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New series: Anti-Austerity and Media Activism

Today we launch a new series, the latest collaboration between Goldsmiths and openDemocracyUK, exploring the role of media in both supporting austerity and empowering its opponents.

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Eight years after the emergence of a renewed global crisis of capitalism, there is no evidence of a wholehearted return to economic growth. The economic stagnation has been such that the IMF has had to consistently revise downwards its predictions of growth. The policies attributed to a politics of austerity have been presented as virtually the only solution out of this crisis.

Austerity refers to the specific sets of policies designed ostensibly to reduce public debt through a decrease in government expenditure on public services and welfare systems. Austerity programmes have, however, been heavily criticized for facilitating the growth of corporate welfare at the expense of a safety net for the poorest, for bringing about the systematic entrenchment of a market logic into as many areas of public life as possible, and for being precisely the wrong approach to stimulate economic growth. Many leading economists around the globe now believe that austerity is not a programme of recovery while increasing numbers of activists agree with former Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis that "austerity is being used as a narrative to conduct class war".

The media are implicated in creating and circulating this narrative about the current crisis in many ways. All over the world publicly funded media are facing increasing deregulation and privatisation as well as growing political interference, declining budgets and even outright closure as in the case of the Greek broadcaster ERT.

News media have also been some of the most vociferous cheerleaders for austerity. A recent study conducted at University College Dublin, Ireland, shows that out of a total of 347 editorials and opinion articles published in four leading British newspapers since 2010, only 21% were opposed to austerity (46% explicitly supported it while 33% were neutral).

There has also been a growth in populist television programmes that have been criticised for attacking the principle of welfare and demonising the poor. Alongside the popular presentation of austerity as making good economic sense despite arguments to the contrary, there has been a surge in anti-austerity protests from those groups who bear the brunt of austerity policies and want to resist a future of cuts, privatization and commercialization. Frequently such groups have turned to social media as a means both of mobilisation of protest but also of information sharing regarding alternative economic discourses – ways of re-thinking the common-sense assumptions of our times and breaking free from the vicious cycle of debt-austerity-privatisation.

This project, between Goldsmiths and openDemocracyUK, seeks to further explore and highlight the connections between austerity and the media and, in particular, to highlight the role of communications in fostering anti-austerity movements. We are publishing articles that explore how:

  • - media outlets have helped to construct contemporary narratives of austerity
  • - the media frame popular understanding of economics
  • - austerity has shaped contemporary cultural experiences
  • - non-mainstream media have attempted to counter austerity narratives
  • - activists and campaigners have sought to mobilise against both media and political elites in order to press for media reform, to secure democratic gains and to protect public spaces.

Austerity has provided the defining economic backdrop to recent times and shows no signs of disappearing. We would welcome your thoughts, analyses, experiences and suggestions both about how it has been mediated and how we might challenge it through all the communicative means we have at our disposal.


Interested contributors should email Alejandro Abraham-Hamanoiel (

See the rest of the series here.

About the authors

Alejandro Abraham-Hamanoiel is a media reform activist and doctorate student at Goldsmiths, University of London.

Natalie Fenton is a Professor in Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is Co-Director of the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre and Co-Director of Goldsmiths Centre for the Study of Global Media and Democracy. Her most recent book is Digital, Political, Radical (2016). She is on the Board of Directors of the campaign group Hacked Off and a founding member of the Media Reform Coalition.

Des Freedman (@lazebnicis Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of ‘The Contradictions of Media Power’ (2014) and co-author (with James Curran and Natalie Fenton) of ‘Misunderstanding the Internet’ (2nd edition, 2016).

Gholam Khiabany is an editor of the Middle East Journal of Culture and Communication, and is a member of council of management of the Institute of Race Relations. He edits the liberalism, gender and race strand of the Liberalism in Neoliberal Times series on openDemocracy.

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