Media Use: Former Eastern European States

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In all the postcommunist Central and Eastern European (CEE) countries, the contemporary media systems are defined by a heritage of decades of communist rule and the influence of market mechanisms introduced after 1990. While during the communist time all media were state-controlled, in the first decade of the 1990s the ownership structure of the both print and electronic media was radically transformed. The media's role in society was also reconceptualized according to democratic norms. Yet, the historical heritage of the communist regime still serves as a reference point in much of the political, economic, and ethical debates centered on media use and media effects in the CEE countries. Contemporary media use in all the CEE countries can be characterized by an increasing importance of electronic media. This has meant not only a rapid increase in Internet usage but also a dramatic growth in TV watching since the 1990s.

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By employing the concepts of opportunity structure and discursive opportunities as a theoretical background, this paper aims to identify and analyze the factors that may have led to the breakthroughs of two right-wing political actors in Poland in 2014–2015: Paweł Kukiz and his Kukiz’15 movement and Janusz Korwin-Mikke and his political initiatives. In our study we focused on several issues: the political, economic, and social context; the visibility provided by traditional media; widespread usage of social media; correspondence of the content of messages to expectations and political preferences; and radicalization of the agenda of the Law and Justice party (PiS), which contributed to the resonance and legitimacy of populist claims.
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The article gives an overview of general trends in media use in Estonia over the last 15 years, making some comparisons with Nordic countries. Since the beginning of postcommunist transformation in 1991, the media landscape in Estonia has faced substantial changes. A completely renewed media system has emerged, characterized by a diversity of channels, formats, and contents. Not only the media themselves, but also the patterns of media use among audiences, their habits and expectations, have gone through a process of radical change. Changes in the Estonian media landscape have some aspects in common with many other European countries, such as the impact of emerging new media and global TV; others are specific features of transition to a market economy and democratic political order. Besides discussing general trends, the article gives insights into some audience- related aspects of changes, more specifically age and ethnicity.
This article reviews the transformation in society and the media in the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe. Adopting a “path dependence approach,” the different countries of the region are analysed and allocated to two general categories, depending upon the nature and extent of the changes that have taken place in society and the media. The first group of countries (called here “Type A”) have advanced relatively far along the road to transformation. Examples would be Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, and Estonia. The second group (called here “Type B”) retain much more of the old order. Examples would be Russia and some of the other republics that have issued from the collapse of the old Soviet Union. A range of theories of media change are reviewed, and their prognoses for the development of the media after the fall of communism are tested against the subsequent developments. It is argued that the media in both Type A and Type B countries remain highly politicised, particularly in the case of broadcasting, and with limited independence from the political elite. Journalism, too, remains paternal and didactic, partly as a result of the historical position of intellectuals in the region. While there are important differences between Type A and Type B countries, neither represents a stable and finished model of transformation. In neither case, are the media the passive victims of social forces. On the contrary, their shortcomings help to reproduce the limits of the overall transformation process.
Political communications literature has long been concerned with the question of whether media exposure results in symptoms of “malaise”—disaffection and withdrawal from politics—or, alternatively, whether it can mobilize people for political activity. Thus far, the results of research into this question have been inconclusive and at times contradictory in nature. However, nearly all such studies have been conducted in the context of the United States or other advanced democracies, and in these countries media use competes with a variety of other—perhaps much stronger—factors influencing political engagement, such as well-developed partisanship, strong group loyalties, lifelong personal experiences with the political system, and so forth. We chose to investigate the “malaise versus mobilization” question in the context of three new democracies—the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland—where the above-mentioned factors have not yet had a chance to mature, and where media use could potentially have an especially strong impact on attitudes and behavior. The project utilizes a series of comparable questions on national random-sample surveys carried out in each country during the parliamentary election campaigns of 2005 and 2006 to map party supporters and media audiences, and assess questions about malaise versus mobilization. Our maps of party supporters and media audiences show that TV news and tabloids reach larger and more diverse audiences than broadsheets and some niche broadcasting channels. In all three countries, while there were no significant relationships between media use and trust in government, there was some evidence to support the mobilization hypothesis: the use of broadsheets and politically opinionated weekly news magazines had a strong positive relationship with political engagement that remained when controlling for political interest and a number of sociodemographic characteristics. Our research suggests that the malaise versus mobilization debate continues to be an important basis for studying these more recent democracies.
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