Criticism Of Clash Of Civilization Theory Media Essay

Published: Last Edited:

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

This study focuses on the pro-democratic protest and subsequent revolution that occurred across North Africa and the Middle East during 2011 labelled the "Arab Spring" among western media. This research focuses on reports starting in December 2010, when the Tunisian Uprising began till October, 2011, when the Libyan war ended, analysing how the media reported the demonstrations and subsequent result. By conducting a content analysis, this research explores how the reality was constructed in the media, focusing on three British newspapers; the Telegraph, Guardian and Independent. The research will also explore the types of language used when reporting on the Arab spring.


Background and Motivation

It is certain that virtually nothing will be as it was before the political wave sweeping the Middle East and North Africa started. So many of the countries involved are still in the developing stage but so far, the movements and revolts have resulted in successful regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen (Freudenstein, 2011). On 17 December 2010, the self-immolation of Tunisian vegetable vendor Mohammed Bouazizi sparked the Arab Spring. Within a few months, a wave of protest had swept away the despots of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya (Rosiny, 2012). His action was a form of protest against the government of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. Protest actions such as strikes, demonstrations and political unrest are some of the most visible manifestations of social conflict (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011).

"Most Arab regimes suffer from massive legitimacy deficits, and the citizens are demanding to finally be able to participate more fairly in political, economic and societal events. These make the Arab Spring a momentous and novel event that will have a lasting impact on the region" (Rosiny, 2012).

The causes, evolution and force of the protests have varied from country to country. The reactions of the regimes have also ranged from careful considerations to violent suppression (Rosiny, 2012). The coverage of such events and other expression of social conflict is one of the core tasks of journalists. How journalists choose to cover and report the story however differs depending on a multitude of factors, some of which will be explore in this study.

Aims and Objectives

This study is interested in the roles media reports play in uprisings and how the media constructs the reality in their report of such demonstrations. The western media's coverage of uprising and social conflict in Africa and the Middle East is explored to understand the image being reinforced by the media. This research focuses on the protests and following revolution that occurred across the middle-east after Bouazizi's suicide; commonly referred to as the Arab spring. The research centres on British newspaper reports starting in December 2010, when the Tunisian Uprising began till October, 2011. The objective is to study the words used to communicate the demonstrations and riots.

This research will also examine how the choice of words reflects or reinforces positive or negative images of the countries involved and the effect this might have on the consuming public as well as the countries undergoing massive social change. To carry out this project effectively, three popular daily British newspapers would be chosen as references and examined. The rationale for studying how these three newspapers reported on the Arab spring is to see if the newspaper's agenda and affiliation plays a part in determining the tone used when reporting about the uprising. There is a general criticism of the western media's portrayal of Africa and the Middle East, This study aims therefore, through an explanatory approach, to put this observation to test and learn more about how the mainstream media, or more precisely the British national newspapers, actually reported on the protest (Lifvergren, 2011).

Literature Review

Most of the literatures on the Arab spring are about the political changes still happening in the countries and reflect on the continuous changes that are going on in the countries. "The … uprising was wholly unexpected by journalists, policy makers and scholars… it is too early to write the history of that still-unfolding event…" (Snider & Faris, 2011). It is for this reason that this project will base most of its findings on the three daily newspapers chosen and focus on a limited timeline; between when the Tunisian protests started in December 2010, to October 2011.

This research will focus on three popular daily newspapers of the British media and their discourse of the 'Arab spring'. The Guardian, The Independent and Daily Telegraph are the three chosen as resources for this project; they are three of the most read newspapers in U.K with access to their archives online. Because the Arab Spring is a relatively recent event that is still unfolding, the research will pay close attention to literatures on the discourse of the Arab Spring and the roles the media played in the unfolding of the events. Many are still trying to understand the full scope of the events that occurred and it is expected that many more literature on this topic be available soon.

The project will also look at how the media covers any form of conflict or war, such as Wilhelm Kempf's work on Conflict Coverage (2002), which suggests that when the media report on conflicts and wars, they become active players in the situation. Journalists sometimes see themselves as judges of good or evil in the world and place moral pressure on the international community to take sides so they feel a need to paint a black and white image of the event going on and some go as far as fabricating images and stories to fit the image of the enemy. Painting images of war in black and white leaves no space for understanding the subtleties of the conflict but reduces it all to violence; which is more thrilling for the reader.

In selecting the events on which to report, journalists and editors of newspapers are being increasingly guided by the question of the general 'newsworthiness' of those events. Lippmann listed proximity, surprise, prominence and conflict amongst the influencing factors of determining the value of a news story (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011). Violence and destruction are clearly among the most influential characteristics affecting media coverage. 'If it bleeds, it leads' is a theory followed by many newspapers so stories about gruesome deaths naturally take prevalence over stories of peaceful protests (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011). This ideology also affects how the news is reported; the words and images chosen are specifically chosen to entice the reader and sensationalize the stories.

Another factor that affects the quality and authenticity of the information being passed along by the media is the country in which the protest takes place; if the country has a close relationship with the international media reporting, the words and images chosen will be considerably different from that of a country regarded as an enemy country. Western Governments had some sort of relationship with most of the dictators in the Middle East and North Africa due to fear of power getting in the hands of Islamic extremists. "Saudi Arabia …plays the right role. It ensures that the wealth of the region goes to the right people: not people in the slums of Cairo, but people in executive suites in New York. As long as they do that, Saudi Arabian leaders can treat women as awfully as they want, they can be the most extreme fundamentalists in existence, and they're just fine." (Chomsky, 2001) When the protest started, it was in the best interest of Western governments to make sure that when these dictators were deposed of, they were replaced with a government that favoured the values of the west i.e. a democratic government. Therefore many of the "… discourse has been defined by open criticism of the remaining autocracies" (Rosiny, 2012) and the calling for a democratic government free of religious influences. "Western governments and observers defining the 'Arab Spring' on their own terms, especially in naming responsibility for the social uprisings in one way or another that comes back to the West " (Dixon, 2011).

