European Press Freedom at the Pillory

By Marejke Tammen

The danger of press freedom is not only an issue that can be observe in the US, China or Russia. It is right in front of us and thumbs its nose at us Europeans.
What happens when unpopular ideas get silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark? What does it mean when journalists are muzzled, and fake news are deliberately disseminated? The answer is very clear: press freedom dies. Such painful death is happening on our so called “democratic continent” – Europe. Press freedom stands at the pillory, and its hangman is the populism.
Just recently, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published the annual Press Freedom Index for 2018 and shows the bitter truth: growing animosity towards journalists, hostility towards the media – encouraged by political leaders. But even more terrifying: the report refers to Europe.

As we usually think about countries outside of Europe as Egypt, Iran or China in terms of reduced press freedom, we must face the fact that the traditionally safe environment for journalists in Europe has begun to vanish. The situation of the freedom of press has deteriorated like in no other region in the world. Especially in Hungary, Poland, Slovakia, Malta and the Czech Republic attacks on media increased alarmingly. Leading politicians stand out negatively through verbal abuses and legal steps against journalists. European democratically-elected leaders, such as Victor Orbán or Giuseppe Conte, no longer see media as something that needs to be defended at all costs but as a toxic enemy. Even though free press is deep-seated in the fundamental rights and is an essential part of liberal democracies – something that Europe cloaks itself with. Europe rather seems to be pleased to trample all over these rights. But why is it so that the media becomes an adversary or even a scapegoat for all the bad things that happen? Continue reading “European Press Freedom at the Pillory”

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Europe at a Crossroads: The Rise of the Right and Post-Truth Politics

 

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The EU is having a hard time. Photo by MOs810

Ben Krasa

Europe is at a crossroads and the coming months will determine its stability for the foreseeable future. The unforeseen victories for Brexit, Donald Trump and the rise in populism makes us question how there is such momentum behind these campaigns. Therefore, the leaders who have grabbed headlines over the two years must be examined in order to understand how they have shaken the world.

“Post-truth” was awarded by Oxford Dictionary as the word of the year. Defined as “appeals to emotion disconnected from the details of policy, and by the repeated assertion of talking points to which factual rebuttals are ignored”, it has led to escalation of support for populist leaders and a growing support of their beliefs. With anti-migrant and anti-Muslim sentiment rising in Europe, there is an obvious shift in mentality as opposed to previous years, which mainly rests on the shoulders of the post-truth rhetoric. Various populist campaigns stemmed from post-truth and used emotion to escalate fear and incite hatred in various nations. Donald Trump’s stinging remarks about Mexicans and Muslims have been accompanied by a spike in hate crimes post-election, likewise in post-Brexit Britain. The leaders rely on fear and stirring emotion, rather than sense or logic, in order to gain a large following. In a pre-Brexit world, no one would have given Farage a chance, or have thought that Trump would claim the victory across the pond, nor that Le Pen may have influence in the French Presidential election.  However, the Brexit campaign spurred Trump to follow the same rhetoric and yielded a similar result. Post-truth tactics and hate rhetoric have grabbed Europe by the throat and won’t let go, so much so that talk of the demise of the European Union has begun to bubble up in public discourse.

Frauke Petry, Geert Wilders and Marine Le Pen are disturbing the political establishment of liberal Europe.

Throughout Europe, there is a growing urgency to discard the base of what has been guiding the political norm for the last decades. Moderate politics has typically dominated politics but we are witnessing a change in European sentiment. As elections in France, Germany and The Netherlands loom, Europe’s future could potentially be vastly different within a year. Marine Le Pen is making noise in France with a rhetoric that highlights the use of post-truth in politics, with much focus on the fear that a foreign ‘other’ will steal your job and earn more than you. This kind of rhetoric is hardly new, but as of late it has begun to feature more prominently in political discourse. Just last week, Geert Wilders was once again convicted of hate speech and also wants to ban all mosques in the Netherlands, is leading the most popular party in the country. He also relies on the tactic of post-truth and the manipulation of citizens’ emotions to gain popularity, rather than on logic and clear policy goals. Before the recent rerun of the Austrian Presidential election, a Holocaust survivor spoke out and pleaded with the public not to vote for the far-right candidate, Norbert Hofer, because the consequences petrified her and reminded her of pre-World War II Austria. This is a clear signal that surely it is time to think about which direction current politics is taking.

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Farage campaigned for Trump’s presidential bid.

Nigel Farage’s Brexit quoted as a stand up against the establishment and Donald Trump being carried as the ideal ‘anti-establishment’ candidate in the U.S. election. But for me it is difficult to confirm that they are truly ‘anti-establishment’. Trump resides in a Manhattan apartment “decorated in 24K gold and marble” and has a net worth of 3.2 billion dollars. It is hard to imagine why people labelled him anti-establishment despite having more in common with Hillary Clinton than many people would like to think. Prior to the election, he rubbed shoulders with the Clintons, their daughters are friends, and he had even donated money to the Clinton Foundation and to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. It would be foolish to think that Trump is anything but the ‘established’. Moreover, Nigel Farage who officially resigned as UKIP leader, but still receives 84,000 pounds salary as an MEP, immediately denied the NHS their supposedly ‘guaranteed’ 350 million pounds after the Brexit result. Since the Brexit campaign, he has stuck to Trump, like a remora fish on a shark. Pictures recently circulated of him at one of Trump’s parties in London. How are these men seen as anti-establishment since they reap so much from the establishment? Granted, there is disenchantment with politics, but those leading the opposition do not know more than those already in government. One just has to look at Farage’s disappearance act or Boris Johnson’s reaction post-Brexit. Just this week, a Tory aide was photographed with a notepad with Brexit plans which included “What’s the model? Have cake and eat it”.

