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The globalization of protest communications for lack of local public media

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The globalization of protest communications for lack of local public media

Nataliya Ikonnikova


protest communication social context

The paper presents some first results of the research project in progress. It considers the general theoretical framework of the analysis, the outline of the project, the corporeal and social context of the communication, the concept of protest communication, and the mechanism of construction of two clusters of protest communication.

The theoretical framework of the analysis of public media

Right then, the theoretical framework includes concepts of public sphere and public or civil communications as a system of symbols and meanings reproduced and shared within the complex system of institutions and communities, organized around groups of interest. I will follow Habermas (1994) when he writes, that one should “describe the public sphere as those domains, which are neither bred nor kept by a political system for the purposes of creating legitimacy … that arise spontaneously out of micro-domains of everyday practice [and which] can develop into autonomous public spheres and consolidate as self-supporting higher level intersubjectivities [and] of selforganisation [that] strengthen the capacity for action” (p. 157).

It is also important to take under consideration the statement by Alexander (2006) concerning the shift from institutional analysis to the study of practices, communication processes, discourse. He suggests, “...the civil society is not merely an institutional realm. It is also a realm of structured, socially established consciousness, a network of understandings creating structures of feeling that permeate social life and run just below the surface of strategic institutions and self-conscious elites” (p. 54).

For the aim to study local processes of public communication under the context of globalizing culture I use the concept of community citizenship, elaborated by J. Zach Schiller (2007). It means that citizenship and civil activity is carried out at poles apart: local level and global level. The idea of nation as civil society becomes more and more unlikely.

Next corpus of works considers public media and their relations with mass media and global digital media(See: Bagdikian, B. 2004; Herman, E., and R, McChesney. 1997; Starr, J. 2001). The review of them is used in order to reveal some consistent patterns of communication in local context or on local themes but within global context of global civil society. The reason is that no one local communication especially on socially sensible themes may be absolutely separated from global context. This situation claims for special skills and competences in foreign (primarily English) language, Internet usage and computer skills. The understanding of direct and latent functions and dysfunctions of different media, their efficacy for concrete purposes is considered as a part of citizen competence, and the condition of participative, active citizenship.

Mentioned above authors consider different roles of multinational (global), national and local (public, alternative) media. They outline the force of mass industry of news and entertainment. They ask, likewise Neil Chenoweth (2007), the question, “Who shapes public attention?” He goes on to note, “inevitably … we are forced to look at the industry that provides most of our view of the world, public and private. We have to look at the media”.

The public media usually includes radio broadcasting, local TV-frequency channels, Internet communications. I will consider the way they are implemented and used as far as are present.

The outline of the project

Let me point out some features of conducted field study.

The research project is supported by RFBR and titled “Social meanings of corporeal environment by Olympic construction objects: theoretical and visual analysis”. The geography of research: Adler, Krasnaya Polyana (Sochi region). Methods we use are visual analysis (1181 photos), interview (27 interviews), documents and text analysis (16 websites including official sites of Sochi2014 (.com and.ru), and city administration, 11 LiveJournal pages).

The site of the project is http://soc.hse.ru/gsoc/olimpobjects.

The essential issues of the project consist in debates, negotiations, information campaign and critique around the constructing arenas and infrastructure, the resettlement of locals and rebuilding of their habitual environment, and far-reaching effect of this transformation for the city Sochi, its habitants and visitors, Russians at all, natural environment. Nevertheless, the process of preproduction and preparation is much longer and more important by its social, cultural results than itself Olympics, and the consequent utilization, and habitualisation of Olympic objects either would be important, too.

To interpret the visual information the analysis of discourses concerning it ought to be implemented. Thus, I also collect the data on media usage and communication practices. It means to consider some types of discourses: first, mass media and official propaganda. In the considered case they are very close, there is few information which would differ from the official point of view in mass media. Second type is public, unofficial discourse, and third – everyday talks with focus on photos made by researchers, sometimes – with focus on unpublished anywhere photos by respondents, sometimes – about real constructions objects and spaces that are the objects of photos. As I’ll show in my paper, these discourses are mediated in a different way by different media.