Sustaining the 'strongmen' of the Middle East was a way to see that the interest of the west was at least partially served.

"The real threat, as always, was that the region might take control of its own destiny, including its own resources. And that can't be tolerated, obviously. So we have to support oppressive states, like Saudi Arabia … to make sure that they guarantee that the profits from oil …flow to the people who deserve it: rich western energy corporations or the US Treasury Department or Bechtel Construction, and so on" (Chomsky, 2001).

"This notion was sometimes based on a culturalist assumption, implying that culture and tradition in the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region were not suited to building democratic societies and states based on the rule of law" (Freudenstein, 2011). This image was also explored by many newspapers during the Arab spring. The idea that any form of government devoid of religious and military affinity would not work in that part of the world was constantly being debated in the news and that ideology shaped the language used in the discourse of the Arab Spring. Even after the governments of Tunisia and Egypt had been successfully overthrown, the western media continued to debate the future of the countries, fearing that extremist would get into power.

Style of coverage is not always an option for journalists as media economics has made clear, the financial and human outlay to obtain information and write the report also plays an important role in how news is reported. Daily newspapers are under mounting pressure to be able to report in the most cost-effective, rapid manner and are therefore relying increasingly on externally produced press packs that might frame it in a way best suited to that person or might not include the news in full context (Herkenrath & Knoll, 2011). Many problems of coverage happen in the newsgathering process; for example, language barriers can make journalists dependent on translators and other liaisons that might have their own agenda or do not fully grasp the nature of the conflict. Most western correspondents do not speak local languages of the various African countries or any of other cultures. Some rely on the local media as their main source, these media are sometimes unreliable or completely absent. Consequentially, the journalists become too reliant on government or other official sources for information. These information tends to be inclined towards the government or official agenda; the 'official spin'.

Women in Arab societies suffered from a wide range of inequalities and general relegation creating an economy where few women participated in the work force. The reports of the Middle East and North Africa are also notable for exclusion of women in politics. This marginalization of woman has led to a society with lower levels of productivity. During the Arab spring however, women protested alongside the men but discourse continues to depict women in the region as oppressed, backward and in need of a saving grace. Language used to describe women in these regions shows them as subservient and completely compliant to will of the men. Very few newspapers focused on what the Arab spring meant to the Arab women but upheld the paternalistic ideology of the Arab nations. "Inadequate access to mainstream media and exclusion of women's voices on the issues of importance to them is on-going, though increasingly mitigated by the social media tools that can be accessed by users directly" (Jadallah, 2011).

Theoretical and Empirical views


Newsworthiness affects what story is being reported and how it is reported. Harcup & O'Neill (2001) expanded on Galtung and Ruge's 12 factors to determine if a story makes it as news, some of these factors will be explored in relation to the media's report of the Arab Spring. Factors such as Consonance, Meaningfulness, continuity and reference to negative event are factors that come into play in deciding what and how to report about the Arab Spring. According to Harcup and O'Neill, the media is more likely to report on a story or event in a way that aligns with the image already being promoted by such media; therefore it is difficult to find a news story contradictory to the imaged perpetuated already by the popular media.

Meaningfulness plays a part in if and how a story will be reported because readers connect more with a news story that is culturally similar, "Thus, the involvement of UK citizens will make an event in a remote country more meaningful to the UK media… than is news from countries that are less culturally familiar" (Harcup & O'Neill, 2001). A negative story is also more likely to be a headline than a positive one therefore the more scintillating and gory a picture can be painted, the better the chances of it being a headline, a story also has to have continuity for it to be considered newsworthy. Once a story becomes headlines, it remains in the news because it is familiar and to validate the choice as a news story.

Developmental "Porn"

Sympathy for others is deemed to be one of the characteristics of a modern, feeling individual which was part of a general cultural change that gave rise to humanitarianism - compassion and a reluctance to inflict pain were marked as civilized values with cruelty deemed barbaric and savage. The importance of sympathy became emphasized from that time on in literature and society. The idea of development porn plays on this humanistic characteristic to sell a product to media consumers. "Disaster porn refers to media putting "horrific or tragic images on a 24-hour loop, constantly driving them into your head, and then referring to the events portrayed as an unspeakable tragedy". It is exploitative and voyeuristic, rather than contextualised" (Mullins, 2011).

Development porn, also known as poverty porn or even war porn, is any type of media, be it written, photographed or filmed, which exploits the poor's condition for the sole purpose of generating sympathy for necessary selling newspapers . These media are also used for creating sympathy needed for the support for a given cause and increasing charitable donations (Collin, 2009).

'Development pornography', 'Poverty porn', 'Disaster porn', 'Ruin porn', 'War porn', 'Famine porn', 'Stereotype porn' is used so frequently in relation to so many different situations because of its prevalence in creating an image of Africa in the western media. It is so common and widespread because it introduces and promotes a popular stereotype that has always existed in Western media about Middle East and the African continent as a whole; an image that is often of a degrading nature, of a whole continent needing to be saved by the superior western world. James Agee, in The Nation in 1945 wrote that "Pornography is invariably degrading to anyone who looks at or reads it"; it creates "incurable distance" and betrays those with whom we are trying to identify. Images of war atrocities were thus "pornographic" (Dean, 2003).

