Major Research Essay: Media Coverage on Arab Spring Revolution
The 2011 Arab spring galvanized the attention of international media on political mayhem in Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Iraq, and Bahrain. Observers across the globe felt the importance of the event not just for the Middle East region, but also on a bigger geopolitical scale. Time magazine populously declared the Egypt event as “facebook revolution” since young people in Egyptian mobilized each other on Twitter and Facebook, which virally resulted to the events on the 24th January in Tahrir Square. Similar events a month earlier in Tunisia resulted to the President Zine Abidine Ben regime downfall. The same was also observed in Iran in 2009 where twitter was used as the main tool to enhance revolution (Bashri, Netzley, & Greiner, 2012, p. 20). A prominent Arab Spring feature has been the significance attributed by the media in inspiring, sustaining, and reporting different Arab uprisings. International and regional news media from an early point were intensely reporting from the protest, developing global attention to wars and inspiring individuals in neighbouring nations. Thus, Arab Spring looks like other recent mediatized revolutions that include the Lebanon Cedar Revolution in 2005, the Ukraine 2004 Orange Revolution, and the 2003 Georgia Rose Revolution. Media in the Arab Spring took on further importance as it not only changed the news media presence, but also, it created the likelihood of using social media in public mobilization, protests organization, as well as bypassing official information channels (Eskjaer, 2012, p.2). This paper evaluated the media coverage of the Arab Spring revolution, and uses the analysis result to create conclusions regarding the production culture, readership and economic, technology and political constraints experienced when operating on the media.
Media Coverage in Arab Spring Revolution
Arab Spring revolution attracted lot media coverage both from the region and internationally. Among the international media that was highly involved in the Arab spring broadcasting included the Al-Jazeera which is an international Arabic news channel, CNN and BBC among others. Al-Jazeera, unlike other two, reported news in both Arabic and English language. Among the three major involved media, Al-Jazeera seems to have been more involved in the collection and integration of news from all sources that include eye witnesses in the scene, reports from activists, video footage from protestors, information posted in the social media, phone interviews from the activists on the ground, and journalist collections. BBC and CNN mostly relied on Al-Jazeera to develop their news content. According to Mensah (2015, p. 91), CNN and BBC were more concerned on gathering views from prominent international leaders regarding the happenings or unfolding events in various countries in Arab region. The two media would find key words to quote following prominent international leaders comments regarding the unfolding and analyse the statement to let the world know what exactly the leader intended to say with his or her statements. Al-Jazeera on the other hand, focused more on protesters reaction regarding certain unfolding. Although Al-Jazeera paid attention to the international leaders’ commentary, they were more concerned on the local opposition leaders’ reaction after a major event in the revolutionary movement. These events included the Tunisia government overthrow, capturing and killing of Libyan president, and toppling of the Egyptian government. Al-Jazeera was highly viewed as voice to the voiceless, particularly due to the fact that it considered collecting protesters views on the ground and broadcasting these views. It also tried to cover as much as possible, even in the regions where its coverage was prohibited (Mensah, 2015, p. 91).
Arab uprising revolution was extensively covered by use of the social media. According to Chung and Cho (2013, p.2), Facebook was used to schedule the demonstrations, twitter was used to coordinate these demonstrations, while YouTube was used to inform the world of the progress and the incidences that took place. The novel technology that includes the satellite television, cell phones, and the internet played a major role in the protest diffusion and organization. Individuals interested in democracy employed these technologies to develop wide networks, to arrange for political action nationally and locally, to develop social capital, and to enhance transnational connects. Before the establishment of the internet and other modern communication technology, the world would miss important news or films, especially where the traditional media coverage such as radios, newspaper, and television reporters are not available. However, with the new technology, every single event taking place in the society can easily grow viral in social media, making it a global affair. This is what exactly happened during the Arab Spring Revolution (Tudoroiu, 2014, p.351). Extensive use of internet technology in Arabic countries played a great role in enhancing the Arab uprising. By the time Mohammed Bouazizi from Tunisia burnt himself, there were about two million Facebook users in the country. His images were posted on Facebook, an aspect that created a great difference compared to the incident of another man who had set himself on fire in Monastir and went unnoticed, since no one bothered to air this. Bouazizi self-immolation news was transmitted through the new media and initiated the mass demonstrations which yielded to the fall of the government (Collins & Sari, 2016, p.3).
