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Democracy under Threat?

Is democracy really under more threat now than ever before, or has democracy always been flawed? Is it possible to create principles of tolerance and a civic society at a time of mass inequality?

As we approach the first anniversary of the murder of MP Jo Cox, we consider whether democracy itself is under threat. Global inequality, an electorate seemingly disillusioned with mainstream politics, the rise of extremist political parties, the power of social media and the phenomenon of ‘fake news’ – the so-called weaponisation of information - have combined to bring about some of the most unexpected political results in recent times. How will Brexit, a Trump Presidency, a resurgent Russia, nuclear threats from North Korea and Chinese foreign policy impact on the pursuit of democracy in Europe and around the world? 

Saturday 10 June

11.30am - 1.00pm

The Threat to Democracy

Our Focus Day begins with a keynote speech by Mark Laity, Chief Strategic Communications (StratCom)for Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE), before our expert panel considers the threats to democracy. The session is chaired by Matt Matravers, Director of the Morrell Centre for Toleration, University of York.


  • Paul Cartledge, University of Cambridge
  • Mark Laity, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE)
  • Nesrine Malik, writer and commentator 
  • Haras Rafiq, Quilliam
  • Matt Matravers, The Morrell Centre for Toleration (Chair)

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4.00pm - 5.30pm

Democracy and Europe

With impending French and German elections and the increasing influence and success of European extremist political parties, a range of speakers will reflect on the future of democracy in Europe in the wake of Brexit. Ambassador Karl-Erik Norrman, Founder and Secretary General of the European Culture Parliament, opens the discussions with a keynote address on the role of culture in the pursuit of democracy. 


  • Helen Boaden, former Controller of BBC Radio 4
  • David Ermes, Christian Democratic Party (CDU), Germany
  • Aurelien Mondon, University of Bath
  • Karl-Erik Norrman, European Culture Parliament
  • Agnès Poirier, Political commentator and journalist
  • Sofia Vasilopoulou, University of York

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2.00pm - 3.30pm

Democracy, News and Social Media

David Patrikarakos, Poynter Fellow at Yale University, Contributing Editor to The Daily Beast and Politico and author of the forthcoming book War in 140 Characters: How Social Media Is Reshaping Conflict in the Twenty-First Century, delivers the keynote speech. Afterwards, members of our panel, including Daniel Pearl, Channel 4’s Deputy Head of News and Current Affairs, explore the effects of social media and fake news on democracy. 


  • Mark Laity, Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (Chair)
  • Rachael Maskell, MP York Central (May 2015 to May 2017)
  • David Patrikarakos, The Daily Beast and Politico  
  • Daniel Pearl, Channel 4
  • Adam Thomas, European Journalism Centre

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6.00pm - 7.30pm

Where Next for Democracy?

We explore the challenges for diplomacy and the rule of law in the years ahead. Among the speakers is Ögmundur Jónasson, Honorary Associate of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and former member of the Icelandic Parliament.


  • Julius Horvath, Central European University (CEU)
  • Ögmundur Jónasson, Honorary Associate, Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe
  • Sue Mendus, University of York (Chair)
  • The Rt Hon Baroness Prashar
  • Stein Ringen, Emeritus Professor, University of Oxford
  • Angelia Wilson, University of Manchester

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Fake or fact – can you tell the difference?

A survey commissioned by Channel 4 earlier this year revealed that just four per cent of those surveyed could distinguish between fake and genuine news stories.

But how would you do? Are you able to recognise whether a news story is genuine - or is disinformation purporting to be fact? Take part in our version of the Channel 4 survey and find out. We’ll reveal the results at the Democracy under Threat? Focus Day and online on Saturday 10 June.