In The Holocaust in American Film (1987), Judith Doneson explained that development pornography is said to take images and literature out of context, showing suffering in a dehumanizing way that objectifies the subjects in order to invoke sympathetic feelings from readers and viewers. In particular, it describes the process where victims are victimized again, and the way in which the medium of representation brings along with it a related degradation of death and dying (Dean, 2003). These sorts of media also provoke inadequate feelings due to their "…violation of dignity, cultural degradation, taking things out of context, exploitation, objectification, putting misery and horror on display, the encouragement of voyeurism, moral and political perversion" (Campbell, 2011).

Critique of the "pornography" label

"The term "pornography" is used to describe the "marketing" of the reduction of human beings to commodities, the exposure of vulnerable people at the moment of their most profound suffering, and thus their victimization all over again" (Dean, 2003). The term is used figuratively to link visual cognition with human degradation and destruction.

David Campbell argues that the frequent and random use of the word 'porn' to describe the phenomenon that supposedly is responsible for our alleged exhaustion of empathy lacks any real basis as evidence for the arguments. He states that 'Porn' has become part of a myth that states that we do not recognise our ethical obligations towards others, and have become comfortable to suffering because so many images and literature on poverty and disaster which have now become threats to our empathic connection (Campbell, 2011).

With development reducing and improving the day-to-day experience of suffering and poverty, people are motivated to help others through aid and services. They are even more motivated when there are representations that make us feel close to the victims. From the beginning, long before the technology of photography, there were social concerns about apparent barriers to empathy, such as images and narratives that produced inadequate compassion or insincere sympathy from the viewers and readers.

Scholars have conceded that there are issues with the representations of atrocities and disaster in the media but they also argue that the word 'Pornography' should be done away with as a term related to visual representations of suffering. They argue that it prevents people for really addressing the cause of inadequate sympathy since the term merely covers the topic under a word that people are familiar with and frequently assume they understand; a sort of conventional wisdom. "Many of the problems 'porn' attached itself to must be dealt with in relation to specific images in specific contexts, aggregating those concerns under one banner prevents us from engaging the problems properly" (Campbell, 2011).

Using the word pornography, keeps people from exploring the problem deeper and asking the right questions about our lack and/or loss of empathy. "We need to ask some hard questions about what and where the main threats to empathy are" (Campbell, 2011). After the world has experienced two world wars, the holocaust and a century of genocide and destruction, it has become painfully clear that we have very little impact on elevating the suffering of others said Campbell and this realization may be one of the factors affecting our response to visual representations of wars and disasters. We now have a greater awareness of atrocities that happened in other parts of the world, far removed from our immediate borders because of advancements in media technologies, along with a human rights culture that assigns us accountability with regards to those outside of our immediate environment. These are all factors we have to consider when attributing the erosion of empathy to disaster/war pornography. "'Pornography' and 'compassion fatigue' are alibis, slogans that substitute for answers to this gap between heightened awareness and limited response, which is limited at least in relation to the scale of the challenges" (Campbell, 2011).

The term 'Pornography' as a metaphor for the causes and effects of our numbness and as an obstacle to empathic identification in a wide variety of literature does not encourage discussion. Unlike the term "trauma," though seemingly more weighty, accomplishes a comparable analytic purpose in the same contexts, pornography freezes discussion, and this function is perhaps the most substantial achievement of the term 'war porn' (Dean, 2003). David Campbell does however admits that literature of suffering and war can be a threat to empathy but states that we need to know a lot more about how people actually respond to images and literature of suffering in the media before we can offer definitive conclusions. "What if, rather than being emotionally exhausted, any lack of empathy comes from people deciding they just don't want to know about atrocity …but one thing is clear - labelling everything 'porn' is not helping" (Campbell, 2011).

Moreover, it has to be acknowledged that media coverage of poverty, pain, wars and disasters does contribute very much to the solidarity and unity that is of the essence to assisting communities deal with such catastrophic situations. Disaster or war porn, according to some does more good than harm because "it promotes the need for assistance, specifies the priorities, and puts the public in touch with appeal collection points" (Mullins, 2011). As long as images and narratives of disaster and poverty get the required message across and summon people to action, some believe that the positive aspects outweigh the negative and therefore are a needed part of our media.

Compassion fatigue

"The first time a reader sees the advertisement he is arrested by guilt. He may come close to actually sending money to the organization. The second time the reader sees the ad he may linger over the photograph, read the short paragraphs of copy and only then turn the page. The third time the reader sees the ad he typically turns the page without hesitation. The fourth time the reader sees the ad he may pause again over the photo and text, not to wallow in guilt, but to acknowledge with cynicism how the advertisement is crafted to manipulate readers like him--even if it is in a "good" cause" (Moeller, 1999).

The eighteenth Century, when sympathy was first believed to be a key factor of the enlightened, free-thinking, liberal individual, and the new social order, marked the beginning of discourses about the many obstructions to empathic feeling. "The concept of … sympathy was instrumental in shaping the eighteenth century literature of sensibility…that proved an important medium for popularizing the basic tenets of sentimental ethics" (Halttunen, 1995). Compassion fatigue is the claim that we are numb to the suffering of others due to our exposure to 'development porn'. It states that people have become indifferent to the pain of others, that exposure to narratives and images of suffering has generated new and dramatic forms of emotional distance due to poverty or war porn. This theory links the increase of such images and literature and the lack of control over their content to the dulling of our moral senses and ability to be compassionate to the tragedies happening around us (Campbell, 2011). Many explanations of the compassion fatigue ideology claim that literature of suffering shown to millions simply increases the lack of empathy about atrocities happening elsewhere; meaning the overexposure to literature on suffering numbs us. It also means that the "overuse of icons of atrocity" (Dean, 2003) in mass media, redefines our relationship to human suffering.

