Collusive relationships between journalists and politicians in new democracies


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CMPF Summer School 2013 for Journalists and Media Practitioners

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Collusive relationships between journalists and politicians in new democracies

  1. 1. Collusive relationships between journalists and politicians in new democracies Alina Dobreva
  2. 2. Theories of politics-media relationships • Media as instrument/channel of informing the citizens (symbiosis: dependent on politicians & politicians depend on it) • Media as players in the political process, e.g. watchdog role, representation • Grey zone between interdependence and corruption has been largely ignored in academic, policy research and by the NGOs
  3. 3. Politics-media relationships in new democracies Contradictory developments: • Embracing press freedom. • Leapfrogging into ‘third age’. • Footprints of the old regime on structures and practices of political communication. • Dysfunctional transition.
  4. 4. What is corruption? • People controlling something that does not belong to them and they fail the rules and trust placed in them • Corruption analyzed only from institutional point of view How to measure it? • Perception of general public and stakeholders How does it happen? • Corrupt contracts are not enforceable by law, but instead by self-enforcing (long- term; overlapping interests), informal enforcing institutions (mafia, ethnic groups…), perverse use of formal enforcing institutions (blackmailing with compromats and creating interlocking dependencies) • The act of corruption creates a bond as both sides share the guilt Corruption
  5. 5. Why is media corruption so under-research? • No will to do it; too fuzzy to identify What is media corruption? • Liberal market and everything being for sale – where is the boundary • Market and/vs. social function of media • Functional interdependency and corruption interdependency • Corruption as a consequence of professionalism of media-politicians relation • Personal transactions (often), but a structural problem (usually) Who is who in media corruption? • Poor journalists “media proletariat” vs. rich editors “media bourgeoisie” • Do politicians corrupt media or vice versa? Media corruption
  6. 6. The study, data Project “Political Communication in New Democracies: Government- Media Relationships in Transition” (British Academy, LRG-45511). 8 countries from 4 continents. Here: Bulgaria, Brazil Semi-structured interviews with politicians, journalists and intermediaries (total N used here: 55) Question wording: “To your knowledge, are there journalists here in [country] who accept money or any other favours in exchange for favourable news coverage?”
  7. 7. The cases Bulgaria End of communist rule in 1989, but begin of reforms delayed until 1997. EU concerns about high level of corruption, but growth of mafia- style organised crime. Brazil End of military rule in 1985, but continued veto power of the army. Closed circle of elites control political and economic power. History of impunity of corruption. Signs of change: recent large-scale corruption trials.  To what extent are the media able to keep distance; to what extent are they part of the system of clientelism and corruption?
  8. 8. Major Findings Journalists and corruption in Bulgaria and Brazil
  9. 9. Media corruption – does it exist and to what extent? Frequent, pervasive phenomenon • Media hijacked by political and economic interests [commissioned publications] are inseparable from our media life (P3BG) … problems are the corruption and business interests in politics as well as the intrusion of economic & other interests in media (P6BG) • ‘Watchdog coverage’ = smear campaigns The ‘big’ talking does not mean that the truth is coming out. There can be economic and political interest behind it (J8BG) Exception • Predominantly on local level; exchange of favours (not cash) …this still happens all the time in small cities. But since it has proven ineffective with the big media, it is no longer done in the main cities (I5BRZ) • Threat of main media by corporate power I don’t quite believe that the Brazilian press is free… the Brazilian press is controlled by large economic groups (J6BRZ) Bulgaria Brazil All stakeholders (politicians, journalists &intermediaries) talk about corruption &admit its existence
  10. 10. Who is corrupt? Pressure is passed down to journalists, who see themselves as victims of corruption [The politicians] would normally call the bosses; they know that calling the journalists wouldn’t do it. Such decisions can only be made by the big bosses of the media (J6BG) How can you expect the journalists to oppose the external influences if their managers are not able to resist and protect media integrity? (J3BG) Regional editors or political owners strike the deals; but frequently collides with journalistic ethics There are people who call the editors up to complain about a piece of information or to prevent it from being published (P2BR) When a politician runs a media group , for example, his personal enemies will automatically become his corporation’s enemies as well (I7BRZ) I know about some colleagues that have been through that, especially in the regional media. If that ever happens to me, that is the day I will retire. (J7BRZ) Bulgaria Brazil Attributed to high-level (editors, owners) rather than to low-paid journalism (envelope journalism)
  11. 11. Mechanisms of media-politics corruption Brazil Economic dependency used to pressure media – Advertising and political ownership Mostly the big newspapers, the ones that don’t depend on government advertising to prosper, those tend to be more responsible. Those that depend on ads from Petrobrás [Brazilian oil company], and so on, can never be trusted upon. (J1BRZ) In order to survive, today the media have merged into big corporations. So, the businessmen who run the companies are linked to the economic and political powers to some extent. … I’ve seen politicians pressurising, …a politician blackmailing and saying: “If this continues like this, I’ll withdraw my sponsorship of this TV programme” (I8BR) – Government funding The regional media have sold themselves out. They buy, they are bought, they are constantly depending on government funding to continue in business (I6BRZ)
  12. 12. Mechanisms of media-politics corruption Bulgaria A two-way relationship • Advertising and other business interests They are subject to the political approval as they, directly or indirectly, receive funding from political clans. […] through different economic entities and their advertising if those entities belong to the state, the municipalities or political figures. (P8BG) • Media as active players: Racketeering politicians, black funds and elections Who pays? The politicians do. They have to […] After [the media] write some explicitly negative articles about you, you know you should pay […] even though they haven’t asked for it explicitly (P5BG) Here is a paradox: the media constantly make noise about the financial resources, which the political parties spend during their electoral campaigns, and at the same time, the media themselves racketeer the politicians horribly during the campaigns (I1BG)
  13. 13. Assumed causes National level web of vested interests Lack of democratic values and maturity in society and media Small and not-vibrant market, lack of protection against unfair business practices, especially out of the capital Local level Transition strengthens the role of institutions and media as watch dogs Dependence on few key advertising sources due to ownership concentration in Brazilian economy, especially in local media Bulgaria Brazil Unclear media ownership – non-transparent political & business alliances Transition in progress Economic weakness
  14. 14. Corruption in journalism is widespread and often disguised under a rhetoric of press freedom. It is not confined to a poor ‘media proletariat’ (Coman 2004). Rather, an emerging media elite becomes/remains entrenched in collusive relationships with the politico-corporative power elite. Conclusion
  15. 15. Suggested solutions Lack of clear solutions, but presence of factors that would minimize media corruption: • Increased transparency of ownership and political alliances • Effective system of horizontal accountability and enforcing regulations • Financial independence of media • Professional associations to strengthen journalistic independence and professional practices.
  16. 16. Thank you for your attention!