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DFG-Projekt "Medienfunktionen in beginnenden Transformationsprozessen"

01.01.2016 — 30.09.2019
Prof. Dr. Carola Richter

DFG-Projekt "Medienfunktionen in beginnenden Transformationsprozessen - Eine Modellbildung durch einen Vergleich von Akteurskonstellationen und Strukturbedingungen in Ländern Osteuropas 1989 und Nordafrikas 2011"

Das Forschungsvorhaben nimmt den Beginn von Transformationsprozessen in Ländern Osteuropas 1988/1989 und Nordafrikas 2010/2011 in den Blick und fragt nach den spezifischen Funktionen der Medien während des Aufbrechens der autoritären Strukturen. Die theoriebasierte forschungsleitende Annahme ist, dass bei der Transformation politischer Regime von Medien ein mobilisierender Impuls ausgeht. Dieser mediale Impuls ist in seiner Ausprägung charakterisiert von spezifischen Strukturbedingungen und Akteurskonstellationen. Basierend auf Forschung zu Medien und Transformation, Theorien zu Öffentlichkeit und Gegenöffentlichkeit sowie Ansätzen aus der Forschung zu sozialen Bewegungen wird eine innovative Verbindung aus system- und akteurstheoretischen Ansätzen genutzt, um das Forschungsvorhaben theoretisch zu rahmen. Ziel ist es,

1) unter Berücksichtigung der Strukturbedingungen und Akteurskonstellationen einen theoriegeleiteten, empirischen Vergleich der Funktionen von Medien im Kontext der Formierung von Gegenöffentlichkeiten in je drei Transformationsländern Osteuropas in den Jahren 1988/1989 sowie Nordafrikas 2010/2011 vorzulegen, sowie

2) mittels der Ergebnisse induktiv ein Modell der Effekte von Medien in beginnenden politischen Transformationsprozessen erarbeitet.

Über die Abstraktion des Vergleichs der spezifischen massenmedialen Aktivitäten von beispielsweise religiösen Gruppen, Wissenschaftlern oder Umweltaktivisten in der jeweiligen Transformationssituation sollen die verallgemeinerbaren Muster sichtbar gemacht werden.Um die Ziele zu erreichen, bauen mehrere Methoden systematisch aufeinander auf: ausgehend von einer Literatur- und Dokumentenanalyse, aus denen die Strukturbedingungen abgeleitet werden, erfolgt eine Inhaltsanalyse, mit der die relevanten Akteure ermittelt und klassifiziert werden können, die dann nach ihren Orientierungshorizonten befragt werden. Die Feldforschung liefert so das Material, mit dem die verschiedenen Dimensionen des Modells empirisch unterfüttert werden können.

Eastern Europe 1988/1989


Poland can look back on a long history as an independent and powerful state until its partition in 1795. While it regained independence after World War I, it was soon thereafter occupied again by the German and later by the Soviet army. After World War II the USSR not only incorporated the country by awarding the Polish population the former German territories east of the Oder–Neisse line, but also helped a communist government to rise to power in order to keep Poland in its sphere of influence. This met armed resistance, and it is only in 1952 that the Peoples Republic of Poland was finally proclaimed and established by force. The economy had strongly suffered during World War II. The West did not extend huge credits at the beginning of the 1970s, and the standard of living of the population dropped. The political and economic stagnation led to spontaneous riots against the increase of prices of food and consumer goods, which were radically put down by the military.  

This led to the fact that the state was understood only as an organizational ‘vessel’ by the oppositional political elite in Poland, who did not strive for participation in these official structures anymore but instead directed their energy to autonomous social spaces and the self-organised independent political sphere. Manifold oppositional structures formed into a well-connected civil society overarching the intellectual elite and the workers’ movements. In 1981 the independent trade Union Solidarnosc was formed in Gdansk and gained 10 million members (from a total Polish population of about 37 million inhabitants) within a month until its prohibition in 1981. Progressive fractions within the Communist party and the Christian-Democratic Union Solidarnosc dominated the public discourse. 