Field map: the information depends of the scale

Let me focus your attention on the map of the area where the Olympic park with main Olympic arenas is being constructed. It obviously demonstrates the way how different information flows are constructed. The view and information shared at macro level differs very much from the view and information at micro level. According to official maps, plans, digital presentations there no any legal houses and habitants, likewise any other private estate property: vegetable and fruit gardens, utility structures, garages, boathouses. Most of the territory according to the map and in fact is the zone of aeration. But if you go to this place – Imeretinskaya Nizmennost’, Imeretinskaya lowland, you would see all mentioned objects and meet natives and guests suffering from the lost of their belongings and habitual way of life and recreation.

The corporeal and social context of the communication

The scope of regional media

Significant features of social environment are given by the settings of social stratification and the distribution of different types of resources. It is important to consider the environment of communication and the relations of different media with its corporeal and social elements. In the investigated region following media institutions may be observed:

1) Federal / State and Commercial media (12 (13) FM radio stations, 11 TV companies; most central newspapers are distributed);

2) Localized / Official media (1 LW state regional radio station, 1 localized FM radio station). Localized FM radio station is MaxFM radio, incorporated in the Max media project. The Max media project stands separately, because it has the largest part of local information. In most regions, especially central like Moscow and Saint-Petersburg it develops only FM radio stations, but in Big Sochi region it also includes TV channel and advertising agency. Besides, we should consider like localized 1+3 TV companies, 26 newspapers, 1 on-line newspaper, 17 magazines.

3) No one institution fits the accepted in most studies definition of alternative media.

4) Some significant for information flow and communication within community media should be considered as quasi mass and quasi public media. They are different shared Internt-based and not licensed as mass media resources: LiveJournal and Facebook pages, blogs, Vkontakte, and personal pages on different domains (like narod.ru), examples are “Sochi reporter”, “My Sochi Dairy” and so on.

To define the media as local or localized to some degree, I consider several characteristics: the possibility to establish an institution of mass communication (paper, radio station, TV channel, digital (on-line) TV channel, information site or portal); the part of local information in the content and the broadcasting outline or printed page; costs and technical facilities for internet access.

New media resources and communication patterns are developed premeditated, as parts of the strategy, and occasionally, as forms of resistance or by-product. It reveals social meanings of corporeal environment by Olympic construction projects and ways of its representation in visual and virtual reality.

The price of access

The lack of local public media (especially on city, regional level) such as community TV and radio programs displace the social debates to Internet. But the access to Internet with the speed appropriate for creating and sharing information, videos, photos, is rather expensive. It varies from 9 (11) Euro for lowest speed to 20-55 Euro for appropriate and up to 63 for the highest speed. The subscription to traditional and habitual printed newspapers and magazines is low. Of course, almost everybody watch TV and most have access to satellite channels.

By the way, most people who get legal salaries(teachers, doctors, shop sellers, clerks) earn from 125 to 250 Euros. Undoubtedly, the owner of small enterprises like guest houses and mini hotels, taxi, market gardens and so on earn much more, but they should invest in reconstruction, service development, to implement the decisions of local government concerning houses’, fences’, and pedestrian ways’ decoration, and pay different penalties and extortions.

Why I say “the lack of public media”

I define the situation as the lack of public and alternative media for the following reasons. Protest actions, alternative positions, and most part of critiques don’t have any media coverage. Few distributed messages with information about protests and critiques have restricted channels and audience. They appear not systematically and on few sophisticated channels, such as expensive and oriented on upper middle class magazines (like “Snob”), on-line newspapers or very shortly on foreign TV satellite channels, whenever they are available in foreign version in frontier regions.

When some news about protest actions or critiques are present in news blocks and debates on central TV channels, they don’t focus on problems and public actions but aim to demonstrate the huge efforts of authorities and executive their orders business circles to solve the problems.

The protest communication. The space, the language, the literacy of protest communication

Turning now to the main point I suggest the concept of protest communication. Protest communication is considered as the communication which content and intention includes the negative reward of the decisions and policy by political, business actors and appeal to resist it in any form. Protest communication may be a part of protest action, or a part of protest social movement, or it may be a virtual action, or mere informational action.

The content of LiveJournals should be considered as combination of public and everyday themes and intentions. The protest communication is realized within both public and everyday discourses. Protest communication as the part of public discourse considers important issues of public interest and positions on different groups within local community. The most significant media for public communication is internet. The case of Adler (or Big Sochi) differs from the cases of Arab uprising and their use of internet to coordination and mobilization. It differs in the intensity but not in the pattern of acting.

Our analysis allows us to distinguish two clusters of protest communication depending on the language of communication and consequently the ownership of media and its audience.

