“A CONSTANT FIGHT WITH OUR MORALS:” EXAMINING UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS’ NORMATIVE DEMOCRATIC BELIEFS AMID PLURALISM, PROPAGANDA, AND WAR
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This work addresses a central problem in contemporary democratic theory. John Rawls, the American political philosopher, defined the potential problem of division in plural, liberal democracy: “How is it possible that there may exist over time a stable and just society of free and equal citizens profoundly divided by reasonable though incompatible religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines?” In considering the question of social division, this dissertation asked whether journalists in Ukraine – a country dealing with propaganda, fake news, war, and a difficult transition to liberal democracy – believe they should play a role amid such tension. Qualitative in-depth, semi-structured interviews of 31 Ukrainian reporters probed their normative beliefs for a journalistic pragmatism that represents the full spectrum of beliefs and positions in their society. This research also contrasts and compares the broader normative beliefs of post-Soviet Ukrainian journalists with Western normative journalism theory by analyzing interviews conducted with 41 American journalists. This dissertation used the theoretical work of pragmatist philosopher Richard Rorty, who argued that journalists could ease tension in plural society by fulfilling normative journalism theory’s charge for reporters to be a voice for the voiceless. It was hypothesized that journalists in Ukraine would deprioritize journalistic pragmatism, while prioritizing war-time reporting that polarizes society, primarily because of three factors: the business needs of the press, war in Ukraine, and the legacy of Soviet culture on journalistic norms. The findings defied expectations to a degree by showing that journalists believe the press should represent the full spectrum of positions and beliefs in Ukraine and they should uphold established western norms. Journalists said oligarchic ownership of media and a legacy of control over the press by people in power limit their independence. The findings show division on objectivity: roughly half believe reporters must remain neutral amid pro-Russian propaganda and fake news, while the second half said objectivity leads to false equivalency. Journalists said on-the-ground, factual reporting can fight propaganda and fake news. Analysis of the U.S. interviews showed more convergence of concerns between Ukrainian and American reporters than was expected, suggesting that journalistic norms can transcend country contexts to an unexpected degree.