Many of the contributions to the Special Issue of The International Journal of Press/Politics, guest edited by Fatima el Issawi and Jonathan Hill, are now available OnlineFirst. The Special Issue, ‘Media, Accountability and Dissent in the Middle East and North Africa’, explores the role of media in framing and communicating transitional politics in the region, as well as its ambiguous relationship to democratic change and consolidation.
In ‘Media Pluralism and Democratic Consolidation: A Recipe for Success’ Fatima el Issawi surveys Tunisia’s media-politics nexus during the country’s democratic transition. El Issawi interprets Tunisia’s post-overthrow media as defined by hybridity, presenting a complex combination of ‘new and old, change and continuity’. El Issawi notes that such a fractured political landscape presents openings for the return of forms of clientelism, elite recapture and new authoritarian structures to take hold. Following from el Issawi’s article, Francesco Cavatorta and Nidhal Mekki also consider Tunisia’s media polarization during a time of transition. Zeroing in on Tunisia’s constitution-making process, ‘How can we Agree on Anything in This Environment? Tunisian Media, Transition and Elite Compromises: A View From Parliament’, argues that Tunisia’s transition has taken place despite, rather than because of, its increasingly polarized and partisan media environment. Indeed, Cavatorta and Mekki note the marked disdain with which many Tunisian deputies hold traditional media. Returning to questions of ‘hybridity’, Katrin Voltmer, Kjetil Selvik and Jacob Høigilt in ‘Hybrid Media and Hybrid Politics: Contesting Informational Uncertainty in Lebanon and Tunisia’ investigate, through a comparative study of media practices in Tunisia and Lebanon, opportunities and openings for journalistic agency in hybrid regimes. The paper notes that, ‘hybrid journalistic practices can be seen as a strategy to navigate a volatile political landscape where the rules of the game are kept deliberately ambiguous to enforce self-censorship’. Taking the understudied question of newspaper advertisement funding, Servet Yanatma’s article, ‘Advertising and Media Capture in Turkey’, uncovers the central importance of these funding streams in the Turkish government’s manipulation of the media. Yanatma effectively shows that the allocation of state-owned enterprises’ advertising acts as a ‘carrot and stick’, rewarding pro-government newspapers while punishing critical newspapers.
As well as considering the relationship between the media and political regime in a time of transition, a number of articles in the issue are animated by questions of social media and its production, circulation and consumption. Cristina Moreno-Almeida and Paolo Gerbaudo’s ‘Memes and the Moroccan Far-Right’ considers the growth of a nationalistic memetic culture in Morocco that draws on a global Far-Right playbook and puts it to work in activating symbols of an imagined Moroccan past and scapegoating internal enemies. Finally, Jad Melki and Claudia Kozman’s ‘Selective Exposure During Uprisings: Examining the Public’s News Consumption and Sharing Tendencies During the 2019 Lebanon Protest’ employs the theoretical framework of selective exposure and applies it to the 2019 Lebanon uprising. Melki and Kozman’s data confirms the presence of confirmation bias in the way people collated, shared, and were exposed to, media during a moment of social upheaval, and extends the framework beyond Western contexts.