Creative protests and where to find them

The answer to that would be: in Romania.

Bucharest, the Romanian capital, and other major cities in the country, have seen a week of manifestations triggered by an emergency decree that decriminalized certain acts of corruption in which the prejudice would be less than 44.000 €. Another reason why people expressed their anger in the streets was linked to the fact that this decree was adopted by the Government late at night. This generated a very popular protest slogan: “Noaptea, ca hotii!” – “At night, like thieves”. The Government’s reasons behind this decree was the attempt to reduce the overcrowding of prisons. On Sunday, February 5th, half a million Romanians were out on the streets in all major cities.

But above all, and important to our project, this led to coverage from the global news channels that we have in focus. Though after the first days of protests the issue didn’t come up in the most important news bulletins, those of the evening primetime, as days went by and as the number of protesters out on the streets increased, so did international coverage. The first channel to report on the issue was EuroNews, followed by RT and BBC World. The Romanian protests even made it in the headlines and our global broadcasters sent correspondents on site.

When coding for protest, an important variable is violence: acts of dissent get more coverage if the protests are violent. In the case of the Romanian protests, which are the biggest the country has seen since the fall of the Communism in 1989, violence was nearly absent. Security forces made sure that those instigating to violence were kept away from the manifestation. After that, the protests took quite the opposite turn: protesters brought flowers to the security forces, a day-time protest for children was organized, hundreds of thousands of lights were used symbolically to light up the protest site, Victoria Square, young demonstrators danced in the streets under the praise of other protesters, and even Vlad The Impaler came to offer support.

In the end, the Government repealed the decree but people are still out on the streets demanding Government resignation. The Social Democrats, who are the target of the protests and winners of December’s elections, and especially their supporters, organized counter-protests in front of the Presidential Palace, Cotroceni, asking for the President’s resignation. Klaus Iohannis showed his support for the people protesting, but also stated that the Social Democrats won the elections and should govern the country, but not at any price.

Diana Grecu

Haven’t we seen him before?

Trump has had a firm position in the headlines of CNNI, BBC World, RT and Al Jazeera almost everyday this week. In addition to his inauguration on January the 20th, his recent policies seem to have been met with particularly many protests around the globe, which have also been covered in the headlines to some extent.

Apart from being the 45th president of the United States, Trump is also the third US president to hold office during the period of inquiry for the Screening Protest project, which spans from 2008 to 2018. Among other possibilities, this data allows us to compare this week’s coverage of Trump with Obama’s first weeks in office during 2009 and 2013. While it is difficult not to get side-tracked by the uncertainty with Trump, it is important we remember this data and not only ask what is different about Trump, but also what is similar.

For instance, in spite of Trump’s seemingly spectacular politics, he remains, in our codebook, a political elite actor. As such we can compare the relation between his presence in the news and other, especially non-elite, actors, such as activists, with the relation between former political elite actors and non-elite actors. While elites historically have had a significantly stronger presence in the news, the protests surrounding Trump might tell us a different story about that presence, just as his firm position in this week’s headlines might tell us that things seem very much the same.

In addition, different from George W. Bush, and his last months in office during 2008, and Barack Obama when he was inaugurated in 2009, Trump is a political elite actor that is post-Arabic spring and post-Occupy Wall Street. While these observations may or may not be discussed in the news, they arguably give us strong grounds for analysing the coverage of the protests against Trump as a particular historical case, which can be compared with other different, yet similar cases. 

Thus, when a lot of things seem to be changing for the worse, I find some comfort in the fact that some things remain the same (if only in our codebook). At the same time I’m hoping to find that this week’s, or next week’s, headlines will be different.

Martin Karlsson