Our project looks at the often troublesome and poorly understood relationship between democracy and the media in Central and Eastern Europe.

Existing studies tend to focus on whether media are good or bad for democracy. Western media models assume that democratic institutions pre-date the rise of media, and that core qualities of democratic governance exist (including the rule of law, political pluralism, freedom of speech and information). But such assumptions do not necessarily apply in Central and Eastern Europe, where democratic institutions and media institutions emerged simultaneously and interdependently in a period of rapid and often chaotic reform.

Our project intends to take a novel and interdisciplinary approach to the question.

We aim to reverse the common framing of the media-democracy relationship. Instead of asking how media performance of certain normative functions (such as information provision and holding power elites to account) influences democracy, we ask:

What kind of democracy is needed for media to perform its agreed-upon normative functions?

In other words, we are interested in the quality of the media as a function of the quality of democracy.

Our research is based on a comparative study of the ten Central and Eastern countries that have joined the EU since 2004:

  • aerialBulgaria
  • Estonia
  • Latvia
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Czech Republic
  • Hungary
  • Lithuania
  • Romania
  • Slovenia

Our analysis focuses on news media, including both ‘old media’ (broadcast and print) and the ‘new media’ of the Internet. We will also compare the experiences of our ten nations to case studies of other European countries (notably Britain, Sweden and Italy).

We expect our results and outputs will not only help us to understand democracy and the media in the new member states of the European Union, but will also be more broadly applicable to the study of the relationship between democracy and the media in other consolidating democracies, including in the Balkans, Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

The project is funded by the European Research Council and managed through the University of Oxford’s Department of Politics and International Relations. Our core research team is based at St Antony’s College, University of Oxford, and at the London School of Economics and Political Science. We are also working with a range of Visiting Fellows who specialise in media and democracy Central and Eastern Europe.