It has been argued that narratives and images of war and suffering being constantly shoved upon media consumers have an immense impact; it normalises the atrocities and turns the reports of such disasters into a form of cruelty on its own. Constant mediated messages of war and atrocities have not informed the public about such disasters but have had the contradictory effect of disengagement on the consumers. Some have gone further to see compassion fatigue as a sort of coping mechanism to protect the spectators from the trauma they could experience from being attacked with such messages. "Some scholars have defined …"empathy fatigue" or "compassion fatigue," in which numbness is explicitly conceived as a form of self-protective disassociation" (Dean, 2003).

"To fend off readers' compassion fatigue, sensationalism, formulaic coverage and references to American cultural icons often predominate over thoughtful, less reflexive reporting" (Moeller, 1999). Accounts on war and disasters have been too commercialized that the message is losing its effectiveness. The belief that we are now insensitive and hardened towards the suffering of others is common.

Criticism of Compassion fatigue

Some have explained the need for such narrative in the media as being part of efforts to inspire moral action on behalf of the poor and disenfranchised. This explanation believes that arousing human compassion requires some symbolic representation of the suffered to deliver the message to the viewer. These messages, however, could also arouse the "wrong" sort of compassion, or insincere forms of sympathy because they are often displayed out if context. Distance has also been used to explain the need of 'disaster porn' "Geographical, ethnic, and social distance may preclude or distort compassion" (Dean, 2003) where too much distance leads to insufficient or disingenuous sympathy.

Another critique of the compassion fatigue theory does not fully take on the idea that people no longer feel sympathy for others due to disaster porn but believes that the messages illicit forms of false sympathy and inappropriate emotions from the audience. "Beginning in the interwar period in Western Europe … display of human suffering no longer necessarily generated empathic identification, but instead invited an often eroticized objectification of pain" (Dean, 2003) an inappropriate response to the suffering and humiliation of people.

Another discourse claims that the recent history of genocide and wars simply go beyond notions like sympathy and empathy because it creates insincere empathy, due to the media representations of suffering as entertainment. It blots out the experience of victims by presenting images and literature out of context and by also encouraging a false likeness between the victims and the viewers. It is also argued that in popular culture representations of war and disasters, emphasis is placed in making sure that the readers and viewers can identify with the victim. It comes from a belief that people can only empathize with those we can imagine as ourselves. That any difference that is visible between the victim and the viewer will somehow hinder the feelings and responsiveness of the viewer to such tragedy. All these are believed to provoke ingenious responses from readers.


"The buzzards of the European Union, United Kingdom and United States are circling, and many have landed, to establish an understanding of just what has been happening in the country of such geostrategic importance and historical 'stability'" (Bush, 2011).

Geopolitics is a theory that explores the impact of geography on political decisions and local or international policies being taken. It studies the connection between politics and geography on both local and international scale. It includes the practice of studying, censuring and predicting the use of political power over a given territory. It is a method used to analyse, comprehend and calculate international political behaviour using geographical variable as a way to understand foreign policies. Geopolitics takes into consideration the resources available in a region, its geographical location, size, climate and demography of the country or region being analysed. It analyses the strategies employed by different countries by linking their political power to their geographic location. "Some important parameters for foreign policy and military strategy are clearly composed of geographical conditions. Space, topography, position, and climate interact with population, communications, industry, and technology" (Østerud, 1988).

Geopolitics has evolve to include the tools that states can use to project power, it takes into account important measurements of state power such as the demographics, ethnic make-up, the degree of social peace and cohesion within a state. Access to energy and other natural resources are also examined as part of the economic influence of such region; geopolitics also pays close attention to the military prowess of the countries being evaluated and how it deals with national security issues and environmental issues. The political and economic situations within the country are of great importance in geopolitics as this affects the influence the state has on an international and diplomatic level. The strengths and weaknesses of the countries in these aspects are examined to understand the political policies of such countries and predict future tendencies. Therefore geographical location can be of benefit or be a hindrance to the international relations of a country and how this might affect its policies. It shows how these policies display differences in the realm of the political ideas, workings, and cultures.

Clash of civilizations

Geopolitics also leads to the idea of clash of civilizations which was developed by Samuel Phillips Huntington who claimed that the world will remain in a state characterised by cultural conflict not because of economic or ideological reasons but with people everywhere divided along cultural and religious lines (Huntington, 1993).

Huntington proposed that the conflicts were bound to happen because of differences that exist within the various geographies and civilizations. He explained that differences among civilizations such as history, language, culture, tradition, and religion are too fundamental and will not go away anytime soon. According to his theory, the world is also becoming a global village with increasing interactions between civilizations while will undoubtedly increase people's awareness and knowledge of their commonality and/or differences. He also asserted that due to such consciousness, other civilizations, which have begun to revert to a de-westernized culture, become more aware of the role of the western society, who is at the peak of power. This will without a doubt create a rift between the western civilization and the others looking to shape the world in non-western ways (Huntington, 1993). He also claimed that these cultural characteristics and differences often shaped by geographical location are less changeable than political and economic issues. These, he argued, make it harder to find a middle ground, he also emphasised the role of religion in the clash of civilization, saying that religion shapes identity which transcends national boundaries (Huntington, 1993).

In Huntington's view, conflict may occur as a result of several causes such as for influence and power, prevent against discrimination or human rights offences or difference in values and beliefs, particularly when one civilization attempts to impose its beliefs on people of a different civilization. These conflicts can manifest internally; along fault lines, when the civilization is home to people with different beliefs and values or on an international level where major civilizations are involved.

Criticism of Clash of civilization theory

"… if you're an intellectual …You have to create deep theories that can be understood only if you have a PhD from Harvard or something. So we have a clash of civilizations, and we're supposed to worship that. But it makes absolutely no sense" (Chomsky, 2001).

