Pillar 3 – Journalistic autonomy and professionalisation

(**Led up to January 2013 by Dr Henrik Ornebring)

The project’s third pillar focuses on another (potential) institution of democracy: journalism. Our hypothesis is that the lack of a coherent democratic culture will affect the quality of journalism, its professionalisation and the autonomy of journalists as an occupation. Without a strong set of shared values among journalists, or indeed a shared sense of belonging to a coherent occupation, journalism’s ability to perform a societal role beyond that of mere content production is diminished.

In the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe we find a striking fusion of different democratic cultures among professional journalists. The mix includes a strong strand of American and variants of European culture, as well as post-Communist and parochial, nationalist tendencies. This impedes the creation of widely shared and agreed-upon journalistic standards and a strong professional identity.

There has been extensive international research into the professionalism, autonomy and democratic role of journalism in countries which have seen an ongoing professionalisation of journalism over the last century. But in Central and Eastern Europe, the historical disjunctures are significant: the process only started after 1989. And when it did, it took place alongside rapid and transformative changes in regulatory frameworks and media landscapes. This is important in understanding the links between democracy and journalism in the region.

This pillar examines the nature of journalistic practice in our ten Central and Eastern European countries. Do journalists as a collective have the cultural, social, political and economic resources (all elements of professional identity and professionalism) to maintain autonomy and independence in the face of commercial and political pressures? As elsewhere in the project, Sweden, UK and Italy will be used as comparative reference points outside the region.