The Media & Parties in a Struggle over Election Themes

or the first time, researchers are examining who it is that sets the election themes in Austria - political parties or the media. This new research project, which is supported by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, will analyse all the general elections held in Austria over the past 40 years - including the current campaign. The results will show whether election campaign communication in Austria is undergoing a process of "Americanisation". Information on the project will also be provided during the AM PULS Nr. 8 event, which is to be held on 10 September at the Haus der Forschung, Vienna.

Who decides the headlines in election campaigns – the media, or politicians? An analysis of past and present election campaigns in Austria is trying to answer this question © Use of this photo for editorial purposes is free of charge, subject to attribution: Gabriele Melischek

Parties involved in an election campaign don't just fight bitterly amongst themselves, they also take on the media. The duel between parties and the media hinges on the question of who controls the election themes. Although political parties have held the upper hand in the past, today the media is playing an increasingly important role in political elections, while the influence of parties is in decline.

As part of the project, Dr. Gabriele Melischek, Senior Researcher at the Austrian Academy of Sciences and the Commission for Comparative Media and Communication Studies, is investigating for the first time whether this process of Americanisation, or modernisation, can be discerned in Austria and, if so, how far it has progressed. The project will involve the analysis of all Austrian election campaign communication since 1966 and aims to identify changes - and continuity - in the Austrian party and media systems. This approach should reveal how the influence of these systems has changed over time.

It Takes Two to Tango
Dr. Melischek explains the importance of the relationship between the media and political parties for influencing election campaign communications: "Journalism and politics are drawn together like two dancing partners: while journalism needs access to news sources, political parties need to be able to communicate their news to voters quickly and efficiently. Although you need two to tango, only one can lead, or in this case, win the fight to set the agenda for the election campaign. We are hoping to find out through this project which of the two is leading at present."

It was in the U.S. that researchers first noted that the media could influence election themes just as much as political parties, thus proving itself to be much more than simply a channel of communication. It is for that reason that this trend is described as "Americanisation". Dr. Melischek describes the indicators for this development: "The process whereby issues melt into the background and politicians move to the fore is indicative of Americanisation in election campaign communications. However, increasingly negative reporting about individuals or party promises and declarations as to who has good or poor prospects in the campaign also point to such a move." These trends impact on the quality of election campaign communications and in particular lead to a decline in public political debate.

Austria = America?
Looking at Austria, it is clear that political parties have become increasingly aggressive in their election campaigning since 1966 and are continuously trying to find new channels of communication. Indeed, this year - which also represents the start of the project - marked the end of a series of grand coalitions. From a journalism perspective, the dominance of Austria's national TV broadcaster ORF has limited the potential of TV - usually a major driving force in the Americanisation process - as a key forum for campaigning. However, the strong position of daily newspapers has counteracted this, thereby helping to boost the influence of the media during election campaigns.

Based on these criteria, the FWF project will investigate whether politics or the media are in control of election themes in Austria. Further details will be presented and debated during the AM PULS Nr. 8 event on 10 September at Haus der Forschung.

Information on AM PULS(pdf, 1.8MB)

Scientific contact
Dr. Gabriele Melischek, M.A.
Commission for Comparative
Media and Communication Studies
Postgasse 7
1010 Vienna
Austria
T +43 / 1 / 51581 -3514
gabriele.melischek(at)oeaw.ac.at

Austrian Science Fund (FWF)
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt

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