Huntington has fallen under the heavy criticism from various academic writers, who have either empirically, historically, logically or ideologically challenged his claims such as the one put forward by Paul Berman, in Terror and Liberalism. Berman suggests that separate cultural boundaries do not exist in the world anymore; the division along the civilizations that Huntington referred to as the "Islamic civilization" or the "western civilization" no longer exist due to globalization. He claims that Huntington's evidence for a civilization clash is not convincing, especially considering that many 'western civilizations' have relationships with so called 'Islamic civilizations'. He believes that conflicts arise as a result of differences in philosophical views that could be shared cross culturally and regardless of religion. Huntington's theory has also been criticized for being racist and discriminatory towards Arabs and Muslims, while others have criticised it for not taking into consideration the changing dynamics and interaction of cultures.

Chomsky also critiqued this theory by explaining that the extreme Islamic fundamentalist non-state actors of the 'Islamic Civilizations', like the Al Qaeda network were created by the CIA, British intelligence, Saudi Arabian funding, Egypt and so on. "They brought the most extreme radical fundamentalists they could find anywhere, in North Africa or the Middle East, and trained them, armed them, nurtured them ... These guys were carrying out terrorism from the beginning... But they were the main groups supported by the US. So, where is the clash of civilizations?" (Chomsky, 2001). He used this to explain how the clash of civilization theory is merely a way for the western government to excuse and explain their display of military power in these states.

Noam Chomsky has also criticised the clash of civilization theory as nothing more than a way for the west to manufacture consent. "…if you look at … clash of civilizations, he says that in the future the conflict will not be on economic grounds…You can't think about rich powers and corporations exploiting people, that can't be the conflict. It's got to be something else. So it will be the 'clash of civilizations' - the western civilization and Islam and Confucianism" (Chomsky, 2001).

CNN effect

The CNN effect theory states that the media directly influences Western policy of intervention by forcing Western governments to intervene in Humanitarian crises against the will of that government. The theory states that the media has the power to pressure the government to actively participate in crises they would not otherwise have intervened in. Journalists now have the power to bring conflicts and disasters to the awareness of the public instantaneously; this is believed to have increased the impact the media has on the public and government in terms of intervention in crisis. The supporters of the CNN effect believe that the media coverage of crisis leads to journalists and opinion leaders demanding that Western governments 'do something' which in turn leads the government to act as the public pressure becomes overwhelming.

The CNN effect theory is somewhat confirmed by Corinne Lysandra Mason in her critical study (Mason, 2011). She makes the point that, during a crisis (wars or other emergency), the media tends to make visible or invisible certain aspects of an event, putting aside the big picture, thus driving attention towards one particular point or situation.

Criticism of the CNN effect

Some believe that the CNN effect gives too much credit to the media as an influencing factor for governmental intervention. The sceptics believe that other factors help decide how and if the government will intervene. Some claim that the CNN effect could actually prevent the government from intervening especially when it requires military intervention. In cases where the crises are of a violent nature, the media coverage can shift the "focus and funds from … long-term efforts directed at preventing violent conflict and rebuilding war-torn societies to short-term emergency relief" (Jakobsen 2000)

The media tends to ignore conflicts during the pre-and post-violence stages while being highly selective in its coverage of conflicts in the violent phase. The media fails to take an interest in crisis until mass numbers of people are dead; "There has to be large-scale violence, destruction, or death before the media takes notice" (Jakobsen 2000). When the coverage does occur before the escalation of the crisis, it tends to be ignored by the government; therefore the impact of the media in this stage is insignificant. When the crises does escalate, a host of other factors influence how the media covers the issue, factors such as "geographic proximity to Western countries, costs, logistics, legal impediments (e.g. visa requirements), risk to journalists, relevance to national interest, and news attention cycles" (Jakobsen 2000).

Media generated pressure can make a difference in the policy decision by making the government put visible (Military or Humanitarian) intervention on the agenda. In some cases, though the media made the government intervene against their will, the decisions to intervene were ultimately decided by other factors such as low risks of casualties and clear exit points. The media has most impact in this stage but the impact is still quite minimal. In the post-crisis stage; media coverage disappears almost entirely unless western troops are killed or massacres of civilians occur. In the post-crisis stage, the media's impact is minimal and sometimes negative because when the coverage does occur, it can have the disastrous result of eroding governmental and public support for long-term peace building efforts.

Since pre- and post-crises phases are mostly ignored and when they are reported, they are usually negative, the public perception of conflict prone countries and regions is skewed, and leads to the belief that the crises are unsolvable thereby eroding public support. Even though the media can pressure the government to act in humanitarian emergencies they may otherwise have ignored, the media's power is not as influential as some believe it to be.



Newsworthiness and Geopolitics have influence on how the western media choose to frame events (especially having to do with social uprising) in other parts of the world, particularly in Africa and the Middle East. This research aims to investigate how these theories impact the mainstream media by analysing how the mainstream media report on the social movements they labelled 'the Arab Spring'. Previous research suggests that mainstream western media have and promote a rather negative image of Africa and the Middle East, particularly when it comes to issues of war and social uprisings in these areas (Brookes, 1995). There seems to be a scepticism shown in the media about the lasting effects of these revolutions especially when the west is not the driving force behind such revolution (Brookes, 1995).

This research offer an explanatory approach to the mainstream media's reporting on the Arab spring, which resulted in the toppling down of their government regimes. Arab Spring happened as a surprise to most journalists and western society but it has been met with both optimism and pessimism. This research hopes to explore if the image of the newspaper also affects how they frame the reality of the protests and if the media's position on the countries affect how the protests in such country is portrayed.