Inside identity: Russian language, media combination

Russian-language information resources aim to communicate with native (local and over-national) audience, including supporting groups, government and business enterprises representatives. They construct and consider social issues in a way, which is open for search of possible solutions mainly in a constructive mood, based on local and national decisions.

In the given example from LiveJournal of 2014imeretinka (<http://2014imeretinka.livejournal.com/16708.html>) we see the complicated combination of media, each of media is used according to its efficiency for certain information action. The author of the message uses and will use all possible channels – Internet site, mobile photo and video, traditional professional journalism, and its on-line development - as complementary media.

The author of the blog points out use to point out the possibility of moving data (news, photos, audios) to professional journalists, newspapers, TV. Mobile phones (with photo and video cameras) are used several purposes: for coordination of actions, news creating, and authorities control.

Outside identity: English language and global shift

Those groups, who focus on deep contradictions with local and national authorities, create English-language information resources, their language shift itself is a demonstration of the controversy in the understanding of their identity, historical heritage, future development.

The protest communications in the context of Sochi Olympics deal with different particular and general topics. General topics (the case of the Circassian Muslim diaspora’ protests) are subject of over-local and even over-national communication and appeal to global audience using global nets and forms of presentation. These outside-oriented groups combine also the Internet communication with traditional channels like mediation of information agencies and professional journalism or in-street messages via posters, banners, and chant.

Within the global context inconsistent groups are united in protest actions and demonstrations, such as Caucasian Muslims and Georgian Orthodox. The platform of the union is the critique of Russian government and politics.

English language and global orientation: precedents

The use of English language within the Olympic games and preparations discourse is not the feature of only protest communication and the invention of Caucasian Muslims, of course. Officials from city administration and the Department of Krasnodar region for the implementation of authority by preparation to winter Olympic Games – try to work with local community, but they prefer general information for conflict-free groups. Their communication is oriented partly on national audience, but this discourse covers primarily the topics that are close to everyday needs of natives and are rather far from Olympic laws, rules, and tasks. The most significant part of communication is oriented on international audience including Olympic authorities. Due to the audience, this is communication in English. The English texts, slogans, video and even inscriptions on billboards, and so on, have dominated in the forefront. And still the advertising film on official website is in English.

The interesting case to compare is protest campaign, which has taken place before and during the Beijing Olympics (“Free-Tibet”, human rights etc.) and some other cases (like Vancouver in spite of the quite effective “First nations” branding).

In each mentioned above case, the shift of the communication to global nets with appeal to global public and global civil society is the sign of deep social and cultural contradictions underlying obvious political conflicts. The expansion of this subject area under the umbrella of Olympics discourse causes the politicization of the discourse in each its thematic fragment: sport events, cultural events, nature perception, business partnership, and government patronage.

The conclusion

To sum up, my findings demonstrates the paradox: people become more sophisticated in information and media activity when simple decisions are inaccessible for them.

The lack of local public media (especially on city, regional level) such as community TV and radio programs displaces the social debates to Internet, LiveJournals and forces the elaboration of pattern of media combination.

Forced move to internet of Russian speaking inside-oriented groups means their potential globalization (despite the language barrier). Forced move to global public sphere of English speaking outside-oriented groups means their separation from local and national public sphere. In both cases the sense of community citizenship is the origin of the activity and determines the mood of communication. All groups use complex tactics of media combination including inscriptions of fences and walls likewise houses walls or the wall of Facebook page.

Our observation proves once more, that no protest action comes to existence if it doesn’t have media coverage.


  1. Alexander J.C. 2006. The Civil Sphere. Oxford University Press.

  2. Bagdikian, B. 2004. The New Media Monopoly. Boston: Beacon Press.

  3. Chenoweth, N. 2007. ‘Colin Simpson Lecture’ on The BookShow, ABC Radio National. Broadcast, Saturday 6th April 2007.

  4. Habermas, J. 1994. The Tasks of Critical Theory, in The Polity Reader in Social Theory. Cambridge: Polity Press.

  5. Herman, E., and R, McChesney. 1997. The Global Media: The New Missionaries of Corporate Capitalism. London: Cassell.

  6. Schiller J.Z. 2007. Community Radio as Citizenship Practice In ASA Submission.

  7. Starr, J. 2001. ‘Putting the public back into public broadcasting’, in West Virginia University Alumni Magazine (online). URL http://www.ia.wvu.edu/~magazine/issues/summer2001/htmlfiles/expressions.html.