Venezuela protests and our daily newswork

September 2, 2016

Screening Protest is designed to incorporate demonstrations that hadn’t taken place when the project started. We’re set to study things as they happen up until the end of 2018, monitoring the news on a daily basis and coding all the headlines and the protest news items that turn up in those headlines. This routine gives us a unique opportunity to say something about the quotidian nature of protest reporting – to find out whether protest has become a fixed dimension of the global mediascape or whether media attention is fickle. This is one way our work differs from other scholarship on media and protest, which often focuses on particular protest events, detached from the daily news flow.

Our results so far show that the visibility of protest varies from mobilization to mobilization, from year to year, and from newsroom to newsroom. As expected, protest news was foregrounded more often in 2011 – the ‘Year of the Protester’ – when protest was in 14 percent of the headlines we coded, compared with 3 or 4 percent in other years. We have also found that in a ‘normal’ year, Al Jazeera English and RT have twice as many protest headlines as CNNI and BBC World – the channels people usually have in mind when they think of global news. And we have found, also as expected, that the different outlets cover the protests differently. Last evening’s coverage of the mass protest in Venezuela on September 1st is no exception.

There is no mention of the protests in the RT headlines at 7pm Stockholm time. This goes against the tendency mentioned above, but is in line with other results our coding has generated, which show that RT is more interested in protests that take place in the US, UK and Europe than elsewhere. There is no mention of the protests in the BBC World headlines an hour later, opening a newscast that is far more interested in Trump’s visit to Mexico. In the second half of the programme, however the anchor does talk to a reporter in Miami, asking why the simmering conflict in Venezuela is erupting now. CNN International has the protests in second place in the headlines (between a space rocket explosion and Trump) but the story itself comes only towards the end of the broadcast. It consists of a two-way live with a CNN reporter in New York, who opens by saying the mobilization is impressive ‘and yet quite dangerous’. The reporter says she wants to tell the anchor what protests such as this are like ‘when you’re on the street’ (pretty scary, it would seem) and expresses concern about the clashes that she predicts will take place between supporters of the government and the crowds calling for Maduro’s ouster. CNN’s coverage, in other words, fits comfortably into the ‘protest paradigm’ framework that features in much scholarship on media and protest – not least the prediction that reporters will foreground violence rather than the claims made by protesters.

Al Jazeera English is different. The protests in Caracas are the first headline and the top story in last night’s 7pm (Stockholm time) broadcast. Instead of emphasizing the violence as in CNNI, or focusing on the event in the abstract way it is presented by the BBC, AJE leads with the grievances expressed by the protesters, with the anchor telling viewers that the hundreds (not tens, as in the BBC) of thousands of anti-Maduro protesters have demanded a recall of the referendum and are concerned about continuing food shortages and unemployment. The first question posed by the anchor in a two-way live with the reporter (who is in Latin America rather than New York or Miami) was why the demonstrators are so angry. This focus on claims and attention to context is also evident on the AJE website, which directs visitors to a recent three-part documentary, exploring the question of what lies behind Venezuela’s ‘descent into chaos’ and the ideological struggle that is dividing the nation (linked here).

The differences are reminiscent of different responses – and reaction times – we have documented between these channels for the weeks in which Tunisians first took to the streets late in 2010. Will the protests in Caracas develop into a mediated Venezuelan Spring? Watch this space.

Cite This:
Screening Protest — "Venezuela protests and our daily newswork," in The Screening Protest Project, September 2, 2016