The relationship between protesters and the media was in focus when Turkish activist and writer Gürkan Ozturan shared his experience of the 2013 Gezi Park occupation at the Screening Protest Seminar on October 23rd. His presentation, replete with rich imagery, emphasized that the occupation was a celebration of diversity, both in terms of the variety of groups from different parts of Turkish society that participated in the protests, and in terms of the outpouring of creativity involved in defying a massive police presence. This cultural creativity was evident in the many forms of expression and interpretations of events that circulated among protesters and members of the wider public. There was also a lively discussion about the few “iconic” images that dominated media coverage of Gezi Park worldwide, such as the ‘woman in the red dress’. Ceyda Sungur was caught on screen being sprayed with tear gas by riot police. The moment was interpreted and reproduced in numerous ways in mainstream and social media and in the cultural expressions coming out of Turkey. It was a reminder of the power of images, and their potential to lay bare the space and issues that fail to translate in the frames and routine practices employed to represent protest in news. As researchers we are thus inclined to remain sensitive to when such images penetrate the news feed. How can we recognise them, and how do they change news narratives?
London protests for and against the Chinese government in connection with Xi Jinping’s official visit to the UK highlight several issues in focus in the project. What happens when the objects of a protest mobilize one of their own? How is a distinction to be made between political dissent and propaganda when protest is used not just as part of the repertoire of contentious politics, but also as an instrument of the power elite? While difficult to answer on the level of denotative content, such questions are pertinent to the work of the project when actors, frames and narratives are analysed at the level of connotation.
One of the methodological challenges we face on the project is when to code a given incident as involving protest. The mental image of people gathered in a public place chanting slogans and holding placards usually comes to mind when protest is mentioned. But our empirical material is rife with examples that encourage us to think differently about the concept. One is the news of 15 October 2015 that artists critique perceived stereotypes in the Homeland television series by writing ‘Homeland is racist’ in the Arabic graffiti they had been hired to paint to make scenes of a Syrian refugee camp look more realistic. One issue on the agenda at this week’s coders meeting will be to agree on whether this news belongs in the sample of news stories analysed in Study 1, which concerns mediated representations in global television news. It is a reminder of why we need both Study 1 and Study 3, about protest and popular culture.
One thing we code for when analysing representations of protest is whether violence is involved, and on whose part. Sadly, recent events in Gaza have served as a reminder of the utility of this coding category, with more Palestinians killed and injured in protests on the Gaza Strip. The fact that the media are a key dimension of the conflict was inadvertently highlighted when a Palestinian man disguised himself as a journalist, with the word ‘Press’ emblazoned on his T-shirt, was shot dead after police say he stabbed a soldier.
With at least 97 killed and hundreds injured after twin bombs struck a peaceful demonstration in Ankara on October 10th, Turkish activism and the role played by the media in framing debates is once again in focus. These and other issues will be discussed when the Turkish scholar and activist Gürkan Ozturan gives a talk at the Screening Protest Seminar. ‘Aesthetics of Propaganda: uses of media for popular protests’ takes the Gezi Park protests as its point of departure, and explores the change of discourse since the occupy movement in opposition politics. Ozturan will also give a brief analysis of media pluralism and media freedom in Turkey. Read more here. Welcome!
September has seen both violent and peaceful political protests unfolding across the globe. Nepalese have protested, both before and after their county’s parliament overwhelmingly voted to adopt a new constitution. In Europe, Moldovans continued largely peaceful protests that began earlier this year and demanded that members of their government step down. In Africa, Burkinabé poured into the streets of Ouagadoudu to protest a coup attempt which occurred almost exactly a year after protests brought about the end of President Blaise Compaoré’s 27 years in office. While the protests in Ouagadougu and Nepal turned violent, recent protests in the relatively wealthy countries of Europe have remained largely peaceful as tens of thousands demonstrated in support of or opposition to permitting politically un-represented refugees from seeking asylum within the borders of the European Union. Although most of these protests remain unresolved, their geographical and cultural diversity provide researchers with opportunities as they seek to understand how different media networks report on contemporary protests.
Four years ago Syrians took to the streets to protest against the authoritarian rule of their country. People across Europe and beyond followed the events through large and small screens, applauded, and confirmed their right to freedom. Today Syrians are among the refugees protesting for freedom outside the Budapest train station, and instead of applauding, European governments are quickly erecting fences and walls to keep them out, responding in many cases to domestic political opinion. Why were the protests so differently received then and now? Can an answer be found by looking at how television journalists have framed their plight over the years? Making sense of such evolutions, and differences in time and space, is one of the challenges the project addresses.
In the last days of 2014, Moscow was once again the scene of protests. Fifteen years have now passed since Vladimir Putin came to power in Russia. Recent years have seen striking examples of efforts to control the narrative – not least in the Ukraine – and have brought the role played by the global broadcaster RT to international attention.
The year began with protests in Bahrain, with demonstrators demanding the release of the country’s main Shia opposition leader. It can be instructive to compare the unfolding news with reports filed over 3 years ago.