With a legal Catholic Press, Poland was the only Communist country in Eastern Europa which had a press independent from the centralized command system. Generally, Polish citizens had access to a very large variety of alternative mass media, from samizdat journals over Exile press, to foreign channels which were broadcasted in Polish, such as Deutsche Welle from Germany. During the 1980s the controlled official mass media also took the chance of liberalization to report to a certain degree more freely, and opened up for public debate. Public intellectuals played an important role in this transition process. In the round table negotiations in 1989, the journalists Adam Michnik, Krzyztof Koslowski and Tadeusz Masowiecki took part as leading figures of the opposition, which helped make mass media freedom one of the core issues in the negotiation process. 

Poland was selected as country of investigation for the MFT project because of the very well developed, alternative political structures which were able to facilitate the oppositional claims of protest, leading to the round table talks among the delegates of the Polish Workers Party and the Opposition on a level playing field. Also important for the selection of Poland for the country sample is the central role of religious bodies among these organizations. Both characteristics are also present in Egypt. 


In the 19th Century Hungary developed quickly within the Habsburg Empire as a comparatively multi-ethnic state. In World War I it lost a significant share of its territory (Treaty of Trianon). Today, the collective trauma of Trianon is still present. In the remaining territory the population was strongly decimated during both Wars. At the end of World War II Hungary was occupied by the Soviet troops and incorporated with the Treaty of Jalta into the alliance set up by the Warsaw Pact.

After a Stalinist beginning, communist Hungary developed a quite liberal political system and a planned economy with market based elements, leading to comparatively high standards of living for the population for some time. The liberalization of the market was fueled by the economic crisis in the 1980s and the high foreign debts which could not be serviced despite the loans from the IMF and the World Bank. Due to this economic instability the political system opened up for reforms. Different fractions formed within the Communist party, leading to the replacement of conservative communists with reform-oriented members. In contrast to the Polish transition, main reforms were initiated by the Communist party itself. From 1987 onwards, alternative political parties also developed.  

In Kadar’s Hungary, censorship was less strictly applied to the official media as well as exile publications, and foreign media was easier to access and redistribute than in other socialist countries. An alternative press was tolerated to a certain extent, which facilitated the oppositional public discourse. 

Hungary was selected for the MFT project because of the tremendous mass-media impact on the events of the late 1980s in the Communist Eastern bloc which had its origins in Hungary. To name just one example, the news of the symbolic cutting of the iron curtain by the Foreign Ministers of Austria and Hungary on June 27, 1989 in Sopron spread across the world. Concerning the enforcement of political reforms, Hungary did not take the lead role in the wave of transition in the Warsaw Pact States but aligned with Poland and its Round table negotiations. Nevertheless, due to its less controlled public sphere, Hungary took the lead in distributing the political discourse.


Romania, as a late descendant state from the Ottoman Empire (1878), experienced a time of economic progress and comparative political stability until World War I. During the interwar period Romania first flourished after the implementation of a new constitution and agricultural reforms, but in the 1930s experienced social unrest because of unemployment and political instability. After World War II the Communist party, which was established during the Soviet Occupation, fraudulently won the election and established the People’s Republic of Romania. Romania was the economic laggard among the Warsaw Pact States, even if the communist rule had brought some evident progress in form of forced industrialization and centralization. This did not save the economy from stagnation and rising foreign debt due to loans from the Western countries as well as the international organizations such as the IMF and the World Bank. The government tried to lower external debt with harsh economic adjustment packages. In the 1980s most of the food and fuel production was exported. The standard of living dropped dramatically and the population suffered not only from a lack of durable consumer goods but also from a shortage of basic commodities. 

When Nicolae Ceausescu entered the government, he established himself as totalitarian leader and strictly followed his Stalinist program until the end of Communism in Romania. There was not much room for political opposition or a dissenting public sphere. The trade union movement, a substantial attempt of alternative groups in Romanian society to form alternative political structures, was crushed in the late 1970s by the Securitate. Due to this, the political unrest in 1989 was not channeled through existing political structures.  

The state was most hierarchically organized and accordingly, mass media was also strongly centralized and directly and strictly controlled. As a consequence, people avoided national mass media consumption. Apart from the Hungarian and Yugoslavian media, which were very popular among the ethnic minorities, foreign mass media were generally difficult to access. Among the accessible media, Radio Free Europe (RFE) can be regarded as the most central for transition in Romania.  Ceausescu followed his Neo-Stalinist program until the abrupt end, which was symbolically and drastically amplified by the broadcasted trial and subsequent execution of the totalitarian leader.

