The Media and its Contributions to Social Movements

The previous articles in this module discussed how the media plays a prominent role in acting like a watchdog in democracies. This article looks at how media can be a force for good in oppressive regimes and how a vigilant and alert media can help the citizenry overthrow unpopular and repressive rulers.

The best example of this can be seen in the way media, especially social media, were used in the Arab Spring protests of early 2011 wherein the youth in the Arab countries leveraged the power of media to overthrow despotic rulers. Given the fact that such rulers always resort to media manipulation to further their ideology and retain their grip on power, the options before the citizenry in such countries are very limited. Hence, any media that supports their cause and furthers their aims is a favorite with the protest movements.

The other example of how the internet and social media can be used in the pursuit of progressive goals is the way in which President Obama uses these media to communicate with his supporters.

Both in 2008 and the recently concluded elections of 2012, President Obama leveraged the power of media to mobilize grassroots activists and volunteers who encouraged people to get out and vote and thereby helped Obama win. Further, the savvy use of media can work wonders in improving the image of politicians and social activists. This can be seen in the way the Anna Hazare movement in India in 2011 was helped along by the media, which gave it extensive coverage and ensured that people in large numbers turned out to support the movement. This goes on to show that media can play a vital role in furthering the cause of social movements.

The other aspect about media and its role in social movements is the power of transmission and repetition of the message of the social activists. Given the rapid dissemination of messages on Twitter and Facebook and the fact that television gives an instant image of the protests or the movements, media can indeed play a prominent role in ensuring that social movements are covered well.

A third example of this is the coverage of the Occupy Movement across the world by all media outlets and the publicity that this coverage provided to the cause of the protestors. This goes on to show that media can play a constructive role in propagating the message of the activists.

Finally, activists and social leaders need to be careful of how they use media and how the media uses them. The best example of this is the way in which the anti-corruption movement in India lost support from the media after the initial euphoria. This was because the media jumps from issue to issue given the way in which the 24/7 news cycle and breaking news rhythms are structured. We would examine this in detail in the subsequent articles. It would suffice to state here that the symbiotic relationship between the media and social movements needs to be a partnership that hinges on both sides and not one side alone.


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