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New Schuler Forum for Democracy to be Established in the Trinity Long Room Hub

23 April 2021 - A new initiative by the Trinity Long Room Hub will explore the diverse connections between the media and our democratic systems. This three-year programme will embed an Arts and Humanities approach to the crisis of democracy at its core.

Funded by Dr Beate Schuler, scientist and education philanthropist, the Schuler Forum for Democracy will be an innovative centre for knowledge exchange, bridging the divides between academia, government, civic society and the media, in order to to translate Arts and Humanities research into real-world practice and activity. It will also establish a new Media Fellow in Residence scheme.

The initiative will have a strong public outreach component, with the aim of engaging various different audiences and exploring new participatory networks and outlets.

To mark the announcement of the Schuler Forum, a special event on the 27th April will convene a panel of journalists and academics to consider the present function of the ‘fourth estate’ and to ask how the media can effectively support democracy.

With the rise in polarisation, conspiracy theories, censorship, and fake news, the media has been  recognised as a factor in accelerating democratic decline over the past two decades.

A free, pluralistic and independent media is essential to a healthy democracy and can determine whether citizens are empowered to engage fully in civic life and hold leaders accountable for their actions.

The press has been cast as the ‘fourth estate’, or the watchdog of society, since the nineteenth century. Wielding indirect power and influence, this has never been without controversy or criticism.

This panel discussion featuring journalists Karlin Lillington (Irish Times), Razan Ibraheem (formerly of Storyful), Bruce Shapiro (Columbia University) and Elspeth Payne (TCD) will explore whether, in a changed media landscape and deepening global democratic recession, the ideal of the fourth estate is still desirable and attainable. With the advent of new technologies, platforms and finance streams which open up alternative avenues for participation, this event will also explore how media might also be a vital source of democratic renewal.

The Schuler Forum has been funded from July 2021 to July 2024, during which time research and engagement activities will address the theme of the media and democracy. Dr Elspeth Payne, the Academic Coordinator of the Schuler Forum for Democracy, will work on this new programme with Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub.

Commenting on the announcement of the Schuler Democracy Forum, Dr Beate Schuler expressed her commitment to this area of focus:

“In 2021, with the global decline in democracy, it is essential that we have independent, diverse and trustworthy media systems with responsible media practitioners. We need to build cultures of open discussion and tolerance which allow people to disagree in a civil manner. We need publics equipped with the tools to identify fake or manipulative news and prepared to stand up against it.

I do not think we can do this without engaging the unique skills and perspectives of the Arts and Humanities. The Schuler Forum for Democracy is a pioneering undertaking combining research with cross-sector collaboration and meaningful public engagement. Above all, I am delighted to support this initiative because of its commitment to the advancement of practical solutions. I look forward to seeing what it will achieve over the next three years.”

Professor Eve Patten, Director of the Trinity Long Room Hub, also added:

“We are thrilled to embark on this new collaborative incentive,  which will further our understanding of the challenges facing democratic systems and cultures today by drawing on the deep research insights of the Arts and Humanities. We are immensely grateful to Dr Beate Schuler for recognising the urgency and potential of this initiative, and giving us her support.”

'Revisiting the Fourth Estate: Does the Media Still Serve Democracy?' was also broadcast on Near FM in an edited version. To listen to this broadcast, please click here.

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