Pan-Arab satellite TV channels also influenced the Arab spring events visibly. Although their role was negligible compared to mobile phones and internet, with regard to tactical coordination and communication, they considerably contributed to large-scale, anti-regime mobilization. Basically, local television channels were fully controlled by the authoritarian regimes, thus, people took refuge to the international channels and specialized channels run by political oppositions living in exile. However, Al-Jazeera managed to remain at the centre with regard to Arab political reforms. It questioned policies and legitimacy of various Arab rules. At the Arab spring start, Qatari channel campaigned openly for revolutionaries. The channel’s usual programme was substituted with live protest actions coverage. Main revolutionary figures were on interviews and talk shows. In addition, the channel developed a new innovative media team which was engaged in disseminating products of traditional news through social media as well as mobile phones for free. The other role involved gathering images, videos, and information posted by the public in the social media, particularly from the countries where its journalists were banned or harassed. A considerable percentage of broadcasting time was dedicated to amateur footage conveyed by protesters on the ground. These footages frequently demonstrated violent oppressive action by the government forces. Al-Jazeera was even nearer to the street in Libya compared to Al-Ahrar; domestic insurgent channel. The association between the small screen social media and large screen TV resulted to the development of a new mass communication system developed like integration between interactive mobile, radio, internet, and television communication systems. This integrated system demonstrated a great impact in mobilization of revolutionary in the Arab Spring (Tudoroiu, 2014, p. 355).
The internet in Egypt was used in different tactics from encryption techniques and social media organizing to utilizing online maps and sharing online content. Wael Ghonim; a Google protester and executive, controlled thousands of demonstrators, to protest over corrupt regime and police brutality via Facebook page. He encouraged Facebook users to mobilize individuals without internet access, making his webpage an essential protest information source. This demonstrates the major role the internet and social media played in ensuring revolution in the Arab region. Prior to the development of needs to organize demonstrations, web-based applications were effectively employed to mobilize individuals over dictatorial regimes, which had absolute control of conventional media and prohibited it from contributing to broadcasting ideas and information delegitimizing their decree. Bloggers employed the internet to spread critical information regarding to the government actions. They also utilized Western sites that include CNN and BBC to spread revolution and liberty ideas and offer their supporters credible information. Websites and online newspapers published by revolutionists abroad were also essential. A network of formal and informal network correspondents in Libya sent video footage, reports, and photos on domestic protests and oppression to these exile news outlets. This developed a major information source for news agencies and transnational agencies that assisted in distributing that information back to the country (Tudoroiu, 2014, p. 352).
As traversed from one Arab nation to another, the spring of change has undoubtedly pushed Al-Jazeera to a Pan-Arab political power of change position. The Tunisian revolution detailed and daily coverage diffused defiance tactics that were soon embraced by the Egyptians. With its Egyptian uprising coverage, it was evident that Al-jazeera has outdone the news reporting channel role. As it grinned from large al-Tahrir square screens, with patriotic songs blasts, and fiery commentaries of pro-revolution, the channel appeared more as a political medium, a kind of the revolution voice suggestive of the 1970s revolutionary. The Channel role evolved swiftly as a political tool of revolutionary, such that by the time Benghazi Libyan uprising turned into a complete revolution, the Al-jazeera role as a power of political change was clear. Evolving with the rebels from the west to the east, the channel was available in each battle, not just to report, but also to offer the revolutionaries a platform to uplift morale, to propagate, and in some instances to offer rebels direction (Galander, 2013, p.6).
Coverage Based on Regional Press
The 2011 Arab Uprising events made 2011 an extraordinary year with regard to Middle East news reports. The Arab uprising spun traditional patterns of news upside down. For the initial time in history countries such as Tunisia and Syria received the same media attention as elite regional countries such as Israel or Turkey. The Arab countries received great attention in Danish press, a situation that is normally different in other times. Tunisia and Syria are normally marginal news sources in Danish press. According to both recent and classical news selection theories, the Arab nations’ marginalization can be expounded with a lack of cultural immediacy. Consequently, the Middle East based reports are frequently related with negative news that include terror, violence acts, or deadly events; social norms violation that include sexuality, religion or richness, or instants of unusual infrequent cultural proximity related to terror, tourism, or sport news. The Middle East marginal perception and position was expressed clearly in a few of Western early reactions to the Tunisia protests. The Arab Spring’s media attention is an instance of a news subject which gained sudden momentum. At the start of the Tunisia protests in December 2010 Danish media news reports were nearly absent. Actually, wide Danish media coverage took off only nearly that time when the country’s president; Ben-Ali exited from the country. The situation changed radically when Syria protests began. This resulted to a wider coverage of Syria revolutionary process compared to what was covered in Tunisia. More international news was made regarding Syria, and Libya social unrest and protests, and also on the possibility of constitutional and political reforms in Tunisia. More was written on social conditions in Tunisia by Danish press, while the aspect of sectarianism was highly considered in case of Syria. Although the unrest was in different parts of the Middle East, the Danish press reported each case individually trying to analyse each case separately (Eskjaer, 2012, p. 5-8).
