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Media coverage certainly effects election outcomes. It’s well known, perhaps not so well understood. Most recently, attention to been given to the possibility of an outsized effect from online and social media. This could be missing the mark.
Tabloid media, printed or otherwise, shapes or, at least, reinforces voting preferences of right-wing and populist voters, says a recently published paper from University of Vienna communications researcher Jakob-Moritz Eberl, noted by German daily Tagesspiegel (April 15) and Austrian media weekly Horizont (April 6). Both right-wing and left-wing voters perceive political media coverage as distorted to some degree. But voters with right-wing political orientation are far more likely to ascribe the “fake news” label to established newspapers and broadcasters than tabloids and social media. For the paper, interviews were conducted among 1200 Austrian voters in 2015. (See more about elections and media here)
“My research has shown that right-wing extremist voters in particular have a lot of media mistrust; in the media system in general but especially in quality newspapers or (public broadcaster) ORF,” said Herr Eberl to Horizont. “This is extremely disturbing as confidence in free and independent media is a cornerstone of a functioning democracy. It is clearly the responsibility of politicians to restore confidence in the media. However, such efforts are completely lacking and we are threatening to become more similar to illiberal democracies in Eastern Europe. Above all, the attacks of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), a party in government responsibility, against individual journalists and buzz words such as ‘fake news’ are dangerous in this respect and are also reflected directly in the attitudes of the voters.” (See more about media in Austria here)
This week far-right FPÖ member of the ORF council Norbert Steger called for one-third of ORF foreign correspondents to be fired “if they do not behave properly,” in reference to coverage of the Hungarian parliamentary elections. The FPÖ became the junior coalition partner in the Austrian government and has long lobbied for editorial compliance from ORF. The Hungarian elections affirmed the dominance of the right-wing populist Fidesz party with a record-setting voter turnout seen by observers as fueled by xenophobic regional tabloid news coverage.
Another Hungarian media operator headed for the exits last week following the resounding victory of prime minister Victor Orban’s Fidesz party in parliamentary elections. Bi-lingual Hungarian-English Budapest Beacon published its last edition at the end of the week. Two days after the election results were known daily newspaper Magyar Nemzet closed and Lanchid Radio shut-down.
“The severe erosion of media plurality in Hungary makes it nearly impossible for us to continue publishing a fact-based newspaper of record about Hungary,” said Budapest Beacon managing editor Richard Field in an “exit interview” posted on the budapestbeacon.com website (April 13). “Fortunately, there is ample English language news about Hungary these days, from The New York Times to the BBC, so I don’t think we’ll be missed.” The Budapest Beacon had published for four and a half years and was underwritten by a US-based foundation. The Orban/Fidesz government plans for legislation to thwart investments by foreign NGOs and foundations.
Magyar Nemzet did not go out quietly. The staff produced a “final” final edition, just a few pages, to be distributed free at the Budapest demonstrations over the weekend. Unsurprisingly, the printing job was declined by Mediaworks, owned by Fidesz supporter Lorinc Mészáros, which had previously printed Magyar Nemzat, reported index.hu (April 15). A German-owned printing house took the order, which was doubled to 40,000 copies. “Tens of thousands” took to the streets in protest, reported Reuters, BBC and the New York Times (April 15). (See more about media in Hungary here)
Others are holding on. Community radio station KlubRadio announced it raised sufficient funds to operate another six months, largely from listener contributions and a private foundation, reported 24.hu (April 12). The station attracted international attention several years ago when the media regulator lifted a substantial part of its FM distribution. Television channel RTL Klub, owned by RTL Group and not related to KlubRadio, said it was adding staff, said 24.hu (April 16).