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.