Symposium: Journalism, Media and the Normalization of (Right-Wing) Populism and Nativist Authoritarianism

Table of contents:

Journalism, Media and the Normalization of (Right-Wing) Populism and Nativist Authoritarianism: Analysis of Practices and Counteracting Strategies before and during the COVID-19.

International Symposium, 4-5 February 2021 (online, via Zoom)


Professor Michał Krzyżanowski, Department of Informatics and Media, Uppsala University, Sweden.

Professor Mats Ekström, Department of Journalism, Media and Communication (JMG), Gothenburg University, Sweden.

About the Symposium

This International Symposium is co-organised by the Department of Informatics and Media, Media and Communication Studies at Uppsala University, Sweden, and Department of Journalism and Communication (JMG), Gothenburg University, Sweden.

The Symposium brings together a group of leading international scholars currently working on the intersections of journalism, media and authoritarian/nativist populism in the wider context of transformations of media, politics and democracy. It bridges several key projects covering these topics and funded by the Swedish Research Council i.e. “Immigration and the Normalization of Racism: Discursive Shifts in Swedish Media and Politics” (led by Michał Krzyżanowski, Uppsala University, 2020-23) and “Right-wing populism in the news media: A cross-cultural study of journalist practices and news discourse” (led by Mats Ekström, Gothenburg University, 2018-20). 

The general aim for the Symposium is to discuss to what extent authoritarian and nativist populism posed very significant challenges to contemporary media and journalism. We see two overall trends as crucial. First, populist politicians have seriously and repeatedly challenged the established status of professional journalism in rhetorical attacks, disruptions of news reporting routines, and in specific policies aimed at restricting the freedom of speech and journalism or controlling media organisations. Secondly, the success of the many right-wing populist parties’ media strategies and the related circulation of political views and language have effectively sparked critical discussions about the norms and practices of journalism and the role of the media in often effectively normalizing the nationalist and nativist discourse openly undermining values and norms of liberal democracy.

We argue that the exchange on those topics is not only continuously necessary given the sustained electoral success of authoritarian, right-wing populism or its wider and indeed persistent, global presence, but also in view of several new trajectories ignited by the COVID-19 crisis.

On the one hand, namely, the COVID 19 situation has to some extent challenged and weakened the ideological positioning of far-right and right-wing populism with media and journalists ‘calling the bluff’ of populist and authoritarian politicians unable to cope with the pandemic as a ‘real’ and indeed global – rather than just ‘imagined’ or local – crisis.

Moreover, as often exposed by journalists and the media, many aspects of distinctive populist rhetoric (scapegoating, appeals to crisis, questioning of expertise, etc.) seem to have lost potency in the COVID context. However, while the above logics have indeed weakened the populist dynamics, COVID-19 has at the same time also initiated several reverse tendencies. The closure of physical borders and limits on cross-national mobility, namely, often reignited the strongly reinvigorated nationalistic rhetoric in many countries. They often re-enabled and normalized the strongly nativist thinking – in everyday and public/media discourse – which not only pertained to the pandemic-related emergency response issues/actions but also to more profound thinking about society, community and trans/national responsibility. 

Given the above and indeed very complex as well as still rapidly evolving context, the ambition of our Symposium is to consolidate the scholarship on the above topics and to propose strategies for future research with regard to analysing/deconstructing media/journalism and right-wing populism/authoritarianism connection especially under the newly created and unprecedented dynamics of the COVID-19. However, we also aim to discuss how our research can foster strategies of counteracting authoritarian populism and nationalism, and how it can inform ongoing and sustainable actions aimed to reverse the ongoing normalization processes, especially in a cross-national dimension, and as they accelerate during the COVID-19 crisis.

Invited Speakers and Main Topics

Our symposium gathers a group of globally leading expert academics working on the topics/issues above from a variety of disciplinary and cross-disciplinary backgrounds as well as in and across different contexts.

