“I know which devil I write for”: Two types of autonomy among Czech journalists remaining in and leaving the Prime Minister’s newspapers



Rok publikování 2022
Druh Další prezentace na konferencích
Popis This paper examines two different understandings of professional autonomy among journalists currently and formerly working at Mafra, a Czech media house acquired in 2013 by Andrej Babiš, who in 2017 became the Czech Prime Minister. We build on existing research of local trends in media ownership and journalistic autonomy to ask the following questions: What differentiated the experience of journalists who exited the organization after the ownership change from that of those who stayed put? How did the two groups understand professional journalistic autonomy? Based on the thematic analysis of 20 semi-structured interviews with 10 journalists who stayed in the media house after Babiš’s acquisition and 10 journalists who left, we argue that leaving and staying were two different reactions to the trends in CEE of (1) increasing concentration of media ownership (2) in the hands of local media tycoons with other business and political interests, (3) resulting in a lack of media market plurality. We also argue that these two types of reactions reflect two different notions of autonomy: autonomy-as-a-practice and autonomy-as-a-value. The remainers stressed individual, practically construed autonomy-as-a-practice and were ready to stand up for it. The leavers, in contrast, valued a more general and abstract notion of autonomy as a principle – autonomy-as-a-value – that distinguishes ‘good’ journalism from ‘bad’ journalism and their walkouts were gestures of protecting it. While for the leavers autonomy either existed or not (and they could enjoy it or not), the remainers were ready to actively construct spaces for autonomous tactics even in a milieu where organizational autonomy was unthinkable. Our findings therefore support Sjovaag’s notion of autonomy as context-dependent, situational, moving, continuously adjusted, and, above all, performed. While adding to the scarce empirical research on journalists’ lived experiences of the region’s mediascape marked by growing comingling and concentration of political, economic and media power, we also suggest that the autonomy-as-a-practice and journalists’ agency should be further studied as a possible way how to perform and promote journalistic autonomy even in illiberalizing contexts – in Central and Eastern Europe and beyond.

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