Romania was selected because of the cult of personality the General Secretary Nicolae Ceausescu introduced and fostered during his long tenure in the government. These structures will be compared to those in Qadhafi’s Libya due to Qadhafi’s comparable style of governing. 

North Africa 2010/2011


Since its independence from France in 1956 Tunisia was run by a secular political elite oriented towards modernization. The political elite invested in education, international cooperation and the consequent secularization of the public sphere. This helped develop a bourgeois urban middle class. Even under the autocratic rule and the clientelistic political and economic structures some independent actors existed. Networks like the Tunisian General Labour Union, the Tunisian Human Rights League as well as other smaller political parties would to some extent act autonomously and openly challenge the regime. Since 2000 Tunisia was pressured to follow the market liberalization policy as put forward by the economic institutions International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. In return, this intensified the oligarchic structures in Tunisia’s economic system and made it more sensitive to foreign investors. Unemployment rose, especially among the youth. On 17th of December 2010 lack of prospects and hopelessness eventually led to the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in reaction to strict bureaucratic regime, which sparked the protests. 

Under the rule of Ben Ali Tunisia, the print and audio-visual media were directly controlled by the ruling party Constitutional Democratic Rally (RCD). Private media were often loyalist in nature, as they lay in the hands of relatives and family members of Ben Ali. The liberalization took place in the entertainment sector whereas joint ventures with foreign investors were allowed. While the training and education of journalists was centralized, it rarely followed ideological guidelines, rather was oriented towards formal and professional standards. The Internet was centrally regulated by a state service provider; so many contents were censored. Despite of this a vibrant online networks and blogosphere emerged in connection with the Tunisian diaspora. The transnational TV channels were also used to transmit certain political contents into the country.

Tunisia was chosen into the country sample of the MFT research project because it witnessed the spark of the uprisings of the youth, which later triggered regional uprisings and major political shifts in the region. Apart from being the cradle of the so-called Arab Spring Tunisia’s transition is interesting as it seems the most stable path of all Arab countries who witnessed massive uprisings.


Under Mubarak, who had ruled Egypt since 1981, the country had a continued autocratic rule with strong clientelistic features. The political scene was dominated by the National Democratic Party. Although officially a multi-party system existed, the parties were organizationally and financially weak, and posed no serious challenge to Mubarak’s rule. The neo-liberal policies of the 2000s aggravated the socio-economic conditions for the majority of the Egyptians. Socio-economic and political imbalances eventually led to the 25th of January, 2011 protests that forced Mubarak to resign from power.  

Egypt has a history of a strong and rich network of civic society initiatives and oppositional movements. In the last decade of Mubarak’s rule, a broad coalition of opposition movements cooperated under Kifaya (Enough) as well as the National Assembly for Change network. The heterogeneous opposition movements contain diverse ideological and political backgrounds ranging from Islamist, social-democrat and Leftist camps. Religious and religious right-wing actors took a prominent role in shaping the political struggle under Mubarak and afterwards in the transformation phase, until it was interrupted by the military intervention in summer 2013.

The media landscape in Egypt can be divided into state-owned, party-owned and private media organizations. Increasing liberalization processes since the mid-1990s resulted in the establishment of new print media and TV channels that rivaled the state-owned media organizations which were lacking in credibility. The external pluralism and growing criticism of the regime extended the margins of freedom of expression. In addition, a vibrant blogosphere discursively shaped the public agenda by introducing new topics such as corruption, harassment, and human rights violations, among others.

As a pivotal state hosting approximately one third of the Arab population, Egypt is an important regional player that cannot be neglected when studying the transition processes in North Africa. The structural constellations lend comparability to Poland in the MFT research project sample. 


Libya’s autocratic political system was built on the monolithic rule of Muammar Qadhafi who ran the country for forty years. His power rested on the personality cult, the repressive use of the intelligence services, and the exploitation of the clan structures. The media-documented execution of Qadhafi in 2011 is rich with symbolism similar to that of the death of Nicolae Ceausescu in Romania in 1989.