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Green Candidate, Alexander van der Bellen, won the Austrian presidential election, twice. Photo by Ailura.

However, maybe not all is lost. In the recent Austrian Presidential election, the Green Party won the vote by a bigger margin than the original election in May. Moreover, in the Richmond Park by-election in London, the Lib Dem candidate unseated the Tory, Zac Goldsmith. This may just be a symbolic victory for the left, yet, it may be the penny dropping in people’s minds that unity and harmony will undoubtedly be more beneficial than discord. However, with papers and polls indicating that populism is here to stay, the more centred people must surely find a way to stop the post-truth tactic and potential destabilization and disintegration of the European Union.  

Ben recently graduated from Leiden University with a masters’ degree in International Relations. From Ireland, Ben graduated from University College Cork with a BA in Spanish and History and is currently interning in The Hague.

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Post-Truth Politics: Europe’s Next Integration Challenge

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UKIP posters contained many claims of dubious legitimacy.

Amar Shakil

As a British student studying and living in continental Europe, Brexit has affected me in the sense that I ,like many others, don’t know how much of an impact it will have on my life abroad. As a remain voter, I, like many, scoffed in disbelief, unable to comprehend politicians spouting lies and falsehoods and more importantly why most people chose to believe it. Post-truth politics is a useful concept in understanding why the discourse in the Brexit campaign developed as it did, and why the result is what it is. Post-truth politics is a political culture in which political debate is disconnected from comprehensive policy, and is instead driven and framed by emotion and rhetoric rather than reason and evidence, with factual rebuttals ignored.

Brexit and the election of Donald Trump are the consequence of the success of post-truth politics, and signify its threat for further integration of the European Union. Despite Europe’s ability to overcome times of crisis to further European integration, (as the response to Brexit has shown with discussions over further European defence cooperation,) Brexit nonetheless shows that the emergence of post-truth politics is a threat to the European project.

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Nigel Farage, head of UKIP has been accused of fomenting racism through deceitful claims regarding migrants in the UK. Here he stands with an infamous billboard, described as “nazi propaganda” by George Osborne.

Social media and the 24-hour news cycle have been the catalyst behind the emergence of post-truth politics. If we’re honest most of us are guilty of selectively choosing news sources that we agree with or those which best speak to our views, hence we live in our little social media bubble in which we share views and opinions with people who already have the same opinions. People instinctively accept information to which they are exposed to‘, and selectively choose information to support those views while resisting perceived falsehoods. The ubiquitous nature of social media, and news media facilitates the ease with which people can seek out news sources which conform to and strengthen, their beliefs, while at the same time driving partisan divide and shutting out contradictory information. This played out in the UK referendum campaign, with a key talking point being Turkey’s potential membership of the EU, playing on the fear of millions more migrants entering the UK. Though proven false as Turkey can only become a Member with the agreement of all EU Member States, this claim was successful in framing the narrative of the campaign to the wider issue of immigration, which drove the Brexit campaign. Another example is the rejection of research based evidence by experts on the implications of a Brexit. This shows, as one conservatoce put it: People in this country have had enough of experts’. Attempts to challenge these claims and falsehoods were dismissed as project fear, which makes it difficult to engage in open debate as people become increasingly entrenched in their views.

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Michael Gove, Conservative Politician, claimed that British people were done with experts. Photo by Policy Exchange.

Post-truth politics shows the importance of feelings and emotions. Facts and statistics may show the socio-economic benefit of the UK remaining a member of the EU, but as Brexit shows, people still feel left behind. There are big regional inequalities. Certain regions are just not seeing the supposed economic benefits of EU membership . Post-truth politics plays on these emotions, engaging and mobilising voters who feel left behind by offering them a vision of a better, more prosperous society, outside of the EU. Post-truth politics builds on discontent and economic inequalities, with the EU used as a scapegoat.  These feelings of dissatisfaction are not exclusive to the UK, thinking otherwise would feed into the narrative of an ‘out of touch’ bureaucratic eleite, feeding into a post-truth narrative that will foster further anti-EU sentiment.

Populism is on the rise in Europe, with post-truth politics and populism in an almost perfect symbiosis, fostering the idea that: Facts are negative. Facts are pessimistic. Facts are unpatriotic’. This can be seen in the rise of populist parties in central and eastern Europe, highlighting the difficulty in furthering integration when the EU can be framed as a threat to hard won national sovereignty. Post-truth politics reinforces this and makes it difficult for the EU to confront misinformation. The EU needs to come to terms with this rather than dismiss it. Brexit, Donald Trump and populist governments in Europe highlight the potential challenges in future attempts at European integration in the age of post-truth politics where populist rhetoric are easily dispersed and spread through social and news media.  It makes it difficult to address the increasing shift towards nationalism, as facts and reason become redundant making it difficult to engage citizens and integrate further.

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Another UKIP poster making a exaggerated claim.

Brexit is a warning that the EU must address its existing faults and weaknesses, it must take a step back and acknowledge the shift in the political discourse towards post-truth politics. Social media is a key driver in the emergence of Post-truth politics and is key in giving greater voice to Euroscepticism and populism. In the age of post-truth politics, facts and reason are not enough to engage and mobilise voters and signifies the need for the EU to engage citizens through a bottom-up approach, in constructing a positive image for the Union and engaging those who feel left behind.

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