Strategic Political Communication in the new Media Landscape – The 'Iranian Threat' Narrative
The aim of this project is to advance understanding of the interplay between the new media landscape and political communication. This study examines strategic narratives in political communication and how they are presented, projected, circulated and narrated in the new media landscape, which consists of mainstream media, social media, search engines and new media applications. Since the Iraq war, the importance of strategic narratives and the role of media have been recognised in war studies and political communication. Great powers use strategic narratives particularly during periods of transition in the international system, when challengers to hegemonic powers emerge (Antoniades, Miskimmon, O’Loughil 2010). Freedman (2006) suggests that narratives are essentially “compelling storylines which can explain events convincingly and from which inferences can be drawn”. In a war or a military intervention, a narrative is much more than just a story; it is the foundation of all strategy. Therefore the media, where the struggle of ideas takes place, is considered to be as important as the struggles on the ground. Consequently, mobilising the news media is an essential element of every collective action (Gamson & Wolfsfeld 1993; Ryan 1991). In order to influence public opinion, a threat must be posed; and politics are made by threat perceptions and threat perceptions are made by politics (Limnell 2009). The study looks at the “Iranian threat” narrative as a developing story between 2005 and 2011. The data includes global news media such as CNN, BBC World and Al Jazeera, as well as other Middle Eastern media (Hebrew and Arabic). It employs textual and visual analysis on data. Social media data during major media events (Facebook, Twitter and YouTube) are included after 2009, since, following the Iranian presidential election, the role of social media and new media applications has become more important in political communication in the Middle East. This study also draws on my extensive fieldwork in the Middle East - interviews with news agencies, international correspondents in the region and social media actors. Some provisional outcomes show that the new media landscape is in formation where political communication occurs through strategic narratives. Further, threat perceptions are posed in this new media landscape. The Iranian threat, a strategic narrative, has five main arguments: Iran’s disputed nuclear programme, its support of international terrorism, hostile rhetoric against Israel and the US, Holocaust denial and human rights violations. Also, the study suggests that the role of social media is becoming more important in strategic political communication.