An international complement of scholars and practitioners discuss the relationship between democracy and media at a conference at the School of Global and International Studies February 15 from 2 to 5:30 pm.
“Speaking Truth to Power: Media Capture, Disinformation and Democracy,” the conference marks the Bloomington launch of the partnership between SGIS and the National Endowment for Democracy, and in particular the endowment’s Center for International Media Assistance. The symposium will draw attention to the intersecting challenges confronting media systems and democracy, featuring two panels of researchers, policy experts, and leaders of the front-line efforts to safeguard reliable information and democratic debate around the world.
An independent news media system is widely considered the cornerstone of a thriving democracy. In recent years, one of the first signs of political turmoil in countries around the world has been the emergence of obstacles to reporting or accessing the news – and, often, the development of unconventional news outlets.
“From Turkey to Hungary to Venezuela and Ecuador, leaders have consolidated their power,” notes Elizabeth Stein, the inaugural Mark Helmke Postdoctoral Scholar on Global Media, Development and Democracy at SGIS. “In each case, one of the first pillars of democracy they attack is the independent news media, taking measures to limit freedom of the press.”
The relationship between NED and SGIS was inaugurated in December 2016 with a conference at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center in Washington, D.C. The partnership established the Helmke Postdoctoral Scholarship Stein holds, and created internship opportunities for SGIS students both at NED’s Washington offices and overseas, in the countries where NED/CIMA is involved.
Stein, whose research focuses on Brazil, will be speaking on the conference’s first panel, “Captured Media, Captured Democracies.” The media are said to be “captured” when media owners collude with or are commandeered by those in power – whether state or corporate interests — who often disable the capacity for media regulation. “The major sources of information for the citizens of [many] states in Brazil are controlled by the very politicians who should be subject to media scrutiny,” Stein explains. A captured media system is not only a gauge of a state in crisis, but a contributor to one. “The ability of a journalist to hold the Governor accountable,” Stein notes, “when the Governor also is the journalist’s employer is rather limited.”
Joining Stein on the first panel are scholars and practitioners who have illuminated the role media plays in liberal democracies and non-democratic regimes around the world. Along with Stein, speakers include Natalia Arno, President, Free Russia Foundation; Shanthi Kalathil, Director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the N.E.D.; Gabor Scheiring, Research Associate, University of Cambridge, Chair, Progressive Hungary Campaign. The panel’s moderator is Paul Helmke, Professor of Practice at the IU School of Public & Environmental Affairs, and brother of the postdoctoral position’s namesake. Longtime press secretary to Senator Richard Lugar, Mark Helmke was also a journalist known for his work in democracy projects in Latin American and post-Soviet Ukraine, as well as in dismantling apartheid in South Africa.
The second panel will feature speakers who are leading the efforts to combat media capture and disinformation around the world. Participants include Aleksander Dardeli, Executive Vice President for Strategy and Development, IREX; Maxine Tanya Hamada, Corporate Secretary, Institute for Leadership, Empowerment & Democracy, and Member, Steering Committee of the World Movement for Democracy; Miriam Lanskoy, Senior Director for Russia and Eurasia, National Endowment for Democracy; and Marco Larizza, Senior Public Sector Specialist, Governance Global Practice, World Bank. CIMA Senior Director Mark Nelson will moderate the panel.
The conference will conclude with a conversation between SGIS Dean Lee Feinstein and NED President Carl Gershman.
“Many political scientists focus predominantly on the existence of competitive elections to classify whether countries are or are not democracies,” Helmke Scholar Stein has commented. “But how long can a country sustain a democracy without free and independent media?”