Just a few days ago, an American teenager filmed the last moments of the life of George Floyd, who was suffocating under the knee of a police officer in American Minneapolis. Several American cities protest the "police brutality".
The protests continue for the fourth consecutive day in Minneapolis and throughout the United States to demand police accountability, interspersed with major disturbances, and news reports soon carried pictures of the destruction of private and public property, as well as police violence in the face of riot protestors.
A recent study says that public opinions about protests and social movements are largely shaped by what they read or see in the media, and this gives journalists a lot of power, but it puts more responsibility on them when it comes to telling the story of protest and protest.
Journalists can, for example, remind the public that the essence of the protests is the killing of a black citizen, which distracts the focus from sabotage, places the issue of racism and impunity at the center of the event, or, in return, journalists may repeat the speeches of politicians who describe the protesters as "thugs" .
According to Daniel Kiljo, the academic academy specializing in journalism studies at Indiana University, some protest movements are more legitimate than others, according to local and international press coverage.
For example, the study stated that the women's march and anti-Trump protests enjoyed significant media support, which gained them legitimacy and prevalence, and on the contrary, protests against racism against blacks and demonstrations calling for indigenous rights take less legitimacy because their media coverage shows them as threats and acts of violence.
Thus, the role of journalists can be indispensable if the movements want to gain legitimacy and mass and make progress in achieving their goals, which also places more responsibility on journalists to convey the truth and correct the image.
Building a narration
In a decades-old study, two US media experts, James Hertog and Douglas Macleod, outlined how news coverage of protests contributed to maintaining the status quo and preventing change, a phenomenon referred to as the "protest model."
The researchers considered that media narratives tend to emphasize dramatic events and a sense of inconvenience and unrest caused by the protests rather than presenting the demands, complaints, and goals of the demonstrators, and these narratives reduce the value of the protests and ultimately weaken popular support for them.
This method is what is being repeated today in the media, according to Kiljo, as journalists pay little attention to the unspeakable or considered unconventional protests.
With this in mind, protesters find ways to attract media and public attention, which may include resorting to violence and lawlessness to attract attention, so that protesters receive media attention.
But coverage of recent protests in the United States has often been superficial or biased, in an attempt to delegitimize protest and focus on the tactical, detailed, and operational aspects and turmoil that results from it, and in return does not address the core of the social movement and its original demands, according to Daniel Kiljo's article on the website of Conversion.
The author has attempted to explore whether this ancient theory is appropriate for coverage for 2017, the year of large-scale protests accompanying the first year of Donald Trump's presidency until now, and to do so she analyzed the content of several press reports covering protests in Texas as a generalizable model.
The analysis followed terms such as "protest", "protester", "black life is important", and "women's march", including reports written by journalists in 20 Texas newsrooms, such as the El Paso Times and the Houston Chronicle ), As well as articles compiled from sources and agencies such as The Associated Press.
The study classified reports into four categories: "riot control" that emphasizes the presence of subversive behavior and violence, and "confrontation", which describes the protests as combat and focuses on clashes, as well as reports on the description of protesters' clothing and their emotional behavior, and finally exposure to their demands and goals.
The author says that journalists are increasingly contributing to the preference of some protests over others by adhering to professional standards that work against lesser known protest movements and focus on strangeness, excitement and drama, and this implicit bias also appears in some reports because newsrooms and the press lack a lot of diversity.
The study concluded that news coverage tends to calm the protests by focusing mostly on dramatic aspects, and the coverage was biased. Some protests suffered more than others, as the reports focused on describing a visual scene of the demonstration more than the essence and objectives of the protest.
Many press materials also provided descriptions of the protesters' clothing, the sizes of demonstrations, anger and arson, and the form of participation, especially in the protests organized by blacks against racism, which made them less legitimate in the eyes of the public, who saw a lot of what they described as destructive and violent in the media and newspapers.
On the other hand, many marches and demonstrations gained legitimacy and support such as coverage and reports of anti-Trump protests, immigration gatherings, women's rights demonstrations and environmental events, and press coverage provided essential information about protesters' complaints, demands and goals, while ignoring this in the coverage of black protests.
In covering the 2017 St. Louis demonstrations protesting the acquittal of a police officer who killed a black man, the notions of violence, arrest, and turmoil were among the most prominent descriptions used, at a time when anxiety about the police brutality and ethnic injustice was reduced to limited references.
As a result, some protests gain moral legitimacy and a more symbolic image than others, and this contributes to what the writer calls the "hierarchy of social struggle", as some protest voices are raised at the expense of others.