Confirmed invited speakers include:

  • Bart Cammaerts, London School of Economics and Political Science, UK
  • Harry Dugmore, University of Sunshine Coast, Australia
  • Mats Ekström, University of Gothenburg, Sweden
  • Johan Farkas, Malmö University, Sweden
  • Tine Ustad Figenschou, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
  • Lena Frischlich, University of Münster / LMU Munich, Germany
  • Philip Graham, University of Sunshine Coast, Australia
  • Juha Herkman, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • Michael Higgins, University of Strathclyde, UK
  • Karoline Andrea Ihlbæk, Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway
  • Léonie de Jonge, University of Groningen, The Netherlands
  • Michał Krzyżanowski, Uppsala University, Sweden
  • Gina Masullo, University of Texas at Austin, USA
  • Benjamin Moffitt, Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia
  • Aurelien Mondon, University of Bath, UK
  • Marianna Patrona, Hellenic Military Academy, Athens, Greece
  • Sean Phelan, Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand and University of Antwerp, Belgium
  • Thorsten Quandt, University of Münster, Germany
  • Jason Roberts, Cardiff University, UK
  • Dominik Stecuła, Colorado State University, USA
  • Joanna Thornborrow, Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest, France
  • Cristian Vaccari, Loughborough University, UK
  • Karin Wahl-Jorgensen, Cardiff University, UK
  • Silvio Waisbord, George Washington University, USA
  • Ruth Wodak, Lancaster University, UK and University of Vienna, Austria
  • Scott Wright, Monash University, Australia

Topics to be discussed at the symposium – from either nationally-specific or cross-national perspective – include:

  • the wider and more specific relationships between journalism and right-wing populism in various contexts, especially before and/or during/after the COVID-19 crisis
  • journalistic norms and news values and how these apply to and evolve in the reporting on right-wing populism and nativist authoritarianism before and during/after the recent global pandemic
  • mediation of misinformation and ‘fake news’ as the underlying factor in normalization and solidification of far-right populist ideologies and politics
  • populist attacks on professional journalism and how these evolve across various contexts and are articulated and/or counteracted in the context/framing of ‘crisis’
  • recontextualisation of political strategies of normalizing authoritarianism, extreme nationalism and nativist and xenophobic discourses in /via media and journalistic practice
  • discourses of counteracting and resisting normalization of right-wing populism and authoritarianism at the intersection of social media and mainstream news media reporting
  • meta-discourse on journalism and political populism in society before and during/after COVID-19


The Symposium will be held online on 4-5 February 2020. The final version of the Symposium Programme is available below.

Day I, Thursday 4 February 2021

Time: 13:00-18:30 CET / 12:00-17:30 GMT

Theme: Journalism, Right-Wing Populism and the Pandemic: Interactions between Mainstream and Alternative Sites of Mediation

Chair: Michał Krzyżanowski – Uppsala University, Sweden

13:00-13:15 CET / 12:00-12:15 GMT: Welcome, Opening & Info by the Organizers

13:15-14:00 CET / 12:15-13:00 GMT: Opening Presentation

  • The failure of magic realism: Right-wing populism, the pandemic, and the collapse of the communicative commons – (Presenter: Silvio Waisbord - George Washington University, Washington DC, USA; Comment/Open Questions: Mats Ekström – Gothenburg University, Sweden)

14:15-16:15 CET / 13:15-1515 GMT: Session I

  • The limits of critical news journalism and the normalization of a ‘politics of fear’ (Mats Ekström - Gothenburg University, Sweden; Marianna Patrona - Hellenic Military Academy, Athens, Greece & Joanna Thornborrow – Université de Bretagne Occidentale, Brest, France)
  • Morality, the political and contemporary media cultures (Sean Phelan – Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand & University of Antwerp, Belgium)
  • The Populist Radical Right & The Media – Friend or Foe? (Léonie de Jonge – University of Groningen, The Netherlands)
  • “Join Me on Parler!”: Populist discourses around the conservative exodus from Facebook and Twitter in the United States (Gina Masullo – University of Texas at Austin, USA)

