Emerging Scholar's Corner

Klára Smejkal

Klára Smejkal is a junior researcher and a PhD candidate at the Department of Media Studies and Journalism, Masaryk University, Czech Republic. In her doctoral research, she focuses on Public Service Media and their audiences, on trust in media, and the link between Public Service Media use, populist attitudes, and political polarization.

Can you tell us about your PhD project?

My research project is focused on the public’s perspective on public service media within the context of the growing influence of authoritarian populism. In my dissertation I primarily seek to investigate how audiences perceive the role of public service media, identify the factors that foster trust or distrust in them, and understand the expectations they have of public service media. Concurrently, I acknowledge that these perceptions may be influenced by institutional and social structures. Specifically, I aim to consider the impact of regulatory frameworks on public service media, delineating how their boundaries are defined in policy documents. Additionally, I recognize that members of public service media audiences possess diverse socio-demographic characteristics and political attitudes that can shape their perspectives on public service media.

What motivated your research?

My research was motivated by two things. First, it was the results of an analysis I did for my master’s thesis, which looked at how trust in the media relates to conservative attitudes. I found that people who trust Czech public service media are significantly more liberal than people who trust commercial or alternative media. This motivated me to take a closer look at this situation and try to understand this behavior. At the same time, populist politicians regularly attacked the public service media and the public regularly took to the streets to stand up for them. So I saw this as a timely topic that could help us reflect on the situation and possibly actively contribute to making the public service media more concerned about their audience and also help them understand the value they bring to society.

How can your research contribute to the study of Public Service Media?

Public service media research has a long tradition and is indeed extensive. However, as we increasingly look at journalism as a discursively constructed institution in which audiences can speak as one of the important stakeholders, I see it as important to address their perspectives in the case of public service media as well. This is partly because these media have the public in their very name. However, the great tradition of a paternalistic view of audiences may have contributed to the fact that their perspective has not been perceived as important, so research on their perspective is still not as widespread, although I see that this topic is gradually gaining attention in other European countries. In fact, if we want to understand why audiences are moving away from PSM and instead turning their attention to other sources of information, we need to understand how they view the PSM and its role and compare how this meets the normative demands placed on PSM.

What are the main challenges you are facing in your research? Is any of them related to being a young scholar?

Currently, I feel very privileged that my Ph.D. project is directly related to a three-year research project in our department. Thus, my PhD is also my job, which I do not consider to be a common phenomenon. However, as my PhD is slowly coming to an end, I am increasingly struggling in my head with the fact that I don’t know what will happen to me. After all, it all depends on whether a position becomes available in my department or whether I will have to look for an academic home elsewhere because without a PhD scholarship and with a small research load, I would lose a substantial part of my financial means to live.

Is there any (emerging or senior) scholar that has particularly impacted your work in any way? Who and why?

In formulating my research objectives, I took a lot of inspiration from the studies of Prof. Nayla Fawzi, who published in recent years a lot of studies on the relationship between populist ideology and the media. Similarly, I was influenced by the studies of Dr. Anne Schulz. I cannot also fail to mention my great supervisor Jakub Macek, with whom I spent many hours brainstorming over my research project and without whom I would probably never have gone to PhD school. In the second half of my PhD studies, I had (and still have) a very enriching contact with researchers from the Department of Media Studies in Groningen, the Netherlands. Namely, the brilliant Scott Eldridge, Sandra Banjac, and Joëlle Swart, who have inspired me in many ways to look sensitively yet systematically at the interdependence between journalists and their audiences.