In comparison to the other North African countries, Libya has abundant oil and gas reserves, yet the years of the UN embargo since the 1990s till 2003 resulted in heavy losses so Qadhafi could not successfully satisfy the public demands and expectations. Repeated changes in economic policies made both investors and citizens insecure. Power imbalances shaped the political system. Political participation was formally institutionalized through the General People’s Congress and other committees, but influential positions were held solely by Qadhafi’s family members and revolution companions. Nepotism and ideological rhetoric were tools for asserting control and repression in the political public sphere.  

The regime change was not a result of a broad civil movement or an organized opposition, but rather through violent clashes. In the post-Qadhafi phase the ethnic, social and political conflicts were not channeled through transitional negotiation processes, instead a civil war erupted between rivalling tribes and organizations. This adds political uncertainty to Libya as the events unfold.  

Under Qadhafi the Libyan media system was characterized by stagnation resulting from the forced embargo. In terms of quality, media was behind other countries in the region and served rather as a propaganda tool. In the mid-2000s, a brief phase of cautious liberalization was initiated by the ruler’s son Seif al-Islam Qadhafi by launching new print and audio-visual media. Soon the short-lived experiment ended as the media either succumbed to state control or ceased their activity altogether. In the post-Qadhafi phase the media are used as political tools by the numerous militias competing for power and resources.

While Libya’s political fate is still uncertain, its violent transition cannot be neglected. Its developments have regional implications for both its neighbours to the East and West, Egypt and Tunisia. In the same time alarming influence of the terror organization Islamic State in Syria and Iraq bears of anti-democratic radicalization processes.



Publication by Dr. Indira Dupuis 

Dr. Indira Dupuis, researcher of the MFT, recently published
"Mass media’s systemic contribution to political transformation: The coverage of the 1956 uprising in Hungarian print media (June 1988–June 1989)". Central European Journal for Communication 3 (30) Fall-2021, pp 112-126. 
DOI: 10.51480/1899–5101.14.3(30).6

Presentation at ECREA Political Section Interim Conference at Poznan


On September 12, 2019 Indira Dupuis and Carola Richter presented a paper on The Transformation of Semantic Borders of the Hegemonic Political Discourse During Political Change in Poland before 1989 and Egypt before 2011
at the interim conference of the Political Section of the European Communication Research and Education Association.

Presentation at CEECOM 2019


Dr. Indira Dupuis, principal researcher at the MFT project, presented a talk at the 12. Central and Eastern European Communication Conference  at the Sofia University “St. Kliment Ohridski”, Bulgaria, Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication in cooperation with the ECREA Central and East European Network and the CEECOM Consortium about “The controlled Hungarian mass media`s contribution to transformation by reporting on 1956 in 1989″ on June, 21, 2019.

Panel discussion about the German-Polish public sphere


Concerning German-Polish relations, the mass media often divert the attention towards emotionally laden issues, from World War II to current scandals. Generally, even if Germans and Poles share history, collective memory on historical events differs greatly in public discourses. Furthermore, the German-Polish discourse has become more confrontational in recent times. This is further reinforced by the currently weak public structures in the hybridizing media systems. How these factors affect the current political atmosphere against the background of regional integration in Europe will be discussed on the panel based on analytical observations on current developments in Polish-German public diplomacy as well as findings of the research project Media Functions in Transition and the German-Polish Barometer.

Deutsch-polnische Öffentlichkeit: Herausforderungen durch strukturelle Öffentlichkeitsdefizite und Hybridisierung des Mediensystems

29.11.2018 | 18-20 Uhr | IfPuK | Hörsaal A | Ihnenstr. 21 | 14195 Berlin

Dr. Indira Dupius researcher of the MFT  project discusses with:

MFT researchers presenting at ECREA 2018


MFT researchers will be contributing to the 7th European Communication Conference (ECC), taking place from 31st of October to the 3rd of November, in Lugano, Switzerland. This year, the conference aims to address the theme “Centres and Peripheries: Communication, Research, Translation”.

