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Are media good for democracy?

Venue: Birkbeck 30 Russell Square

Recent political turmoil has arguably been good for the news industry: Paid subscriptions at the New York Times, for example, surged after Donald Trump was – to the shock of many – elected President of the United States. The Brexit referendum massively boosted newspaper sales in the UK, while a record number of viewers and listeners tuned into political programmes on the BBC. During the Covid-19 pandemic, audiences appeared to show renewed trust in legacy media brands as sources of reliable information (Nielsen et al., 2020). And the horrific Russian invasion in Ukraine glued people all over the world to their screens, with viewer figures for mainstream TV channels such as BBC News or Sky News multiplying. 

And yet, if these events seem to have encouraged audiences to (re)turn to traditional news media, how should we understand the falling back on such media in light of an information landscape many still consider to be wrought with mis- and dis-information, antagonistic exchanges, and overpowered by platform companies? Or in an era where democracies seem to be undermined by populism, authoritarian tendencies, political polarisation, and now war?

The symposium aims to explore these questions. The title is meant as provocation: are media good for democracies – as scholars, journalists, and politicians generally assume? If so, just what forms of democracy might media support? Why are mainstream, legacy, traditional, or establishment media so often seen as especially suited to supporting such democracies? What are the democratic responsibilities of platform companies, or for that matter alternative media?

We will discuss new perspectives and approaches to these questions. The symposium will be opened by a keynote speech from Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, followed by two thematic panel discussions.


30 Russel Square, Room 101, London WC1B 5DT. 


  • 11:30am – 1pm keynote by Karin Wahl-Jorgensen
  • 1pm – 1:45pm lunch break
  • 1:45 – 3:20pm 1st panel
  • 20 min coffee/comfort break
  • 3:40- 5:00pm 2nd panel

Full programme:


Professor Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Cardiff University

“Emerging media ecologies, democracy and emotion"

This talk begins from the premise that media are essential institutions in a democratic society. At the same time, contemporary media ecologies are dynamic and subject to constant change, shaped by complex interactions between legacy media and newer entrants, including social media and digital outlets. Drawing on examples from recent events, ranging from the coronavirus pandemic to the war in Ukraine, the talk suggests that we can no longer assume that media actors and platforms are benign in their normative underpinnings and practices. Instead, they are shaped by an increasingly polarised political context, characterised by the growing prominence of emotional discourse – for better and for worse.

Panel speakers:

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