The third speaker in this ECREA 2016 session is Jakob Macek, who turns out focus to the apparently increasing polarisation of political discourses in many developed nations – he cites Brexit, the U.S. elections, elections in Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and other countries as examples. This generates huge challenges for the social sciences: for opinion polling, most obviously, as well as for other forms of studying public debate and public opinions.
Such phenomena may also be linked to changing attitudes towards the news media, changing news consumption processes, the rise of a more diverse range of digital and online news and communication platforms, the emergence of echo chambers and filter bubbles, and other dynamics. This may generate increasing polarisation (perceiving opponents as inherently illegitimate and unacceptable) and radicalisation.
Possible explanations for these developments include growing economic insecurity and/or a backlash against modern, post-materialistic culture; the present project suggests a more general explanation by offering an ontological insecurity thesis: part of the population experiences its lifeworld as unstable, unpredictable, beyond its control, and even as threatening its culture, values, identity, and lifestyle as well as its biographic trajectories. They seek to make their world ontologically secure again.
Media play a crucial role in this. Media are amongst the main sources of shared social knowledge, and deliver reservoirs of narrations about the world; but ontologically insecure audiences' trust in mainstream and alternative news and information sources has declined markedly.
The present project therefore conducted some 34 interviews with respondents in small villages and large cities in the Czech Republic, as well as with students at Masaryk University in order to examine their attitudes towards the media. Issues surfaced through this process include concerns about media ownership, perceived professional standards, and the geographic proximity of media outlets; notably, by contrast, such concerns were not related to specific media forms or channels.
The main distinction to be operationalised in further questioning is therefore the distinction between professional and alternative media, rather than between print, TV, online, and other channels. There will be further interviews and surveys that will generate more diachronic perspectives on these attitudes as well.