The Arabs media coverage also improved among the American press. The American news media coverage in the Arab Spring took part of 54% of the American news outlet. Nevertheless, the Arab Spring news coverage in the United States sharply dropped off after the Egyptian President Overthrow and intervention of NATO in Libya. The Egypt uprising in 2011 February contributed about 22 per cent of the US news outlets. This coverage reduced to 5 per cent in the following months. In 2011 March, it contributed to 27 per cent of the news broadcasted in the United States. The coverage then after words reached to a negligible amount, up until when the compound of Gaddafi was seized in August when the coverage increased to 8 per cent. In addition, attention of American media on Syria had reduced greatly attaining 7 per cent in 2012 February when the United States was closed following the killing of two western journalists (Pew Research Centre, 2012, p.13). The Corporate American media did not demonstrate consistency in their coverage this can be demonstrated by noticed intensive coverage in Syria unrest and little coverage in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia despite the two countries being American Allies. Nevertheless, the American media paid more attention on the general reception of the Arab demonstrators among the American population, and politician which included both conservative and liberal. Generally, the American population demonstrated their Arab democracy support verbally. For the initial time in history, the Arabs were perceived as people to be emulated and source of inspiration. Protest slogans and article titles used in American press demonstrated how deeply Americans were annoyed by their own government. For instance, Madison action published “We Are Tahrir Square” and “Wisconsin: America’s Tahrir Square” among others. This kind of domestic protest internationalization was repeated, but to a lesser level in a number of various occupies demonstrations in the remaining part of 2011 (Salaita, 2012, p.141).
Production Culture Constraints
Basically, most local media in the Arabic region were highly controlled by the government. For any media organization to survive, it had to remain within the set limit, particularly, by avoiding content that would expose the government or create a negative image of the government. Al-Jazeera, which was the main media player in the Arab uprising, was basically a news channel that was used into airing and reporting on various events taking place in the region without taking any extra role of analysing the situation. Arabic media were also highly cultured based on the broadcasted news and the streamed images, based on the fact that the region is culturally based on Islamic religious culture (Galander, 2013, p.4). Although, sometimes the governments’ demands overshadow the Islamic values in production, the government requirements seem to be more powerful due to the punishments involved when the rules are broken. In this regard, these rules basically managed to rule the press production culture in the region. Nevertheless, the new situation was highly wanting and required the media to forget about the governmental authoritarian rule in suppressing freedom of expression and to act more as the voice of oppressed. This step was highly observed in Al-Jazeera, which embraced political media theory that employs the philosophy that society is the primary media control determinant. This view stressed on the presence of a direct association between press freedom as well as political and economic freedom. Following the production culture in the region could have highly limited the Al-Jazeera coverage of event during the spring. The TV channel could have been force to comply with the governmental rules, which highly influenced the production behaviour, an aspect that could have hindered the channel to demonstrate religious value that requires it to protect the oppressed by standing over tyrants. The defiant nature of the channel resulted to various operational constraints which included harassment of some its Journalists, particularly in Libya and Egypt, and complete ban of their operations in some regions. Other Journalists who considered taking the same path as Al-Jazeera, particularly the international press were not spared either. The situation also forced Al-Jazeera to change its way of broadcasting from a traditional news broadcaster working with its Journalist compiled videos and reports to employ an integrated technique where information, images, video footage, interviews, and individuals’ verbal comments were used to compile news. Mobile phones and social media were also used to disseminate news. Talks and interviews were used to supplement news, and more information was collected from social media including Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, and phone sent clips, photos or video were also used. Thus, there was a shift from tradition to a new way of news preparation and dissemination.
