Legitimising Dissent? Western News Media Coverage of the 2011 Egyptian Uprising
The relationship between the news media and political protest is rife with complicating factors, considerations and responsibilities. At one end, journalists must be the “eyes of the world”, separating truth from fiction and fact from speculation, couching their reportage within the now universalised professional standard of objective reporting (Golding 1977). Another factor in this equation are the journalists themselves, in terms of what role they see themselves fulfilling when covering a political crisis with significant international ramifications, and how reporting from a particular nation-state may serve as the lens through which they make sense of the event. Such a consideration is further complicated when the distant political crisis in question is taking place within a nation that has significant geopolitical interest to the nation(s) to which the journalists are reporting. This research aims to explore whether print news media in the United States and the United Kingdom covered the Egyptian opposition protesters who ended the rule of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011 as a legitimate protest movement. Favourable news coverage is the life-blood of any protest movement. Given the normative paradigms by which news media cover political protest, typically framing protests and protesters in terms of their purported deviancy (Gitlin 1980; Hertog and McLeod 1995), this project will instead examine if the opposition protesters in Egypt were constructed as an opposition movement whose voice and aspirations were legitimated, rather than denigrated. Drawing on Foucauldian reflections on power relations and knowledge, this paper will reflect on the role of ideology and journalistic routines in reporting political protest. Through a content analysis of US and UK newspaper articles, in addition to in-depth interviews with journalists from the newspapers I will be examining, this research will examine how the protesters were framed in the period between 25th January 2011, when the protests started, and 12th February 2011, the day after Hosni Mubarak resigned as president. My analysis will demonstrate whether British and American newspapers conferred political legitimacy on the Egyptian protesters in their coverage of the 2011 Uprising. By examining coverage of the initial stages of the Egyptian Uprising, my hope is that it will be possible to better understand how journalists make sense of political events in distant societies.