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Gendered Coverage and Allegations of Nepotism in European Elections. On the Verbal and Visual Framing of Elena Basescu

Viorela Dan
Freie Universität Berlin
Viorela Dan
Freie Universität Berlin
Aurora Iorgoveanu
Open Panel

Abstract

A vast body of research suggests that the media coverage of women candidates in electoral races differs from the coverage of their male counterparts with regard to the issues treated, the visibility of the candidates, and the news frames (Kahn & Goldenberg, 1991). Thus, women appear more often than their male opponents in the context of ‘soft’ issues, like welfare. Moreover, they are less visible in campaign news and more often framed in terms of horse race, while their chances in the electoral battle are presented fairly pessimistically. Through the use of frames, journalists define problems, make causal interpretations, moral evaluations and/or treatment recommendations (Entman, 1993). The central idea of framing refers to the activities of the mass media in selecting, emphasizing, and presenting just some of the available information to the audience. Since the voting behavior of both laymen and pundits can be affected by election news coverage (Bartels, 1993), knowledge about the potential biases in this media coverage is crucial. Thus, the research question we want to pursue is: How did the Romanian media frame Elena Basescu in the pre-electoral phase? While the literature on European politics in general and European elections in particular has grown tremendously over the last decade, the issue of inequality in coverage in new member countries remains rather unexplored. This study aims to contribute to filling that gap by presenting the (dis)advantages of the most prominent Romanian female EP-candidate in electoral news. In June 2009, Elena Basescu has been elected as a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) as one of the 33 politicians representing Romanian interests in Brussels. Her candidature was striking in the sense that she is the President’s daughter, only 28 years old and previously known as a model “more interested in parties than party politics” (Lungescu, 2009). Thus, ever since she entered the political arena, allegations of nepotism, lack of experience and appropriate qualifications have accompanied her. In order to discuss these allegations, we employ a verbal and visual framing analysis of her media coverage in the four weeks leading up to Election Day (08.05.-07.06.2009). Our sample encompasses roughly 200 illustrated news stories coming from the websites of the most influential broadsheets and tabloids in Romania. // Bibliography: Bartels, L. M. (1993). Messages Received: The Political Impact of Media Exposure. American Political Science Review, 87, 267-285. // Kahn, K. F., & Goldenberg, E. N. (1991). Women Candidates in the News: An Examination of Gender Differences in U.S. Senate Campaign Coverage. Public Opinion Quarterly, 55(2), 180-199. // Lungescu, O. (2009, 03.06.2009). Euro election gets celebrity veneer, BBC. Retrieved from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/8080481.stm