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Getting ‘right’ into the news: grassroots far-right mobilization and media coverage in Italy and France

Abstract

How do non-established far-right actors reach visibility in the media? While much research focuses on media visibility of progressive movements and established parties, little is known about the coverage of grassroots far-right mobilization. Inspired by insights from media studies, social movement literature, and scholarship on the far right, the paper suggests that media coverage is a function of the protest strategies of non-established far-right actors. To this end, We use a new dataset measuring political claims made on the websites of CasaPound Italia (CPI) and the Bloc Identitaire (BI), and from newspaper reports in France and Italy. We use logistic regressions to quantify increasing media coverage based on specific characteristics of mobilization (issue ownership, dramatization, confrontation and counter-mobilization). Focusing on two countries with comparable political contexts but major differences in other factors relevant to far-right mobilization (number of migrants, asylum seekers, perceived most important problem, and proximity to elections), we illustrate that news coverage is more likely when CPI and BI mobilize on immigration, engage in street protest, and create public controversy. While broader comparative evidence is needed, the paper offers a novel meso-level perspective on the interplay between far-right mobilization and media attention, and it sets out an innovative method to combine online and offline data for the study of protest in far-right politics.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The article refers to ‘far right’ as an umbrella concept including extreme and radical organizations located at the right end of the ideological spectrum. The radical right is hostile to liberal democratic principles, but it subscribes to the rules of parliamentary democracy. Conversely, extreme right groups (such as the two organizations considered in this study) oppose democratic principles and ultimately aim at subverting the democratic order (see, e.g. Mudde 2007).

  2. 2.

    Starting from July 2016, the Bloc Identitaire changed its name in The Identitarians (Les Identitaires).

  3. 3.

    We will not focus here on two alternative mechanisms that can explain this process: personalization and simplification. In our understanding, personalization is both a cause and a consequence of media exposure and is therefore complex to include in our model. Moreover, previous research already focused extensively on the effect of personalized news coverage on far-right politics (Bos et al 2010; Sheets et al 2015). We do not address simplification in far-right claims-making, because this would require a comparison between the oversimplified claims of the far right and complex claims by other actors (e.g. experts, mainstream parties, etc.).

  4. 4.

    Even though, as mentioned earlier, journalists’ professional practices play a crucial role in determining media coverage, a study focusing on these routines would demand a completely different research design (see, for example, Reese 2001), which is beyond the scope of a paper that explicitly focuses on the agency (or internal supply side) of far-right actors. We thus account for these only in terms of how they are anticipated in the media strategies of the two actors (Kriesi et al. 2009).

  5. 5.

    While the two newspapers have slightly different political leanings, our study focuses on the visibility of far-right actors in the mass media, rather than on the tone of coverage. In this respect, extant scholarship confirms that while the tone and the logics of information production may change according to the political orientation of a newspaper, there is no significant difference in the likelihood that left-wing or right-wing newspapers cover far right politics (see Koopmans 2004).

  6. 6.

    Counter-mobilizations are all interventions that were provoked by the action initiated by the far right, such as demonstrations by anti-fascist and anti-racist organizations, public statements by politicians and local authorities, petitions to ban far-right gatherings, etc. (Caiani et al. 2012; Tarrow 1998).

  7. 7.

    This procedure produces three distinct sets of observations: press releases that do not receive media coverage; press releases that receive media coverage; and media coverage without previous input from press releases. Since our focus is on media-related internal supply-side factors, we focus here on the first two types of data only. This does not imply that the coverage of those actions that are not promoted by the far right, or from which it takes explicit distance, is of no importance. Yet, the empirical material currently available did not allow accounting for media preferences per se, but only in terms of previous far-right input.

  8. 8.

    We considered the share of votes obtained by the main far-right party in each of the two countries, in the most recent national elections (presidential elections in France) and European Parliament elections.

  9. 9.

    This is coded 1 if an action takes place during the 6 months preceding a national election, and 0 otherwise.

  10. 10.

    Measured as the total annual inflow of foreign population in France and Italy, in hundreds of thousands of individuals. Source: OECD Statistics: https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=MIG (accessed on 10/05/2016).

  11. 11.

    Measured as the total annual inflow of asylum seekers in France and Italy, in hundreds of thousands of individuals. Source: OECD Statistics: https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=MIG (accessed on 10/05/2016).

  12. 12.

    Measured as the share of public opinion considering immigration one of the two most important problems in the country. Source: Eurobarometer 2003–2015.

  13. 13.

    The intensity of the mobilization of the far right over the month when the media stories take place is measured as the number of actions promoted in the press releases in the 30 days preceding the event.

  14. 14.

    This is also confirmed if we differentiate among, on the one hand, ‘demonstrative’ actions and, on the other ‘confrontational’ and ‘violent’ ones. While both actors promote the former much more frequently, the media tend to over-report on the latter.

  15. 15.

    We also tested for an interaction between the two items measuring the issue topic of press releases, but we found that there is no significant effect there either (not reported in table).

  16. 16.

    The effect is positive and significant in both Italy and France (not reported in table).

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank Swen Hutter and Jan Rovny for their insightful comments on an earlier version of this paper. We are grateful to friends and former colleagues at the Center for Social Movement Studies, Scuola Normale Superiore, and the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, for stimulating discussions and feedback on our ideas.

Funding

The research was part-funded by VOX-Pol. The VOX-Pol Network of Excellence is funded by the European Union under the 7th Framework Programme for research, technological development and demonstration under Grant Agreememnt No. 312827.

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Correspondence to Pietro Castelli Gattinara.

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Castelli Gattinara, P., Froio, C. Getting ‘right’ into the news: grassroots far-right mobilization and media coverage in Italy and France. Comp Eur Polit 17, 738–758 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1057/s41295-018-0123-4

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Keywords

  • Far right
  • Mass media
  • Issue ownership
  • Press releases
  • Italy
  • France