UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Reporting on right-wing populism : evolving journalistic roles and practice in Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom Wagner, Jan-Philipp N. E.


Over the last five years, many European and North American democracies have experienced a significant resurgence of populist politics. Mostly situated on the right side of the political spectrum, these movements, parties, and politicians combine a strong appeal to the people and anti-establishment rhetoric with nationalist and even xenophobic sentiments. In addition, right-wing populist politicians commonly develop an ambiguous relationship with political journalists: they attempt to use newsmaker as mouthpieces for their political message and as amplifiers of their popularity; but they also accuse the news media of lying and being biased against them. Together with their controversial political agenda, this ambiguous communication strategy sets right-wing populists apart from other politicians and parties. What are the implications of such right-wing populist politics for the production of political news? Informed by discursive institutionalism, a conception of journalism is advanced that emphasizes the discursive field in which journalists, political elites, and audiences compete for discursive authority over the role of political journalism in today’s democracies. By gathering evidence by means of in-depth interviews conducted with political journalists from Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom, a better understanding of how the presence of right-wing populist politicians and parties challenges and potentially alters journalistic roles and practices is offered. Right-wing populism triggers a discursive reorientation of journalistic roles as normative and cognitive understandings of journalists’ roles diverge. Moreover, right-wing populism has a stronger impact on journalists’ self-understanding and daily work than other political ideologies or communication strategies. When reporting on right-wing populism, journalists furthermore take on a more active role than in other political contexts. At the same time, political journalists remain committed to objectivity in their news making. Experienced journalists are able to react to the right-wing populist challenge in a way that allows them to deliberate and reflect upon their professional work. However, journalists’ ability to perform their role in society is restricted by a “crisis of political journalism”. This state of crisis results from financial cuts in the media industry and becomes evident in the loss of public trust in political journalism.

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