not have the feeling of being involved. On the basis of his observations Dahdal made the conclusion that 3D virtual reality documentaries are the most immersive but lacking a good technology resolution for viewers. 3D360 videos are the most immersive so far. He also added that the digital literacyof the participants in the experiment was good but the problem was about the space perception. The time limits prevented the audience at the conference to ask more questions about the ethical and legal issues immersive video materials pose.
Istvan Kosa, Blanka Balint, Andreal Solyom, Zoltan Ambrus and Csilla Dalma Zsigmond reported about their study dedicated to the imagery impact on the news selection. Two quasi-experiments were conducted to test the effects of camcorder symbol, a “peripheral cue” (Elaboration Likelihood Theory, Petty & Priester 1994) attached to positive and negative headlines with low or high utility. Also they tried to detect the role of verbal and imaginal/visual individual differences (Paivio 1975) in the process of headlines selection. A special portal for students was created and two experiments carried out. The hypothesis was that those with high scores on both verbal and visual scales selected more and more headlines with low utility, avoiding headlines with the camcorder and it was confirmed by the results. Like in the first experiment, in the second one those who were high on both visual and verbal scale (11%) demonstrated again a typical avoidance attitude towards headlines with camcorder. However, in order for to make grounded conclusions about the selection of other texts online additional research is advisable to be done.
Various methods for researching people’s expectations of websites were introduced by Csilla Herendy speaking about “Mental Models and Participating Observation as Usability Inspection Methods.” The central question nowadays of any design is about usability which means products are easy to use, human issues are considered and keywords as usefulness, practical acceptability and system acceptability are taken into account. The user has become and essential factor and websites’ designers are more and more interested in users’ experience and techniques. Logically then the user centred method is a key one helping to understand better users’ landscape. Herendy presented an array of research methods that can assist in improving websites designs and their usability respectively such as social science methods, mental models from social psychology, mapping techniques, interviews, card sorting tests, ethnographic field studies, participating observations, diary study (based on user’s self-report). It was definitely a broad range of opportunities that can be successfully taken on board by research teams.
Here are some general remarks at the end of our long media and communications journey across various CEE practicesa nd expereinces.
First, this conference was an exceptional event in the CEECOM’s history – extremely well organised, rich in topics discussed, generating friendly and creative atmosphere. It was a combination of fruitful debates and a great social program accompanying serious work.
Second, inspite of reportedly some 200 participants, the usual attendance at individual panels as well as at plenary sessions suggested that less than a half of that number (maybe even a third only) was actually present during the conference. As usual, especially local (this time Hungarian) presenters left earlier. Nevertheless, the number of attendees is quite impressive for a regional conference.
Third, it was suprising to find that both Polish and Hungarian academics seem to be united in their opposition towards the current regimes in Poland and Hungary respectively. There was not a single voice that would have attempted to defend Fidesz or PiS policies. Yet it would be interesting to hear such – deeply ironically – „dissent“ academic voices at this forum.
Fourth, in some presentations, there was re-appearing belief, sometimes saliently, that all the media should have some social responsibility mission. This is certainly controversial issue.
Finally, Szeged is really prosperous city, worth to visit or just to make stop on the way to neighbouring Serbia or Romania. As we have learned, this is due to a successful set of factors – the non-fraudulent policy of the municipality and the enourmous flow of EU money, allegedly one of the highest income coming from EU funds per capita in the whole EU. This is even more interesting having in mind the fact that Szeged is one of the two big cities in Hungary where Fidesz does not rule. Apparently, a prosperous life without Fidesz is possible. Szeged’s model can be in
spiring for other CEE countries and regions.
Now we are looking forward to the 12th CEECOM conference to be held in Sofia, Bulgaria (Bratislava conference comes probably in 2020 or in 2021).
Farewell Szeged, hello Sofia!
Tomasz Anusiewicz, Bissera Zankova and Andrej Školkay
Appendix: A Funny Bartók Appartment Story
This story could happen anywhere, but it is both funny and instructive for travellers how to defend themselves against a bit one-sided policies of the house owners.
The story ran like that: two of us came there to Szeged, entered the Bartók appartment at Tȍrȍk utca 11, and the lady Judit told us: You have to pay 114 EUR NOW. We said OK, but we then be please so kind to give us an invoice. Moreover, let us check the price. She said that she does not have an invoice but once we pay, she can bring it. In the meantime, we would be asked to get out of the appartment and wait on the street. We said we are not going to wait on the street, we do not see any reason for that. She can lock us inside (if she thinks that we are dangerous creatures, aiming at destruction of the apparment and disappearing afterwards, enjoying this fun for 114 EUR only). Anyway, we argued that we would appreciate if an invoice could be exchanged simulteneously with the money paid. And after checking the amount, we found that she actually asked us 9 EUR more than was needed, which she accepted as her mistake.
The story then continued like that for almost two hours, since the owner was not available on the phone. The lady Judit wanted to make photo of our IDs which we did not allow referring to GDPR (we duly presented our IDs only). In the meantime, after re-assessing the situation and the approach of the other side, we changed our opinion and decided not to pay immediately, but after the stay. The booking conditions never explicitly demanded immediate payment, just „at stay“, and explicitly defined that „no pre-payment is needed.“ We approached for help the staff at Booking.com, but this was not very helpful. First, they interpreted instruction „to pay at stay“ that we have to pay as told by the owner. When we asked to cancel our accommodation, they argued that this can be done only by the other side – the owner. We argued that the owner is not available (the lady Judit was not the owner) on the phone or in person. Another suggestion by Booking com was to find „mutual agreement“. Not very helpful either. Since Judit was not the owner, we could not make legally valid changes in our contract with her….She did not show to us any official credentials either. So, finally, the real owner called us „what is the problem“. We said „you know what is the problem.“ Finally, he was so kind to release us from mutual or, rather, as it turned out, one-sided contractual obligations and cancelled our accommodation. Ironically, the follow-up message from Booking.com was that we „did not want to pay for acommodation.“ This was obviously absurd accusation, since booking.com always blocks proper amount at our bank card, so there is no way not to pay for accommodation.
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