Most of the local Arabic press and media houses reported their news in Arabic. This included most of the post made in the social media. This definitely sent the anticipated message to the locals but not to the international bodies. Among the Arabic based media, Al-Jazeera was the only media that managed to broadcast in English and Arabic. CNN and BBC also manage to make their reports in English, with most of their interviews being translated to communicate to the whole world. However, it was actually hard to produce communicative video footage or communicative pictures, especially when the intended information was printed in banners and posters using Arabic. Though this was highly understood by locals and others in the Arabic region, it was hard for the international population to understand the message directly without translation, due to language barrier. Other international media were facing the same constraint, only Al-Jazeera managed to extensively avoid this problem. Another major readership issues was basically imposed by used of internet as a form of communication. A considerable number of individuals did not have access to the internet and thus, they highly depended on the information broadcasted from the traditional mainstream media. Although almost all media involved in reporting uprising events considered integrating the information from other sources, individuals who had less or no access to the internet missed the initial message and feel, created by the initial source. In addition, most Arabs who do not have ability to understand English missed a lot of information reported by CNN and BBC, particularly regarding the reaction of the popular international figures with regard to the unfolding events in their region or in a particular country. Apart from Al-Jazeera that managed to communicate in both English and Arabic, other media sources failed in passing their message to the international community, they either excluded the Arabic region or the rest of the world. This can be demonstrated in content posted in Iraq social media during its revolutionary (Al-Rawi, 2014, p. 918-919)
Media war reporting is highly associated with profit maximization in the media industry, specifically private media. War has been associated with a number of economic break-through in various situations. Normally, media focuses on attracting more profitable adverts when reporting war related incidences. According to Pew Research Center (2012) Al-Jazeera gained great audience in the Arabic region during the Arabic Spring. The attention given to this media during this time was very high in the Arabic regions compared to other parts of the world. According to Pew Research Center (2012) the Al-Jazeera received attention of about 60 per cent of the entire American population during the Arabic unrest time. The American-Arab media attention increased following decrease of the American media coverage toward the Arabic region. This increased the Arabic-American media coverage to the uprising situation, ensuring maximum services to its audience. Increase in audience and increasing attention toward Arab-American media provided the media a greater opportunity of earning more revenue particularly from Arabic country related advertisement and also advertisement from other international countries that focused on Middle East as its targeted market area. Nevertheless, the rate of advertisement was highly limited based on the media targeted consumers. For instance, English Al-Jazeera targeted international audience as well as Arab-American among other English speakers. However, its Arabic version targeted the entire Arabic region. Being the main news stream, Al-Jazeera was able to make considerable amount during Iraq war among other conflicting nations in the Arabic regions. Nevertheless, its extensive preference limited the earnings other media could attract during this duration. Al-Jazeera also failed to make more cash particularly due to negative perception of the Arabic countries by western. This means that most individuals from international countries may have stopped watching uprising information once CNN and BBC among other international media withdrew from reporting Arabic regional related news. Al-Jazeera never had a guarantee of attracting the entire population that used to depend on CNN or BBC for news and thus, its situation may have gone back to normal after the uprising unrest was over.
Arabic uprising introduced new technology that was not there in the past revolutionary process and that was not introduced in various media in the world. The traditional news broadcasting involved sending journalists and reporters to different parts of interest and collecting information from them. The Journalist could take photos, videos, records live talks, and interview a few people. This acted as the only main source of news for the broadcasting station. Nevertheless, the situation during Arabic revolutionary was a bit different. The use of internet and mobile technology altered the entire news coverage business. Either information would get to the public before it got to the media house or more sensational message could get to the public through social media, neutralizing the intensity of the new broadcasted via traditional system. In this regard, media houses required to act swiftly to retain its relevance in the field (Davison, 2015, p. 4 & 5). BBC, Al-Jazeera, and CNN, tried to integrate all forms of technology available to gather and broadcasts news. Al-Jazeera was recognized as the best integrator of the available technology during this period to enhance the process quality, detailed and sensational news delivery. It established a new technology team which focused on collection of news through social media, and also sending gathered news through phones and social media for free. Al-Jazeera also collaborated with different activists to ensure effective delivery of footage in different demonstrations. This was integrated with mobile phone interviews as well as live talk shows and interviews, which gave more value to traditional media broadcasting (Bossio, 2013, p. 335).
