source: News Coverage and Social Protest: How the Media's Protest Paradigm Exacerbates Social Conflict - Douglas M. McLeod
or just watch the short video on "don't fall for the Antifa trap" from Vox: https://invidio.us/watch?v=7TJOjAKL7Qs
Below are ten normative recommendations that serve as goals to improve the quality of protest coverage, and ultimately the dynamics of social conflicts.
- Identify key issues. It has long been recognized that the media play an important agenda-setting role in American society by identifying key issues for public consideration. When covering events such as protests and demonstrations, it is important for the news media to go beyond the episodic recouniing of events to identify and explore the key policy issues that the audience would need to understand to help them realize their potential as informed citizens.
- Identify key stakeholders. In the process of exploring the issues involved, the media should also identify the key stakeholders involved. It is a common occurrence that media fail to point out relevant players in social conflicts. In their fervor to describe the events of confrontations between the protesters and police, the media often fail to consider the chosen target of the protest as part of the story, and thereby delegitimize the protest.
- Explain the positions and rationales of key stakeholders. A central responsibility of media in a democratic system, according to Gurevitch and Blumler, is to provide relevant partisan interests with a platform for advocacy; that is, it is important that the media provide diverse viewpoints on the important issuesof the day, even when those voices are critical and conflicting, and especially when those voices are disenfranchised.
- Explain underlying policy implications and details. One of the sad ironies in reading news stories is that the reader often does not learn very much about the issues at the center for the protest. These issues must be explored thoroughly. Particularly when it comes to policy decisions, media must provide a public service by discussing the implications of policy for all stakeholders involved, as well as the general public.
- Consider using the debate frame. Given that protesters often seek to draw attention to important social issues and to engage the larger public in deliberationand debate, it is ironic that very few stories about social protests adopt a debate frame, which would explore the pros and cons of arguments from various parties to the debate. Instead, protest coverage often adopts what Iyengar refers to as episodic framing. Stories recount protest events chronologically and give details on acts of social disobedience and arrests. In the process, an exploration of the underlying issue is lost. As such, it would be ideal for journalists to develop an appreciation for protest as a viable form of democratic expression and participation, and learn how to write stories using the debate frame as a template for covering social protests.
- Treat demonstrators as legitimate political actors and give voice to their concerns. Media coverage of radical social protests often treats demonstrators as deviants, ultimately delegitimizing their efforts to play a role in democratic decision making. In some sense, the Los Angeles Times' coverage [Day Without Immigrants protest - 2006], by giving a human face and a voice to the demonstrators, was well above the norm for social protest coverage. Protest coverage would be greatly improved by considering protesters as legitimate political actors.
- Seek responses from the institutions being challenged. In order to treat protesters as legitimate political actors, the media must take protesters seriously enough to investigate the charges they level against the status quo. Too often, stories focus on the clash between protesters and police, and fail to take the protesters seriously enough to turn the media spotlight on their chosen target. In many protest stories, the target of the protest is never sought out for comment, which only delegitimizes the protesters' viewpoints.
- Ignore bystanders. Following the protest paradigm, journalists often try to add color to their story by approaching bystanders for comment on the events and actions of the protest. Most bystanders are not particularly well-informed on the issue and, because they are not participating in the protest, are likely to criticize the protesters as well as misunderstand what the protesters are trying to do. The space that is used to interview the largely nebulous protest bystanders would be better used to air the viewpoints of the protesters' chosen targets. While publishing letters to the editor may help give citizens a voice in the process, journalists should avoid those that are inflammatory, as they tend to overshadow those that express reasoned viewpoints.
- Invest the time in writing important stories. Of course, journalists are always operating under the pressure of deadlines to file stories. Under these conditions, it is easiest to fall back on what is known to produce an acceptable story, in this case the protest paradigm. But rather than composing thin, episodic stories that do little to inform or enlighten the public, journalists should take the time to write meaningful stories based on thorough research. The "hoping and groping" coverage that is so pervasive in local television news eats away at the credibility of the news.
- Avoid the pitfalls of the protest paradigm. Finally, the media should be enlightened regarding the pitfalls of protest paradigm coverage so that they can strive to improve the nature of coverage. This means the media should avoid focusing on the appearance of the protesters, downplaying clashes with the police in favor of covering clashes with policymakers. It means taking the time to interview protesters and articulating their viewpoints accurately, then going to their chosen target for a response. It means taking the protesters and the issues they raise seriously enough to avoid disparaging them through the techniques of delegitimization and demonization.
How CAN ACTIVISTS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS HELP?
Through all this criticism of the media, it is also important to note that the protesters must make improvements, too, if they want better coverage of their protests. They must articulate clear, concise, consistent, and reasonable goals tomake sure that journalists and the public understand what they are all about. They must resist using violent tactics and making threats that endanger our society. They must seek allegiances with other like-minded groups. As we can observe from the Los Angeles Times
coverage of the Day without Immigrants demonstrations, size matters. Larger groups are more likely to be taken seriously. It is also important to seek allies within the power structure. A voice coming from within the system carries more weight with the media. Finally, make sure that all events and demonstrations connote meaning. The pro-immigration protests were able to do this by marching en masse, making the case that the U.S. economy is dependent on their labor. The work stoppage and boycotts may not have had long-term effects on the local and national economies, but they did convey symbolic meaning to a large audience. By resisting many of the temptations that often give media the fodder to disparage the protest, the Day without Immigrants demonstrations went a long way toward delivering an effective message.