Dr Indira Dupius’s lecture “Transgressing governmental discourse hegemony: When media reporting changed established communication rules in communist Poland and Hungary” will be on the 1st of November, from 9:00-9:15 during the session “Wag the media: communication and politics in historical perspective”.

Dr Hanan Badr presents the paper of Prof. Dr. Carola Richter, Dr. Indira Dupuis and herself “How media delegitimizes regimes: Comparing the role of the media in triggering transformation processes in Poland 1989 and Egypt 2011”. The presentation takes place on the 3rd of November, from 9:45-10:00 under the session “Media and democratization”.

The full program can be viewed here.

Participation at international conference: Journalism across Borders


MFT researcher Dr. Indira Dupius attended the International Conference Journalism across Borders as the deputy spokesperson of the specialist group for International and Transcultural Communication. Hosted by the Institute of Media and Communication Science, Technische Universität Ilmenau, in collaboration with the Media School, Indiana University Bloomington, the conference took place from the 26th to the 28th of September 2018. The central theme was “The Production and “Produsage” of News in the Era of Transnationalization, Destabilization and Algorithmization”.

More information about the conference can be found here.

Contribution to the 63rd Annual Meeting of the DFGPuk


From May 9-11, 2018, Prof. Dr. Carola Richter and Dr. Hanan Badr, will attend the 63rd Annual Meeting of the DGPuK (German Communication Association) in Mannheim.
Under the theme “Self-determination in the digital world”, they contribute with their paper “Self-determination in digital times: Pushing counter-issues in authoritarian contexts – A case study on anti-torture protest in Egypt.”

For more details about the specific panel sessions click here.

Paper at a conference organized by the Communication History Division at the German Communication Association


On 18-20 January 2018 in Berlin, principal researcher in the MFT project, Dr. Indira Dupuis, will present a paper at a conference entitled “Diskurs und mediale Realitätskonstruktion in der Kommunikationsgeschichte” (Discourse and Medial Reality Construction in Communication History) organized by the Communication History Division at the German Communication Association (DGPuK). The conference seeks to analyze the role of media in discourse over the course of history, the interplay between media and other societal institutions and actors shaping public discourse, and the changing understandings of what can be communicated publicly. Dupuis’s contribution will include the results of the systematic comparison of qualitative case studies from the MFT project, with a focus on the functions of mass media in political transformation processes at the end of the 1980s in Central and Eastern Europe. She will discuss to what extent the organisational and discourse structure of mass media helped convey the central concerns of the unoficial opposition in the countries.

You may access the full description of the conference as well as the call for papers by following this link.

Invited presentation at the ECREA Political Communication Interim Conference 2017


Dr. Indira Dupuis, principal researcher at the MFT project, will present a talk at the 2017 ECREA Political Communication Section Interim Conference on ‘Political Communication in Times of Crisis: New Challenges, Trends & Possibilities’. Taking place on November 22-23 in Zurich, the conference will bring together scholars in the field of political communication who study new shifts and patterns transforming media and society. With a particular emphasis on conceptual considerations, Dupuis will contribute to the conference as part of the session on comparative and international perspectives with a presentation entitled “Researching the Hungarian Journalism’s Contribution to the Polarization of the Public Discourse.” Using the case study of Hungarian journalism, her talk will elaborate how different institutional- and actor-level interests from within and outside the editorial offices contribute to the polarization of the public sphere.

The conference program with an overview of the panelists and presenters can be accessed via the organizers’ website.

New book: Comparing terrorism discourse in Egyptian and German media


New book: Comparing terrorism discourse in Egyptian and German media

MFT researcher Dr. Hanan Badr has recently published a book as part of the series Studies in International, Transnational and Global Communications entitled “Framing von Terrorismus im Nahostkonflikt. Eine Analyse deutscher und ägyptischer Printmedien” (2017, Springer VS). In an extensive examination of the framing of terrorism in the Middle East conflict, Badr employs a comparative perspective and offers a comprehensive framing analysis of German and Egyptian print media. Relying on a multitude of theories from communication and political studies, as well as a large sample of newspaper articles on concrete instances of terrorism in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the author elucidates the markedly different media framing of terrorism in the two countries.

The publisher’s website with further information can be accessed here.

