Entangled Evolutions: Media and Democratization in Eastern Europe

Article excerpt

Entangled Evolutions: Media and Democratization in Eastern Europe. Peter Gross. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Press, 2002. xii, 226 pp. $49.95 hbk. $24.95 pbk.

When 1989 revolutions freed Eastern Europe from Communist rule, many observers predicted that the newly liberated, post-Communist media would shed Communist-era ideological control, recreate themselves as a liberal democratic media system with strong professional standards, and become a driving force in establishing open societies in Eastern Europe. However, in Entangled Evolutions, author Peter Gross, professor of journalism at California State University-Chico, points out that such "utopian" predictions have not, and may never, come true.

After all, he argues, although Eastern European journalists are no longer forced to toe the Communist Party line, their new employers, representing a wide variety of political views, frequently expect them to push media outlet partisan agendas. And strong political pressure, combined with desperate economic conditions, a lack of professional journalistic traditions, etc., often result in extremely partisan and/or sensational Eastern European coverage based more on opinions, inaccurate information, and half truths than on well-documented, credible facts. Finally, how can societies facing their own democratic transformation difficulties be expected to create a democratic media system that can aid them in the process?

Entangled Evolutions details numerous post-1989 Eastern European journalistic shortcomings. However, Gross argues that it is unfair to judge this coverage based on unrealistic expectations and predictions made during the euphoric fall of communism. In other words, some scholars have focused so intently on the negative aspects of the media's post-1989 development, they have overlooked the media's significant democratic successes. Gross, who says he himself has been guilty of such oversights in previous research projects, arrived at more positive conclusions about post-1989 Eastern European journalism while conducting extensive research for this text.

For example, in Entangled Evolutions, which expertly analyzes the complicated interactions of civil society, political culture, and Eastern Europe's post-Communist media (from 1989 to 2000), Gross argues that the post-1989 media have "indirectly and unwittingly" helped set some groundwork for a possible future democratic press system. For instance, when Eastern European journalists promote their media outlets' political views, which are often quite diverse, they collectively present a marketplace of ideas to their audiences. In addition, when media groups openly compete for political, economic, and cultural clout, they demonstrate to their Eastern European audiences (and help build) the type of public climate necessary for a liberal democratic press system to take root. …

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