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Illiberal Turn continues during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has presented our project team with unexpected challenges, but also opportunities. In several countries of Eastern Europe – including some of the countries covered in our project – the introduction of emergency measures coincided not only with restrictions on movement and public gatherings, but also with worrying restrictions on media freedom and public debate, and other measures that are threatening to undermine the quality of democracy. Time will tell whether these measures are only temporary, or whether the pandemic will act as a more fundamental disruption with long-term consequences for democratic life. Regardless of how things evolve, the timing of our project means that our research will offer first-hand insights into the impact of a public health emergency on media ecologies and democracy in Eastern Europe.  

Thanks to the affordances of modern communication technologies, we have been able to continue with our work more or less according to schedule. That said, the need to balance remote working with home-schooling and childcare responsibilities means that our team meetings are frequently interrupted by our children!

The introduction of lockdown measures caught us half-way through our qualitative data collection; we have conducted 120 qualitative interviews with our participants in all four countries in February, and then asked our participants to keep a news diary during March. The timing of data collection means that our diary period coincide with the introduction of lock-down measures in our countries, and therefore our diary data will provide unprecedented insight into the rapid transformation of citizens’ daily lives and news habits as the pandemic evolved. Our team of qualitative researchers – Kathy Kondor, Marketa Dolezalova, Ana Stojiljkovic, and Damian Guzek, led by Professor Sabina Mihelj – is now conducting follow-up interviews, examining citizens’ experiences of media consumption during lockdown. The first results should be ready by early June, and we are looking forward to sharing our insights with our stakeholders, partners and the scholarly community.