7 February 2019

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

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(c) Dahrendorf Forum / Steffen Weigelt

On 7 February, Dahrendorf Forum and ZDF organized a second workshop at the Hertie School of Governance entitled “Standing firm in times of populism – Journalism between attitude and independence”. 15 journalists from Germany and other European countries discussed challenges they face in their work given the increased presence of populist political actors.

The event was chaired by Peter Frey (editor-in-chief of ZDF) and Andrea Römmele (Co-Chair of the Dahrendorf Working Group 2) and was followed by a joint dinner.

The discussion was focused on several specific cases of populist interaction with the media and how one could react to them. Best practices and projects to foster dialogue in society were also discussed. The following key questions guided the discussion:

  • 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?


The workshop will be followed by a third event on 17 June in which an external input from an invited speaker will provide further food for thought on the topic.