Research paradigm

This research aims to give a richer understanding of how the mainstream media reported on the Arab Spring protests in terms of their attitudes towards the countries involved and the protesters. Since there are no prior researches or theories that look at this topic, some questions were set up to guide the design and execution of the analysis (Lifvergren, 2011). The research questions aim to link the variables in the coding scheme, focusing on mainstream media's framing of the protests.

Q1: How did the journalists frame the protests in terms of their attitude towards the protesters?

Q2: Did the journalists report on the protests in an optimistic- or sceptic manner?

Q3: Did the media focus on certain countries more?

Q4: How much were women represented in the reports of the Arab Spring?

Q5: Did religion play into how the reports were framed?

The first research question focuses on the framing of the protesters, aiming to provide data explaining mainstream media's attitude towards the protesters cause. Previous research suggests that mainstream media tend to focus on violence between protesters and police instead of focusing on the rationale behind the protests (Slisli, 2000). The second question hopes to answer if the western media had a pessimistic or optimistic view on the revolutions as a way of the Arab world achieving its goals. The third question will explore how geopolitics might have played into how the reports of the Arab spring were framed by exploring if a specific country was focused on more than the other and the reasons that might have been. The fourth and fifth question hopes to look at how women and the Islam are represented in the Arab Spring reports; if articles about the Arab spring mention women involved and their struggles and if Islamism is focused on in these articles. Most previous research also focus on real life events when analysing media coverage on protest movements, which means that the methodologies and findings from their research will also be applicable and relevant (Lifvergren, 2011).

Research design

The choice of this research method allows for analysing the media coverage within a specific time and space, which means that the findings can be understood within a specific context and therefore giving the findings more meaning (Lifvergren, 2011). This research aims to give a better understanding of how reality of the uprising was constructed in the newspaper and provide data in support of the theory that the media's report of the Arab spring were affected by a series of factors such as newsworthiness and geopolitics.

Quantitative content analysis has been chosen as research method for gathering data. It is often used in media studies because it makes it possible to analyse a large body of articles and systematically organize the data (Lifvergren, 2011). Content analysis consists of conceptual analysis, which is a way of establishing the existence and frequency of concepts most often represented by words of phrases in a text. This system of analysis will allow for easy gathering of data about the words used in the newspaper articles (Lifvergren, 2011). Content analysis was chosen as the method for the research because it provides quantifiable data that can be illustrated in various ways and are easy to understand. Some have argued that this can also have its disadvantages when doing research. According to Berger (2000), the use of content analysis as a research method has the benefit of the method being unobtrusive which means that, unlike interviewing and other research methods, it does not allow for more human interaction and inevitable error with the research results. Content analysis is also generally inexpensive which applies to this research since it uses online tools, specifically; NewsBank, to access the articles, and SPSS to code and process the data. It also makes use of materials that are fairly easy to find and work with e.g. NewsBank provides organized and structured set of newspaper articles based on search criteria, which makes access to the material relatively easy (Lifvergren, 2011). Berger also points out that content analysis can deal with current events and recent topics which is applicable to this research because it aims to analyse a very current incident thereby making it possible to quickly quantify, evaluate and put the data in the right perspective (Berger, 2000) (Lifvergren, 2011).

This research examines what and how the newspapers have been writing about the protests in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. It is not concerned with the underlying analysis of the content which looks at the hidden implication of the words; it is however looking at the obvious content which means that; only what is clearly stated in text is analysed (Lifvergren, 2011). The issues of reliability and validity are the two issues that must be dealt with in these forms of research. The reliability of a content analysis study is measured when coders can consistently re-code the same data in the same way over a period of time and reproduce the same conclusions. There are bound to be errors while coding but the margin of error has to be as minimal as possible for the findings to be regarded as reliable and valid. A sound and valid research has to be able to be reproduced in order for the study, its conclusions and results to be considered academically compelling. The validity of a content analysis study also has to do with the link between the categories to the conclusions, and the ability to come up with a theory from the results (Olson, 1995).

Quantitative content analysis has been criticized for putting too much emphasis on comparative frequency of different symbols' appearance. Many scholars recommend using both quantitative and qualitative methods to supplement each other to reduce such emphasis. (Lifvergren, 2011) This research however collects data solely through a quantitative method, because this research is not aiming to understand the underlying reasons for the protests in these countries and why they evolved the way it did, but looking at how the media reported on the protests in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Therefore a quantitative method is sufficient, as well as efficient, for analysing this event (Lifvergren, 2011).

Text acquisition

The content analysis began with finding the relevant articles on NewsBank, and the following keywords and Boolean terms were set up to retrieve the articles; "Arab spring" and Tunisia or Egypt or Libya. So the articles had to contain both the name of one of the countries and "Arab spring". The date was set between December 2010 and October 2011 to cover different stages of the Arab spring. By focusing on this time period the chances for retrieving articles, based on the mentioned keywords, are relatively high.

The Guardian, Daily Telegraph and the Independent newspapers were selected for the content analysis. The rationale behind this is that this research aims to analyse how British media reported on protesters and the protests during the Arab Spring in Middle East and North Africa. In other words, the focus will be on these British newspapers, which represent different political and ideological perspective within the British Society individually reported on the demonstrations.

The resulting lists of articles provided on NewsBank were then scrutinized to remove duplicates articles and exclude articles written about art, entertainment and travel within those regions in that time period. Because the total findings of articles were 468, it was quite a time consuming task to detect the duplicates, which was done by reading the headlines alone. The sample also consisted of many non-relevant articles, which did not report on the events in Egypt, Tunisia or Libya, but rather referring to them when reporting on Syria, Saudi Arabia and other Arab societies involved in the Arab spring. The final sample therefore consisted of 299 articles, which were arranged in a chronological order and exported to a PDF file for reading.

