|Making the news: the media and the movement against the Iraq war
What follows is an investigation of unusual media behaviour. The 2003 Iraq War precipitated a series of demonstrations of unprecedented scale in a cause that often had majority support and challenged the authority of the government. The media’s well documented tendency to marginalise or ignore protest was at least partly suspended as newspapers cleared their front pages to report on demonstrations and the BBC sent senior journalists to interview marchers. For once, protesters were making the news. My research has revealed a very different pattern of reportage to that anticipated by the widely used ‘protest paradigm’ that predicts the marginalisation and even criminalisation of protest. Although the record shows great unevenness across different media outlets, the coverage of some of the anti-Iraq War protests appears more comprehensive, even-handed and at times sympathetic, than any equivalent example in the literature. The central task was to investigate the nature of the divergence and find ways of explaining it. In the process, this exceptional moment could be used to probe the media’s role in modern democracy and its attitudes to dissent at times of mass mobilisation and social stress. A combined textual and quantitative analysis of my research raised some interesting conclusions. Though important, structural or technological developments cannot explain the changes to the way protest was handled, as some of the literature argues. The evidence suggests that a contingent complex of social, ideological and political factors created a perfect storm that scrambled normal lines of communication. Interviews with participants and research into the context of the protests allowed me to fill out these suggestions and draw out more definite conclusions. At the same time, the analysis provided a test of theoretical models of media function, including versions of the ‘propaganda model’, broadly post-structuralist approaches, and more recent work suggesting a greater openness to dissent. Analysis of various theoretical approaches suggests, however, the importance of a model that can combine emphasis on the hegemonic role of the media, with sensitivity to contradictions that emerge between the moments of ‘maintaining consent’.
|University of Westminster
|Digital Object Identifier (DOI)