Seven Days of Protest

Despite the significant amounts of attention paid by all the channels we study to the bombardment of Aleppo (and the international relations crisis accompanying it) and the furore in the US over Trump’s behaviour to women, it has been a typical newsweek in terms of protest reporting. The newscasts of 9-16 October 2016 contained 16 protest items, half of which were in Al Jazeera. While violence was a common feature, the diversity of reporting when it comes to topic and site is worth noting, with different newsrooms paying attention to different protests. Al Jazeera looked to Ethiopia, where a state of emergency was declared after months of protest, and to Yemen, where enraged demonstrators called for the world to condemn Saudi Arabia for an air strike that killed mourners at a funeral. It touched down in Australia, where same-sex marriage was being hotly debated, and the UK, where pro- and anti-EU activists were gathered outside a court hearing a challenge to Brexit. Also on its map of protest were Hong Kong, where a yellow umbrella appeared in parliament and a newly-elected activist spoke eloquently of his determination to fight for democracy, Kashmir, the Ukraine and Greece (‘They are few in number, but these protesters represent the concerns of millions of Greeks.’) BBC World carried two items on the student protests in South Africa, while RT focused on unrest in the suburbs of Paris and ‘far-right’ marches in the Ukraine. Euronews viewers would have learned that taxi-drivers in Portugal were up in arms about government attempts to regulate them and, most of all, Uber, and that thousands of Argentinians had taken to the streets to protest against crime.

There was much that was familiar in reporting styles. RT made use of ‘independent political analysts’ to explain to viewers what the protests were ‘really’ about. The BBC reporters stood centre-screen, and channeled the voices of the student protesters. ‘The first children to be born after apartheid are coming of age. Their parents fought for freedom. This generation wants more.’ In Al Jazeera, protesters spoke for themselves, and one item took viewers from the streets of Kashmir to the home of the family of a ‘slain rebel fighter’, who died during a protest. The report made it clear that the protests were the result of a cluster of tensions – ethnic conflict between India and Pakistan; justice issues; police brutality; and economic problems.

The codebook we have spent months developing, testing, and refining (and the database we are constructing to facilitate analysis) makes it possible to translate such observations into reliable results. We code for what countries and regions are associated with protest in each channel, whether there is violence, who gets to speak, and what topics are involved – apart from the issue triggering the actual protest. The patterns of similarities and differences between our ‘globals’ have by now become quite evident to those of us who code, but it is important that we document these patterns in a reliable manner. The challenge is to conduct our analysis of the coding results on the fly, and write them up, all the while keeping our eye on the new protests that turn up on screen almost every day. We had a day off on Saturday though, as none of the channels reported any protests.

Alexa Robertson

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