The samples are drawn from the chosen newspapers because the Daily Telegraph is traditionally part of the conservative press and the guardian has a tradition of support for liberal causes including the rights of minority groups and oppressed peoples (Brookes, 1995). The Independent on the other hand represents a middle framework that is neither conservative nor liberal. Since this research focuses on the British media in general, it was natural to include national newspapers with different public idioms which will suggest dissimilar ideological representation and frame of the Arab Spring (Brookes, 1995). It also benefitted the total amount of relevant articles within the time frame.

Coding System

The coding scheme was designed based on the research questions mentioned above. The selection and structure of the variables are inspired by the previous research of Marius Lifvergren (2011). The first variable (1) is the "Newspaper" it was printed in, represented in numbers with Guardian being 1, Telegraph represented as 2 and the Independent as 3. The next variables are the (2) "Word count" of the article published (3) the "date" when the article was publicised. The next four variables count the number of times keywords are mentioned in the articles such as (4) "Arab Spring" (5) "Egypt" (6) "Tunisia" and (7) "Libya". This will hopefully help understand if the British media focuses more on the happenings in certain countries than others and explore the relationship Britain has with these countries as reasons for it. This will also help explore some of the values of newsworthiness and Geopolitics as discussed in chapter 2 and how they help shape the way the Arab Spring was reported about.

The eighth variable (8), "tone towards protests" looks at each article to see whether the article has a positive or negative view of the people involved in the demonstration. An article may also be considered "neither", meaning that it does not take any clear stance. This variable aims to gather data that can indicate the newspapers attitude towards the protesters, and not concerned with the attitude towards the entire revolution. The findings, however, will be interesting as an indicator on the overall attitude towards the revolutions in addition to the ninth (9) "tone towards government" and tenth (10) "tone towards western intervention" looks at how the media portrays the government being revolted against in these countries. The government in the countries chosen, particularly that of Ben Ali of Tunisia had been supported by many western government including the British and the United states, so this will help explore how these countries dealt with exit of these governments they once supported. It will also help explore the idea of neo-colonialism and examine if the narrative of Africa and the Arab world has changed or are still being dominated with ideas of helplessness and dependency on the west (Brookes, 1995).

The eleventh variable (11) "Tone towards revolution" looks at if the articles have a pessimistic or an optimistic attitude about the outcomes of the revolution as a whole, so it explores what the newspapers think the result of the Arab spring will be. The Arab Spring started due to the frustration of the people towards the government and lack of control over how they are governed. This came as a surprise to the west because the Arab world was always seen as being passive so it will give an interesting insight into if the west thinks the Arab Spring will achieve positive results for the people of the Arab world or if they believe that the Arab spring will not change anything for the better or produce the desired effect for the people.

The last two variables (12) "Women Mentioned (Y\N)" and (13) "Religion Mentioned (Y\N)" hope to explore if the narratives of the Arab world in the western media often categorized by Islamophobia and sexism is still prevalent in these newspapers. These variables simply look at if women or Islam is mentioned anywhere in the articles in correlation to the Arab spring demonstrations. Women are often neglected in the narratives of the Arab world as the MENA is often shown as being overtly patriarchal but during the Arab Spring, women were at the forefront of demonstrations and played pivotal roles in the revolution. Therefore, this variable will help explore if there are any changes in the way the western media reports about the Arab women. The region is also closely related to Islam as majority of its people are Muslims but with the idea that Islam is the new communism which the west must conquer, it will be interesting to explore if Islam is mentioned in relation to a movement that was mainly secular in nature and brought people across religious lines together in protest (Slisli, 2000).


Before running the full scale content analysis, a pilot was conducted to uncover weaknesses with the sampling and coding scheme. The first problem to reveal itself was that articles that covered both the "Arab Spring" and the mentioned countries were not available till Feb 2011. In addition the samples after this date were no longer about the protest in Tunisia as that had happened and they had successfully ousted the government. It became clear that the media had not labelled the demonstration as "Arab Spring" at the time of the Tunisian revolution and the label didn't appear in the media until the February of 2011 when other Arab countries got involved in the revolution. The decision was made to stay with the originally gathered articles since the study is of the narrative of the "Arab Spring" in the chosen countries. The parameters originally chosen still gives a wide overview of how the media reported about the events once they realized it wasn't just an uprising localised in Tunisia but an awakening for the entire Arab world.

The keywords in NewsBank were however moderated, to exclude narratives on countries such as Bahrain and Morocco that were also involved in the Arab Spring movements, so before ending up with the above mentioned keywords, minor changes were made to retrieve more relevant articles in terms of mentioning the countries and Arab Spring. In addition to this, articles that mainly dealt with art, music, film and travel to these countries during the Arab Spring were excluded from the coding. Also, articles that dealt with different subject matters but merely mentioned Arab Spring were excluded from the analysis. The major part of the article had to address the protests in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

The coding scheme also changed a little as a result of the pilot; Variables 8 to 11 were broken down to not only look at the headlines but go through the entire article to determine whether it has a positive or negative attitude towards the protests, the government and western intervention. This proved to be more precise and sufficient considering the aim of the variable.

Context and Constraints

The main limitations to this research has been that there is a very limited amount of previous research that have a similar approach to how mainstream media report on the Arab Spring as it is a recent occurrence still evolving as time goes on. The research also proved to be quite comprehensive and ambitious in its quest to answer so many Questions about the media's report on revolutions and especially the Arab spring. The broad approach can also be seen in the amount of articles that had to be read and coded for the research, the research might have benefitted more from looking at one country or by reducing the time span that was looked at. Coding such large amount of data also has its difficulty and increases the risk of error.

