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‘Transforming Europe: Media Discourses and Public Perceptions of Europeanisation’

On June 23, MEDIATIZED EU held an online round table with the aim of contributing to a deeper understanding of how engaged citizens and informed policymaking can propel the European project towards a more inclusive, progressive and informed future. Under the title ‘Transforming Europe: Media Discourses and Public Perceptions of Europeanization’, the event was the beginning of our debate with stakeholders, and had over thirty participants. The recording is available below.

The programme was opened by Mr. Samuel Doveri Vesterbye, Managing Director at the European Neighbourhood Council (ENC) who spoke about the future of Europe and the importance of the topic. Dr. Tanya Lokot, Associate Professor in Digital Media & Society at the School of Communications, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, Dublin City University (Project Coordinator) introduced the MEDIATIZED EU Horizon 2020 project. Dr. Lia Tsuladze, Executive Director at the Centre for Social Studies (CSS) and Associate Professor of Sociology at Tbilisi State University, spoke about the project’s methodology, presenting results of previous similar research on the case of Georgia. Stephen O’Shea, Deputy CEO, and Ciarán O’ Driscoll, Policy and Research Officer at European Movement Ireland, spoke about the civil society perspective on related media debates and public discourse. The event was moderated by Jack Parrock, TV and radio correspondent for Euronews, with time for questions and comments.

In his opening remarks, Mr. Vesterbye said that the project is looking at how Europeanization, or the so-called European idea and integration project, has transformed and continues to transform through changing media narratives and discourses, and what has been impacting this transformation.

Mr. Vesterbye explained that MEDIATIZED EU is primarily research-oriented, but also engages with policy makers at the EU and national level, offering recommendations based on an analysis of the media environment and its impact on society. Media is going through a rapid transformation because of multiple factors, he said, such as social media, fake news, digitalization and other elements, and the project examines how that influences citizens’ opinions.

In her introduction of MEDIATIZED EU, Dr. Lokot provided an overview of the project’s main aim, its big questions, objectives and its expected outcomes and impacts. She explained that the research teams are interdisciplinary, with sociologists, lawyers, political and social scientists, and communication scholars. Working together, they will identify what the discourses are, what shapes them, and how they are received.

The project comes at a crucial time, Dr. Lokot stressed, as the EU is trying to reshape its future. The history of Europe is cyclical, and proponents of the EU have to contend with various crises and a rise in Euroscepticism, but there are also some positive developments as evident from recent opinion polls. The project will assist the Commission and other EU institutions in understanding the forces that they have to contend with and that are shaping people’s perception of what Europe is and what it should be.

Dr. Lokot also explained that MEDIATIZED EU adopts a comprehensive and mixed methods approach, since a more impactful research is one that engages multiple stakeholders. The future of Europe is heavily mediatized, she said, noting that the Conference on the Future of Europe   this year will be an opportunity to tackle those issues and to bring forward debates on media and their ability to shape the future of the EU.

Next, Dr. Tsuladze explained the project’s methodology and presented results of previous research done on Georgia as a case study. She overviewed the project’s schedule, noting that teams are currently working on desk research, reviewing existing studies on the topic, and will soon move on to analyze primary sources from several media, traditional and new, with a focus on content through qualitative, quantitative and discourse analysis, within the Foucauldian framework.

After that, the research teams will analyze the political and media elites, i.e., opinion makers that shape the opinion of the population, using new and innovative methodology. At the final stage of the empirical research, a nation-wide representative survey will be conducted in each consortium country. The results will then be socialized in discussions with policy makers and deliberative civic forums. These methods allow for triangulation and for a clearer perspective of the elites-media-population dynamics.

As for the Georgian case, Dr. Tsuladze explained that pragmatic and identity factors related to Europeanization invoke ambivalent discourses. Pragmatic factors include for example positive impact on human rights, on national economy, and on national security, while identity factors include perceptions that Europeanization threatens Georgia traditions, in fear of European liberal values. According to her, these discursive performances become more prominent in the discussion of the Europeanization strategy as conditionality (reward/punishment system used by the EU to promote reforms in third countries) and socialization (the country’s own will to follow European norms because it is beneficial for their local realities). In Georgia, research found that there is ‘enforced socialization’ and the project will seek to understand whether similar dynamics are present in the other countries.

Turning to Ireland, Policy and Research Officer and Deputy CEO of European Movement Ireland (EMI), O’ Driscoll and O’Shea told participants and the audience how EMI works to develop and deepen the connections between the Irish society and Europe, contributing to a greater public understanding and engagement with the EU by producing objective information and stimulating debates,  engaging with a wide range of audiences, including government officials and policymakers.

O’ Driscoll presented results of opinion polls done in Ireland on topical issues such as support for Ireland’s  membership of the EU, with 84% of respondents supporting it. He also noted that EMI addresses new challenges to face together, such as a fairer EU, a stronger economy, a society that empowers and protects, secure energy and climate future, fundamental freedoms, effective joint actions in the world, and strives to make the population more informed and engaged in the discussion.

O’Shea discussed which resources are invested in Irish media coverage of the EU, noting that general coverage tends to focus on EU issues that are important at the national level. He also argued that the EU is particularly vulnerable to disinformation because of its distance, both conceptually and physically, from its citizens, and that disinformation, as a two-way relationship between senders and receivers, reflects the health of the ecosystem in which the media operates. This makes partnership between media and civil society an important factor to ensure the ecosystem’s health.

Questions and answers resulted in a lively debate among speakers and participants on the project’s goals, on conceptual and methodological challenges in the face of a fast-changing political and media environment, and on the industry’s positive and negative trends. As the speakers noted, MEDIATIZED EU will release various outputs throughout the project’s lifetime, engaging in and contributing with a platform for these debates through its website, its social media, newsletters, videos and podcasts that will reflect on research results as the project develops.