7 February 2019

Standing Firm in Times of Populism: journalism between attitude and independence

Beginning 16  Ending 18
(c) Dahrendorf Forum / Steffen Weigelt

This is a joint event from the Dahrendorf Forum at the Hertie School of Governance and the ZDF, hosted by Prof Andrea Roemmele and Dr Peter Frey.

The success of right-wing populist parties and movements is a particular challenge to journalism. On the one hand, they themselves become targets, their work and credibility are being questioned. If society no longer believes the facts communicated by journalists, an essential basis of social togetherness, self-assurance and controversy is attacked. On the other hand, the success of populists, with their attacks on the system, brings the question about where journalists see themselves: should they remain, as in the past, neutral observers of social processes and conflicts, impartial analysts and commentators of events? Can they continue to rely on contributing to the political process with facts, criticism and information? Or will their role change when the democratic institutions and they themselves become the target?

So the question is: does the new situation require a different attitude? Or should journalists remain distant? We want to discuss this in a roundtable discussion with colleagues from Eastern and Western European countries. In a confidential exchange, experiences also from countries with strong right-wing populist movements and parties or governments are to be incorporated into and supplemented by the assessments of scientists and colleagues from the U.S.

The following key questions will be in the foreground:

  • How neutral and objective can journalism be when attacks on the democratic system also attack its own foundations?
  • What provocations do journalists have to deal with, what can and may they ignore?
  • How do you manage to overcome the populists’ framing and define your own terms and subjects?
  • Does our function, based on criticism and information, contribute to the uncertainty of society in a system characterized by acceleration, exaggeration and range optimization? Do we therefore need to expand our journalistic repertoire to include “constructive” approaches? How can this be achieved without being accused of being close to the state or the system?
  • How do we reach the people who vote for populists or who populists claim to represent?
  • With regards to the European elections: Is there a way between the professional-critical debate with the EU of the institutions and support for the European project?
  • How do we organise diversity of opinion in a civilised way, in a public sphere in which crossing boundaries has become a currency of attention?

These questions will first be addressed with a maximum of 20 participants in a roundtable discussion followed by a dinner with Prof Andrea Roemmele and Dr Peter Frey.


Please note that the event is by invitation only.