National media coverage of the European Parliament election of 2019 in Portugal: does Europe matter?

Miss Sofia Serra-Silva
Mrs. Susana Rogeiro Nina

Agenda setting theory has been shown the media affect public opinion, through selecting certain issues and covering them more prominently. Since most of the citizens lack a direct experience in European matters, national media are important agents in establishing connections with its citizens. Especially, national media have an important role addressing the EU democratic and communication deficit, which only can be overcome if European topics became visible and discussed in national media, shaping citizens’ opinions and promoting their engagement with the EU policies and actors. However, literature has reported that the EU and the European Parliament, specifically, are oftentimes confronted with media outlets that are either skeptical or uninterested. Indeed, even in electoral campaigns to the EP, European issues are often neglected and ruled by national topics.

The electoral campaign to 2019 EP elections is a unique laboratory to comprehend the visibility of EU topics since the Europeanisation process is heightened in a context of conflict and polarization. EP elections as second-order national elections are usually characterized by low campaign intensity and domestic focus, not European, issues on the agenda. Therefore, the content analysis of the news coverage allows us to assess the extent to which coverage of the campaign focuses on EU-level versus national-level actors. Moreover, Portugal is an interesting case given the outbreak of the crisis has hastened the salience of EU topics on national media in bailout countries,

Thus, this paper assesses to what extent the Portuguese newspapers, as agenda-setters, frame European issues during the election campaign to the EP in 2019 and whether the 2019 European election was a hot topic during the campaign, or once again it was replaced by national issues. Therefore, we analyze the online edition of eight Portuguese newspapers: daily and weekly, mainstream and sensationalist, left-wing and right-wing during the electoral campaign period of the EP elections. This paper contributes to the debate on the democratic and communication deficit and the polarization of European issues in national media by providing a systematic analysis of media content across eight newspapers in Portugal during the 2019 EP election.