Journalism In The Age of Populism and Polarisation: Insights from the Migration Debate in Italy (June 2019)



Across the world – from the US to the UK, from Europe to South Asia and Latin America – politics and media are stuck in a spiral that incentivizes divisive rhetoric, hyper-partisanship and disinformation. The main beneficiaries of this spiral are a generation of politicians, often labeled ‘populist.’ What connects them is not their policies, but their ability to capture attention. They use intentionally inflammatory language and controversial ideas in order to focus attention on themselves and to divide electorates into crude wars of ‘us’ versus ‘them’. Sometimes they are supported by online squadrons of social media militias, as well as intensely biased publications with low editorial standards, that help push their messages. Traditional, ‘quality’ media that aspire to accuracy and balance find themselves caught in a catch-22: a failure to report on these politicians will result in accusations of censorship, but challenging them risks accusations of ‘fake news’ by the politicians themselves.