Quebec City Protests at the 3rd Summit of the Americas: Media Analysis

It is easy to underestimate how important a role the media plays in our understanding of crime, as well as shaping public discourse on social and political events.  In our liberal democratic society, the media acts as the voice of state institutions, and often aims to benefit the best interests of the Government or the Criminal Justice System.  Mainstream journalism enforces dominant discourses presented by the institutions, and often, in an act of authority-order bias, tend to limit their sources to figures of authority that hold the power and interests of the state (Boykoff 2007: 229-230). As Jules Boykoff’s article “Mass Media Depracation” (Boykoff 2007) mentions, the media employs the use of framing strategies that directly result in the intents of police institutions, criminalizing acts of dissent by method of media suppression (Boykoff 2007: 226).

The Quebec City protests that occurred at the 3rd Summit of the America’s in 2001 brought upon a wide variety of news reports that vary in their perspective, with the majority of these reports predominantly focused on criminalizing the protesters at the event. As mentioned in the previous overview, the protests started peacefully, and escalated to violence quickly based on tensions between anti-globalist protestors and the RCMP security present at the event. While investigating 5 different articles, the dominant representation of the protests seem to focus on the violence and disruptive aspects, while neglecting to delve into the reasons behind the protests.

The BBC article entitled “Quebec Violence Flares Again” (BBC News 2001) and the CBC report “Police fire water cannon, tear gas in Quebec City” (CBC News 2001) employ a violence frame, which is defined by Boykoff as the media’s expectancy and tendency to focus on violence, even when such events do not result in violence (Boykoff 2007: 226). In an act of misrepresentation, these articles attempt to justify the violent actions of the RCMP by focusing solely on the wrongs of the protestors.  In full support of the state’s intent to suppress dissent, these articles blame the protestors for the delay of the Summit, while focusing only on injuries occurred to RCMP officials. Employing a national security discourse, these articles engage in a false balance of the events and a resulting oversimplification of issues in order to portray the protestors as violent actors that aim to threaten the lives of world leaders, and police officers (Boykoff 2007: 250).  These articles focus minimally on the reasoning behind the protests, and appeal to the goals of the state, which aim to suppress these acts of dissent through disregard and criminalization. The CBC News article justifies police action by giving a statement by then-Prime Minister Jean Chretien praising the police handling of the event, while placing blame for the clashes on “extreme protesters determined to disrupt the summit” (CBC News 2001). Furthermore, the BBC News article attempts to shed light on the actions of the RCMP, but uses a negative connotation when describing the actions of the protestors that portrays them as a threat to security. The article uses harsh vocabulary like “breach the security barrier” and “trouble flared when chanting protestors tried to tear down the 10ft high fence…”, which enhances the sensationalism of the violence occurring at the event (BBC News 2001).

The CNN article entitled “Protests delay start of Americas summit” (King and Lucia 2001) employs a disruption frame, that aims to portray the protestors as aiming to disturb the status quo (Boykoff 2007:228).  This article compared the Quebec City protests to a previous protest that occurred in Seattle in order to portray the protestors as being multiple offenders of disruption. Again, this article neglects to mention the protestors intent and emphasizes police injuries rather than focusing on the many protestors that were injured or arrested. The above mentioned representations directly result in the creation of moral panics around these non-violent protests. Audiences will be made to believe all acts of dissent are to be violent, even though these protests were intended to be peaceful.

As seen above, one CBC article employed the violence frame in order to achieve a criminalization and suppression of dissent. Contrarily, the CBC article entitled “RCMP used excessive force at Quebec Summit” (CBC News 2003) uses a frame that I have created for this analysis; the sympathy frame. This frame is rarely used as it personifies the event and appeals to the hearts of the audience. The article immediately places blame on the RCMP for the violence that ensued in Quebec City, stating that it is unjustifiable to treat protestors in that way. The article states that “Mounties did not give demonstrators enough warning before firing tear gas to break up a crowd”, and that “excessive and unjustified force” was used against protestors (CBC News 2003). Furthermore, the article offers a critical window into the RCMP behavior at the Summit, delving into structural changes in RCMP training in crowd control that would enable for officers to deal with difficult crowd situations in non-violent manners (CBC News 2003). While the article does criticize RCMP behavior during the protest, it neglects to mention anything about the protestor’s rationales, nor does it delve into the issue brought forth by the anti-globalist movement.

An article published in the LA Times, entitled “Activists in Quebec show Evolution of an Opposition” (Wright 2001) employs a similar strategy in that it personalizes the crime in an effort to appeal to the humanity of the audience by relating them to the humanity of the protestors. This is similar to the sympathy frame, but acts more as a reversal to the amalgam of grievances frame, where the protestors in this article are portrayed as being so deeply involved with the issue that they are adapting to the changes occurring after the Summit meetings (Boykoff 2007: 238-240). The amalgam of grievances frame is a method at delegitimizing the intents of the protestors by implying that they are unfocused people, who want to protest where they can, even if not completely involved in the subject. Interestingly, while offering a positive portrayal of the protestors, the article makes no mention of the violent behaviors of the RCMP during the protests, focusing solely on the anti-globalist protestors and their effect on the consequent meetings.

Ultimately, while there were found to be exceptions to the idea that the media serves as a voice and tool of the state institutions, the dominant representations remain such that dissent will always be portrayed as a criminal disruption to the status quo.  Where there has been a counter-hegemonic report on the subject, such as in the LA Times and in the second CBC News articles, it has failed to account for and evaluate the issue completely, instead masking the problems with an overly simple cover that achieves a personification of the event while ignoring the reasons that escalated these matters to begin with.

Works Cited

BBC News. 2001. “Quebec violence flares again” BBC News April 21. Retrieved from BBC  News on November 8, 2012. (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/1289503.stm)

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-47 in Beyond Bullets: The  Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard.” Pp. 248-60 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

CBC News. 2001. “Police fire water cannon, tear gas in Quebec City.” CBC News, April 22.   Retrieved from CBC Canada on November 8, 2012   (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2001/04/21/protest_pmc_010421.html)

CBC News. 2003. “RCMP used ‘excessive force’ at Quebec Summit: Report.” CBC News, November 13. Retrieved from CBC Canada on November 8, 2012  (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2003/11/13/rcmp_summit031113.html)

King, John, and Lucia Newman. 2001. “Protests Delay Start of Americas Summit.” CNN World,   April 20. Retrieved from CNN World October 13, 2012
(http://articles.cnn.com/2001-04-/world/summit.americas.04_1_protests-delay-americas-summit-riot-police?_s=PM:WORLD)

Wright, Robin. 2001. “Activists in Quebec Show Evolution of an Opposition.” Los Angeles  Times, April 21, p. 1. Retrieved from LA Times on November 8, 2012   (http://articles.latimes.com/2001/apr/21/news/mn-53832)

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