A review that appears in the November 2017 issue of the peer-reviewed journal Publizistik (Volume 62, Issue 4, pp 483–485) can be accessed by following this link.

Tunisia’s bumpy road to democracy


Last month, the peer-reviewed communication studies journal Publizistik published Prof. Dr. Carola Richter’s assessment of post-revolutionary Tunisia’s media transition(s) entitled “Media policy in times of transition:Tunisia’s bumpy road to transition” (August 2017, Volume 62, Issue 3, pp. 325–337).

Her analysis pays special attention to the conditions in Tunisia before 2011, which served as a point of departure for subsequent institutional developments and media policy-making. While many challenges, such as restructuring overwhelming state ownership in the media sector, the murkiness of the judicial stance toward media freedom — to name just a couple — remain, Richter sees an overall positive trend in the democratization of Tunisian media since 2011. Echoing the goals of the MFT project, Richter concludes: “the Tunisian case might be exceptional to the rest of the Arab world, but its current challenges can also be embedded in a broader discussion of media development in post-transition countries such as Eastern Europe or Southeast Asia. This also means that solutions to problems such as crony capitalism in the media should be explored through comparative perspectives.”

The complete article may be accessed here.

The role of media in the Arab uprisings, new contribution by MFT member


The role of media in the Arab uprisings, new contribution by MFT member

Prof. Dr. Carola Richter, associate professor for International Communication at the Freie Universität Berlin and a researcher in the MFT project, recently contributed the article “The revolution still needs to be televised. Erklärungsansätze zur Rolle der Medien in den Arabellionen” to a volume on social and political transformation processes in the Arab world since 2011. The volume entitled “Arabellion: Vom Aufbruch zum Zerfall einer Region?” [The ‘Arabellion’: from the Awakening to the Collapse of a Region?] and edited by Thomas Demmelhuber, Axel T. Paul and Maurus Reinkowski explores the reasons for the current political configurations in the Arab region using interdisciplinary, comparative and historical approaches. Prof. Dr. Richter’s analysis of the role of media in the 2011 uprisings contributes to a well-rounded overview of the region’s social and political transitions.

A link to the publisher’s website as well as the table of contents can be found here.

New edited volume – Diversity in Transcultural and International Communication


New edited volume – Diversity in Transcultural and International Communication

Carola Richter and Indira Dupuis together with Stefanie Averbeck-Lietz have just published a new edited volume entitled “Diversity in Transcultural and International Communication.” This volume contributes to diversity research within communication studies by taking into consideration the representation and implementation of social and cultural diversity in the public sphere, particularly in the mass media. In the first part, concepts of diversity are outlined with respect to a normative claim. In the second part, the focus lies on particular political decision-making and implementation of diversity measures in media regulation, public diplomacy and science. The last part presents several analyses regarding the construction of diversity in internationally traded TV programs. The book is available at the LIT publishing house (LIT Verlag).

Contribution to a new volume on journalistic methods


Contribution to a new volume on journalistic methods

Der Deutsche Fachjournalisten-Verband (German Professional Association of Specialized Journalists ) has published a new volume entitled “Journalistische Genres” that explores 40 different types of alternative journalism. The anthology seeks to illuminate how the different conceptual and methodological approaches could be combined, adapted, transformed and used as inspiration for innovation and for journalism befitting our times.

Our MFT project researcher Dr. Indira Dupuis has contributed to this extensive volume, which can be previewed here.

Participation in the 9th CEECOM conference in Tartu


Participation in the 9th CEECOM conference in Tartu

On June 15-17, 2016, the researchers of the MFT project attended the 9th CEECOM conference in Tartu, Estonia, with a focus on “Media and Communication studies: bridging disciplines, bridging countries.” You may find out more about the conference and the specific panel sessions here.

The new issue of the Orient Institut Studies on media, public sphere and transition in Egypt is out


The new issue of the Orient Institut Studies is out: “Media Culture Transformation: Political communication, Social Networking and Transition in Egypt”. Edited by Hanan Badr, the research project scrutinizes how social movements used social media to justify their claims and arguments in the Egyptian constitutional debates  of 2011-2013, thereby shaping the public sphere in a turbulent Arab context. The publication is open-access in the online series Orient-Institut Studies; please click here to access it.