These broad research questions also affected the coding scheme, creating a large number of variables and therefore more time consumption on data entry and analysis. Because this research did not just look at headline like previous research, it allowed for more in-depth analysis but also created a time challenge in the coding and analysis section. This research would have benefitted from a more concise approach, focusing on how mainstream media reported on the protests in a particular country perhaps or how a single newspaper reported.

Since the Arab Spring movement is believed to have been started with the use of social media. This research might have benefitted from looking at how the new media affected the reports in the mainstream media as this was the primary source of information for a lot of media outlets during the Arab Spring due to distance and policies barring them from certain countries.

Another limitation was that even though the research was to examine the media's report of the Arab Spring from Dec 2010, the label "Arab Spring" didn't get used in the media till February so the articles used in this research start in Feb and not in Oct as originally planned. This could have the effect of skewing the results a bit as the Tunisian revolution took place mainly between Dec 2010 and Feb 2011.

Main findings and discussion


This section aims to present the data from the content analysis, and then discuss and compare the findings with the help of previous research and the theoretical frameworks discussed in chapter 2. The discussion and analysis will answer the research questions already set out in order while giving a wider context for the interpretation of the data. This aims to show how the theoretical frameworks explained above play into the British newspaper's report of the Arab Spring. The first research question aims to explore how the journalists of these newspapers framed the protest in terms of their attitude towards the protesters. The second will look at how the viewed the movement itself in terms of having an optimistic or pessimistic outlook of the revolution.

The third question will explore how geopolitics might have played into how the reports of the Arab spring were framed by exploring if a specific country was focused on more than the other and the reasons that might have been. The fourth and fifth question explores gender relations and religious influences in the reports. This data can help explain their attitude towards the protests and put it in context by looking at it from several perspectives and comparing it with previous research. Because of the relationship between the west and the countries involved in the Arab Spring; a relationship of both support and admonition, this research works from that backdrop and tries to understand the complexities and importance of the media's reports on uprisings, especially when they occur in Africa and the Arab world.


Newspaper * Arab Spring Mention (freq)



Arab Spring Mention (freq)








































Table : Newspaper*Arab Spring Mention

The total number of articles used in this research was 299 articles and they are broken down according to the newspapers the articles were printed in (see appendix). Analysis showed that the phrase "Arab Spring" was used in most sparingly in the Telegraph than the other Newspapers, with the independent using the phrase more often than the other newspapers as illustrated in figure 2 below.

Figure ; Bar Chart: "Arab Spring" Mention Frequency

Figure ; Bar Chart: Mean "Arab Spring" Mention

After the coding, analysis showed that the Guardian wrote more articles within that time span about the Arab Spring than the other two Newspapers, making up 43.8% of the articles used in this research which is more than twice the articles from the Telegraph which made up 26.4% of the research articles as shown in table 2. The guardian also had a more comprehensive look at the Arab spring as it unfolded by continually writing articles about it even when it seems that the other newspapers shifted their focus to other topics as illustrated below in figure 3. This aligns with the idea that the Guardian's ideological view has been that of support for liberal causes including the rights and struggles of minority groups and oppressed people.




Valid Percent

















Table : Newspaper Make-up

Figure ; Figure showing span of coverage

The Independent however had more articles with higher word counts than the others meaning that they dedicated more space in their newspaper for reports on the happenings of the Arab spring, in comparison to the Telegraph which had more articles with smaller word counts than the guardian and the independent as illustrated below.

Figure : Figure; Mean word count in Newspapers

Question 1

How did the journalists frame the protests in terms of their attitude towards the protesters?

By reading through the articles, it is easy to get and understanding of the focus of the writer and to evaluate the tone of the article towards the protesters. Looking at the general language of the article in describing the revolution and also keeping in mind the author's attitude towards the government being thrown out, it is possible to get a richer picture of how the newspapers reported on the Arab Spring protests. These two variables work in compliment to each other and will indicate focus on the protesters struggle as opposed to the struggles of the deposed government's struggle to hold on to power.

When the articles focus on the issues behind the revolution and the rights of the people, there is a higher probability that it finds fault with the government and is therefore in support of the people's actions than being concerned with the welfare of the ruling parties. These articles are more likely to focus on the protesters cause because it frames the protesters as demonstrators in a struggle for their rights, which indicate a more peaceful way of depicting the protesters involved in the Arab Spring. The probability of articles focusing on the clashes between protesters and police are higher when the article looks more at how the government and ruling elites are coping in such revolutions; these articles thereby paint the demonstrations in terms of violence and chaos. When articles focus on how these countries have dealt with uprisings in the past and the results or lack of, the chances becomes much higher that the article is in dissent against the movement and the means being used by the protesters.


Tone Toward Protesters

Ratio of +ve to -ve

Positive (+ve)

Negative (-ve)



54 (41.2%)

6 (4.6%)

71 (54.2%)



37 (46.8%)

6 (7.6%)

36 (45.6%)



40 (45%)

3 (3.3%)

46 (51.7%)



131 (43.8%)

15 (5%)

153 (51.2%)

Total + ve/ - ve





Table : Newspaper*Tone towards Protesters

Almost all the articles used in this research were either supportive or neutral towards the protesters and their cause, while just a total of 15 articles were had negative tone towards the protesters. Majority of the articles were "neither" because they either criticised some of the ways the protesters go about in the struggle for their rights while praising other efforts or do not take a decisive position on the means the protesters are using for their struggle. In table 3 above, data shows that 51.2% of all the articles were in the 'neither' category.

Figure ; Pie Chart: Guardian's Tone Towards protesters

The Guardian, with a reputation of being interested in the struggle of oppressed people dedicated 41% of all its articles written on the Arab spring in support of the protesters while about 5% of the articles written in the Guardian were in dissent of the protesters. A large portion of its reports (54%) however were neither i