SKeyes Center for Media and Cultural Freedom - Samir Kassir Foundation

New SKeyes Publication: Media and Protest Movements

Friday , 31 January 2020

The mobilisation of millions of people across the globe demanding economic, political and climate reform was one of the defining stories of 2019. For journalists, it was also one of the most challenging. Covering large, fluid and often leaderless mass movements over prolonged periods of time can be problematic, particularly when they occur in highly repressive regimes where journalists are often direct targets of a security apparatus that wants to quash dissenting voices. The proliferation of social media has compounded these challenges, with misinformation and fake news gaining rapid traction, online abuse becoming widespread, and congestion in an already competitive information space.

The aim of this research is to unpack and examine the state of local media coverage of protest movements across five locations: Algeria, Chile, France, Lebanon and Iraq. The research paper will be divided into four parts: Section 1 determines the extent of ‘Solution journalism’ in local media, particularly regarding coverage of socio-economic issues prior to demonstrations breaking out. Section 2 examines the extent of media preparation ahead of planned demonstrations, from logistical, security and communications perspectives. It concludes with a set of guidelines for local news outlets covering demonstrations. Section 3 briefly examines media censorship and bias. The final component, Section 4, looks at the role played by non-traditional outlets in shaping the narrative around protest movements, particularly digital and social media, and analyses the role of social media in spreading information and disinformation.

Findings

  • Solutions journalism was not apparent in mainstream media coverage of socio-economic issues in the year prior to the outbreak of protests in Algeria, Chile, France, Lebanon and Iraq. Interviews with media practitioners indicated that there is no culture of solutions journalism in any of the countries reviewed.
  • ecurity preparations were found to be inadequate to the risks of reporting from protests. Given the high levels of danger in Chile and Iraq, the lack of security preparation and equipment in those contexts is particularly alarming.
  • Security risk experts recommend a number of measures that local news outlets can adopt to ensure they have greater security awareness and preparation when covering demonstrations.
  • Censorship was starkly apparent in Iraq and Algeria, targeting both mainstream media and social media (through deliberate internet disruptions), and to a lesser extent in Lebanon.
  • Biased reporting was evident in all five countries. In Chile and France in particular, this impacted the credibility of mainstream media and most likely boosted the appeal of digital and social media.
  • Digital and alternative media have been useful in circumventing censorship (Iraq) and allowing new avenues for objective journalism (Lebanon and Chile).
  • Social media was central in mobilising mass movements, circumventing censorship and influencing narratives around protest movements. It has facilitated the appearance of citizen journalism platforms which have allowed freer expression and played a key role in debunking fake news and misinformation in contexts where media face restrictions.
  • On the other hand, social media is also responsible for spreading false information, propagating echo chambers of information and resulting in greater harassment of journalists. Furthermore, in Algeria, Iraq and to a lesser extent Lebanon, there is evidence of fake accounts and bots influencing the narrative and carrying out online harassment. This has presented not only a threat to the truth, but also added security risks to journalists.

Evidence of:

 

Algeria

Chile

France

Iraq

Lebanon

Solutions journalism

No

No

No

No

No

Deliberate physical attack on journalists by:

Security forces

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Some

Pro-government non-state actors

No

No

No

Yes

Yes

Protesters

No

Yes

Yes

No

Yes

Extensive online harassment of journalists

No

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Journalists injured covering protests

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Journalists trained on physical safety

No

Rare

Yes

No

Rare

A culture of security preparedness

No

No

No

No

No

Widespread use of safety equipment

Rare

Some

No

No

Rare

Government censorship of news

Yes

No

No

Yes

Some

Biased media

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Internet shut downs

Yes

No

No

Yes

No

Online disinformation

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes

Yes



Research Assistants: Abdellah Bouhend and Muhammad Abunnassr

A report produced with the support of CFI.

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