16:30-18:30 CET / 15:30-17:30 GMT: Session II

  • Alternative and mainstream news media during the Coronavirus crisis: Insights from a largescale computational content analysis (Thorsten Quandt & Svenja Boberg, University of Münster, Germany)
  • Gender, Expertise and Gender in Times of Populism: A study of government communications of COVID in Scotland and England (Michael Higgins – University of Strathclyde, UK)
  • How populism and conservative media fuel conspiracy beliefs about COVID-19 and what it means for COVID-19 behaviors? (Dominik Stecuła – Colorado State University, USA)
  • Alternative realities? Alternative news, populist sentiments, and disinformation during the COVID-19 crisis (Lena Frischlich – University of Münster & Ludwig Maximillians University, Munich, Germany)

DAY II: Friday 5 February 2021

Time: 08:00-14:45 CET / 07:00-13:45 GMT

Theme: (Re-)Defining Normalization and Mainstreaming in Media, Journalism and Political Communication

Chair: Mats Ekström – Gothenburg University, Sweden

08:00-08:45 CET / 07:00-07:45 GMT – Input Presentation

  • Normalization, Mainstreaming, and Crisis: Discursive Strategies in Politics, Media and Journalism (Presenter: Michał Krzyżanowski - Uppsala University, Sweden; Comment/Open Questions: Aurelien Mondon - University of Bath, UK)

09:00-11:00 CET / 08:00-10:00 GMT: Session III

  • Normalising extremist pedagogies in post-literate cultures (Philip Graham & Harry Dugmore – University of Sunshine Coast, Australia)
  • How Do Mainstream Parties ‘Become’ Mainstream, and Pariah Parties ‘Become’ Pariahs? Conceptualising the Processes of Mainstreaming and Pariahing in the Labelling of Political Parties (Benjamin Moffitt – Australian Catholic University, Melbourne, Australia)
  • ‘We Try to Avoid Fake News’: Examining Journalistic Reflections on Fake News (Johan Farkas – Malmö University, Sweden)
  • Attack the (Watch) Dog: A longitudinal analysis of how Australian politicians attack journalists on Twitter (Scott Wright – Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

11:30-13:30 CET / 10:30-12:30 GMT: Session IV

  • Is ignoring the neo-fascist politics of provocation the way forward? (Bart Cammaerts – London School of Economics & Political Science, UK)
  • Building authority and legitimacy for alt-right media: The discursive strategies of Breitbart and the attack on the establishment (Karin Wahl-Jorgensen & Jason Roberts – Cardiff University, UK)
  • Far-right alternative media, mainstreaming processes and institutional boundary struggles (Tine Ustad Figenschou & Karoline Andrea Ihlbæk – Oslo Metropolitan University, Norway)
  • Framings of populism in media: comparison in time and between six countries (Juha Herkman – University of Helsinki, Finland)

13:45-14:45 CET / 12:45-13:45 GMT: Final Session 

  • “Big lies” and “Ministries of Truth”: the shameless normalisation of "message control", “fake news” and “alternative facts” (Presenter: Ruth Wodak - Lancaster University, UK & University of Vienna, Austria; Comments/Open Questions: Cristian Vaccari – Loughborough University, UK)

Closing remarks by the organizers (Mats Ekström – Gothenburg University, Sweden & Michał Krzyżanowski - Uppsala University, Sweden)

External Participants and Registration

External participants (other than invited speakers/presenters) will be able to take part in the Symposium online, via the Zoom Webinar format. Registration for all external participants is obligatory. Deadline for registration is 1 February 2021.

Register for the International Symposium Journalism, Media and the Normalization of (Right-Wing) Populism and Nativist Authoritarianism: Analysis of Practices and Counteracting Strategies before and during the COVID-19

Contact and Further Information

Please direct any questions concerning the Symposium to Professor Michał Krzyżanowski, Uppsala University, and Professor Mats Ekström, Gothenburg University,

Last modified: 2022-08-12