Arab Media and Transitions to Democracy
Journalistic Practices in Communicating Conflicts in the Post–Arab Uprisings
The inquiry aspires to develop an innovative conceptual framework of journalistic practices and their impact on the outcomes of transitions following the Arab uprisings, especially on the pacification/resolution of conflicts. The analysis aims to depict the complexities of the media’s role as a political institution in violent transitions. It aims to investigate the ambivalent role of media as both a force for democratisation and also an engine for divisions and polarisation in a context of troubled transitions to democracy.
Despite its crucial influence, little research has been conducted on the important role played by Arab traditional media in shaping the uprisings’ outcomes. The research will contribute to filling this gap by providing an empirically rooted and nuanced analysis of journalistic practices as a major player in a system of power relations.
This project’s methodology will include comparative analysis that investigates similarities and differences across countries (i.e. Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia), and single case studies that explore specific contexts. It will adopt a novel approach by analysing journalistic practices shaped by competing, conflicting and intertwined factors: structures (regulations, ownership models, etc.); journalists’ agency and self-perception of identity; and external networks of influence exercised by other institutions (political, religious, business, etc.).
The research will immensely help in building our understanding of human and cultural contexts and the underlying dynamics that influence the paths of political change in the Arab world. By depicting the nuances of the media’s role in supporting or hindering change, the research will inform practices and policies aimed at contributing to sustainable governance and the processes of institution building in these countries while they go through tumultuous transitions with unpredictable and often violent outcomes.
The project will generate research and policy outputs:
A monograph on journalistic practices in the context of current transitions or political change in North Africa is envisaged. It will cover journalists’ perceptions of their role and identity, newsrooms’ demography and economic organisation, informal structures operating in the context of clientelism, journalistic agency in supporting or acting against reform and the new hybrid (citizen) journalistic practices involving social media.
An edited volume on the inner dynamics of the Arab uprisings, emphasising local dynamics and aiming at understanding the roots of violence through examining the competition between the forces of change and continuity, as well as micro-practices of resistance.
Three peer-reviewed journal articles analysing the data collected in the fieldwork.
Two policy papers on comparative analysis of structures and practices in the MENA region.
A training manual for agonistic reporting on transitions or political change in collaboration with one of our partners in the region. We work closely with our partner Article 19 MENA based in Tunis.
We will aim to implement participatory engagement with our audiences: journalists, media experts, scholars, civil society actors and the larger public. The project has organised a major public event in partnership with the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King’s College London in September 2019. We will organise another public event in the region, preferably in Tunis. These events address a wider audience of media professionals, trainers, policy-makers, civil society representatives and media development agencies. We aim to inform the practice in newsrooms and relevant policies, as well as highlighting the crucial role of the journalistic practice in the formation of agnostic and tolerant public spheres in uncertain and contested political change or transitions to democracy.
Our collaborative research blog invites contributions from journalists to write on their experiences of reporting political change and related conflicts in uncertain and fluid contexts and the challenges they face every day. The project will also aim to create a network of experts in media and democratization in the Arab region and beyond. The network will bring together media experts from the Arab region and the West to enable fruitful exchange of experiences and long-term collaboration. The network will meet twice in the course of the project in London and in Tunis.
The project has a strong policy resonance and seeks to promote peaceful societies going through political change or transitions, by empowering agnostic professional journalistic practices. It engages with audiences beyond academia with an aspiration to impact the journalistic practice, support media freedom and rights in the region and inform media assistance and sustainable governance and policy-making in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Through the engagement with journalists, we seek to raise awareness within the journalistic community as to their responsibilities and the importance of agonistic pluralism in their practices.
Through the policy publications, the public events and the network of experts, we aim to provide evidence-based recommendations for efficient programmes of media assistance led by priorities defined by local actors, taking into account contexts and particularities.
Through the network of experts, we will promote knowledge exchange between experts in the East and the West that will continue beyond the project’s lifetime.
Through the production of a training manual we aim to engage with school of journalism and newsrooms through workshops in which the manual will be presented, discussed, amended and/or adopted.
Our research aims to contribute to de-westernizing media studies through generating analysis that will allow a better understanding of media systems and practices in non-Western contexts.
The project’s outputs
The project is funded by the British Academy Sustainable Development Programme. It is based at the University of Essex’s Department of Literature, Film and Theatre Studies (LiFTS) and is in partnership with the Firoz Lalji Center for Africa at LSE, the Institute of Middle Eastern Studies at King's College London and ARTICLE 19.