A Critical Examination of the Relation Between the Mass Media and Social Movements
Global Policy Forum | September 15, 2008By Michael Barker
Griffith School of Environment, Griffith University (Brisbane, Australia)
Abstract: Social movements come and go, represent all manner of political beliefs, and aim to achieve their political objectives by influencing a particular target group's opinion. Some groups reach out directly to just a few key decision makers or constituencies, while others act more indirectly, by broadcasting their message to as wide an audience as possible. It has been suggested that social movements rely on the media for three main services, (1) mobilization of political support, (2) legitimization (or validation) in the mainstreams discourse, and (3) to broaden the scope of conflicts. Consequently, the quality and nature of the media coverage that social movements obtain strongly influences how they are perceived in the public eye—to the extent that good or bad coverage can help to make or break a social movement.
Understanding the relationship between social movements and the media's coverage of their actions is crucial, especially if this increasingly important political resource is to be utilized effectively for progressive social change. This paper aims to analyze this pivotal relationship from two directions. Firstly, it will examine incidents where the media facilitates social change via protest actions within democratic countries, which will be followed by an examination of the media's role in catalyzing revolutions in authoritarian nations. Secondly, the paper will chart the ways in which the media (in democratic countries) can act to undermine social movements in the public sphere. Finally, the paper will attempt to understand why social movement protest coverage is so variable and conclude by making recommendations for how progressive organizations may best address their relationships with the media.
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