In coverage of conflict news, media can either discourage or encourage division. Moreover crisis news coverage might contribute to negative or positive effect of disputes of this kind. On one perspective news media might fuel the hatred passions which results to minorities’ extermination or contribute to the conflict constructive outcome. According to Mensah (2015, p. 89), media need to practice peace journalism while reporting crisis, by focusing on both sided and detailed stories, reporting and seeking the truth, being accountable, minimizing harm, being independent, and caring about the cultural value of different people during the coverage. Nevertheless, this was hard to practice in Arab Spring since the government was not very much cooperative with regard to media coverage. Journalists received considerable brutality from different regimes, and they were left with no choice than airing information regarding only those who were willing to cooperate. Al-Jazeera for example hardly gave information on the government. It purely acted as protesters voice throughout the period. Thus, it appeared more like one sided media which focused more on the voice of the people. This was demonstrated by gathering of information directly from the activists, holding show talks with activists, providing direct interviews with rebels and activists and also assisting in broadcasting protest related information to the people, through free mobile phone news and social media. In addition, most of international media was managed by opposition in exile and thus, it was hard not to be bias. There was no much control on what was being posted in the social media; people could easily post any footage of the day which ranged from police brutality to protesters action in the battle field. Although various regimes tried to use various measures to control the situation for instance; opposition website hacking by the cyber-security department in Libya, activist Twitter and Facebook account blockage in Syria, and use of Facebook and twitter accounts in Egypt to predict the protester movement and arresting of famous cyber-activist (Tudoroiu, 2014, p. 353). Other international media were used to express the popular international leader stands and feel regarding the changes in the Arabic regimes. They clearly demonstrated their support for the democracy and the citizens’ strategy to ensure this democracy. Thus, it can be concluded that the media acted as a political tool for opposition, activists, and protesters to the change of regime and development of democracy in the Arabic region.
Arab Spring Revolution was a unique form of revolution that involve both the traditional media technology and the new media technology where by the new media technology was given the highest credit in its contribution to the development of the new regimes. The revolutionary started in the social media where the incident of Tunisia man who set himself on fire to protest police brutality went viral on the social media. This marked as the beginning of the Arab Spring Revolutionary. Social media has been found to take a major role in enhancing the success of revolutionary to a level that American scholars regarded Arab Spring as Facebook revolution. Social media was extensively used to mobilize people, organize demonstrations, and report events almost at real time. It therefore played a major role of informing people and inciting immediate reaction among the population, making the Arab Spring revolutionary possible. Although other traditional media were also used in news dissemination, they had to integrate the new technology to remain viable and sensational.
Al-Rawi, A. K, 2014, “The Arab spring and online protests in Iraq,” International Journal of Communication, vol. 8, pp. 916-942.
Bashri, M., Netzley, S & Greiner, A, 2012, “Facebook revolutions: transitions in the Arab world, transitions in media coverage? A comparative analysis of CNN and Aljazeera English’s online coverage of the Tunisia and Egyptian revolutions, ” Journal of Arab & Muslim Media Research, vol. 5, no. 2,pp. 19-29
Bossio, D, 2013, “How Aljazeera reported the Arab Spring: A preliminary comparative analysis,” Media Asia Research, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 33-43.
Chung, C. J & Cho, S-H, 2013, “News coverage analysis of SNSs and the Arab Spring: Using mixed methods,” Global Media Journal Fall, pp. 1-26.
Collins, C. A & Sari, M, 2016, “Sparking the Arab Soring: A pentadic framing analysis of Bouazizi’s self-immolation by media and citizen journalists,” Global Media Journal Arabian Edition, vol. 4, no. 1-2, pp. 3-18.
Davison, S, 2015, “An exploratory study of risk and social media: What role did social media play in the Arab Spring Revolutions?” Journal of Middle East Media, vol. 11, pp. 1-33.
Eskjaer, M.F, 2012, “Changing revolution, changing attention? Comparing Danish press coverage of the Arab Spring in Tunisia and Syria,” Global Media Journal, vol. 2, no.1, pp. 1-19.
Galander, M, M, 2013, “Al-Jazeera, advocacy and media value determinism re-conceptualizing the network’s coverage of the Arab Spring of Revolutions,” Global Media Journal: American Edition, pp. 1-17.
Mensah, H.A, 2015, “Resilience and sustainability in the coverage of political crisis: The case of the Arab Spring by the BBC, CNN and Aljazeera,” China Media Research, vol. 11, no.4, pp. 88-98.
Pew Research Center, 2012, “Arab-American media: Bringing news to a diverse community,” [online] Available at: < http://www.journalism.org/files/legacy/Arab%20American%20Media%20Report.pdf > [Accessed on June 6, 2016].
Salaita, S, 2012, “Corporate American media coverage of Arab revolutions: the contradictory message of modernity,” A Journal for and about Social Movement, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 131-145.
Tudoroiu, T, 2014, “Social media and revolutionary waves: The case of the Arab Spring,” New Political Science, vol. 36, no. 3, pp.346-365.