I was invited to address the question: is there a European public sphere for media, from the academic point of view? The answer is no. The European public sphere does not exist. Scholars have explained that the lack of a European demos prevents the emergence of a public sphere that brings together 28 historical legacies, languages and cultures. In spite of the increased legal, economic and political integration, “the nation-state has remained the primary focus for collective identities” (Koopmansa and Erbe, 2004 :97).
However, the glass is only half empty. The public space in Europe is fragmented into various subspaces of the national media. I argue that these sub-spaces are witnessing an embryonic Europeanization; there is an increased salience for European topics and debates at the domestic level and I would even say a Europeanized style of reporting on EU issues. This nascent Europeanization that we are observing is attested by a series of indicators, like for example:
- When the same (European) themes are discussed at the same time across national public spheres and media (Risse, 2003).
- When similar frames of interpretation are used by journalists across national public spheres and media to explain what is at stake in the integration process.
This process of Europeanization is uneven and fragmented. This process is driven by an emerging transnational community of media. This transnational community can contribute in the long term to create at a larger scale a Europeanized space for media.
What is the state of research on the media? This topic has been extensively discussed over the last decades by scholars in EU and communication studies from different perspectives. Various research projects have been developed to offer empirically grounded views on the extent and forms of Europeanization of national media discourses. I would like to focus on five key findings.
Finding 1: The references to the EU in the media at the national level have increased.
There are two ways to measure this in the literature:
– A quantitative approach which implies to measure the national media’s attention to ‘European themes’ (Trenz 2003) and the degree of reporting the same events at the same time (ex: TTIP, CETA). This is about counting how often the EU, EU institutions, and EU issues are mentioned in the media at the domestic level.
– A qualitative approach which entails seeing how journalists talk about Europe. Here the focus is not on how many times the EU is mentioned. This implies to see whether specific topics are framed in the same way, leading to similar interpretative lines and structures of meaning (Risse, 2003) in the national media discourses.
1) The recent rule of law crises in some new EU Member States and how they have been reported by journalists at the domestic level. We observe here a qualitative Europeanization in the sense that similar frames have been used to explain what is at stake.
2) But this is an exception. In most cases, the narrative line in reporting about the EU is constructed along national lines. For example, the state of the Union has not been understood in the same way in member states capitals.
– In Belgium, De Standaard titled: “No more EU money for anti-Europe extremists.”
– The French press titled: “Europe wants to better protect its enterprises,” a Macron priority.
1) There in an embryonic vertical Europeanization when we look at how journalists at the domestic level talk about Europe.
2) The degree of Europeanization varies from one country to another.
Finding 2: There is also a horizontal Europeanization, that is when the media in one country covers debates and contestation in another member state.
This vertical Europeanization is rather limited. A group of scholars recently analysed the newspapers in 4 countries (Poland, France, UK and Denmark) for a period of 10 years. They concluded that criticism and advice to other member states are more common than references to best practices” (De la Porte, 2016).
Two challenges here:
- This may reinforce negative perceptions of Europe, even in quality newspapers. The media also disseminates dissatisfaction with the EU, trigger Eurosceptic mobilisations and undermine its legitimacy. Is it A PROBLEM? Not really. This leads to contestation and politicisation which in turn is good for the quality of democracy.
- The EU issues are increasingly discussed both in high quality and in low quality press. Low quality press remains a considerable challenge.
Finding 3: Although references to EU increase in the national media, they pale in comparison with national, regional and local issues.
- European Elections
- The Eurozone crisis: Scrutinizing newspapers in Denmark, France, Poland and the UK (2010-2010), a group of scholars found out that in times of crisis the media attention for the EU’s growth and jobs strategy is limited, that it does not increase over time and that it is mainly driven by the EU agenda. De la Porte and Van Dalen (2016) concluded that although media coverage of the EU’s socio-economic strategy is Europeanized, it remains a debate by and for EU-interested actors.
Finding 4: Instead of a pan-European journalism, we still have many different journalists’ cultures in Europe.
This diversity is a resource, not a problem as journalists choose to report events according to their own national identity conceptions and in this way to be salient to their perceived audiences. (Wodak, 2015). Is this an obstacle to Europeanization? No. Europeanization does not mean thinking in the same way. Is this diversity a problem? No. Diversity and pluralism are preconditions for democracy. The variety of journalist cultures can lead to contestation and politicisation which in turn is good for the quality of democracy
Finding 5: This means that national mass media are there to stay: the question is how to include a European perspective? How to maintain the quality of information?
Set of questions for discussion:
1) How to encourage Europeanization? Is Europeanization the solution? How can training contribute to this?
2) Can the press be an agent of transnationalisation considering that editors fear to lose readers?
Ramona Coman, Université Libre de Bruxelles – Institut d’Études Européennes