Media coverage disapproval of the 2012 Montreal Protests

News, television, radio and other media often influence the way in which events are perceived by society. Through the implementation of certain frames “simplified snapshots are converted into events and events are converted into news stories” (Boykoff, 2007, pp.217). This is problematic because the snapshots show only one moment and don’t wholly encompass all of the protest. The Montreal Protests were a set of events that received ample media coverage from news media such as the CBC, the Toronto Star, The Gazette and The National Post and thus, it is important to examine how the news reports from these mediums showcased the protest and what impact and consequences these representations have had.

Many of the news reports that surrounded the Montreal protests adopted the violence frame when covering these events (Boykoff, 2007, p.223). The use of the violence frame can be examined though a CBC article and video which reports on the escalation of the Montreal Protests where individuals released crickets at the university library and vandalized walls. The article focuses on the 151 individuals who were arrested as a response to these ‘acts of violence’. (CBC, 2012b). The author shows how the university claimed that ‘outside protestors’, not those that were part of the university, escalated to using violence. Therefore, an us versus them framework is employed when presenting the issue which differentiated between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ protestors. Through creating a divide between abnormal and normal type of protest it justifies the use of force by the police on acceptable protestors who used violence versus the unacceptable ones who were utilizing their democratic right to protest. The author states that the police were present in riot gear and “on hand to control the crowds, mainly using riot shields” (CBC, 2012b). The indifferent way in which the use of riot gear to control crowds that were vandalizing property is used can be examined as a way to maintain the status quo and justify the police use of overt force.

In an editorial published by the Toronto Star, the author emphasizes that the protest that started off being peaceful has now “spiralled wildly out of control” (TorontoStar, 2012). The author claims that those who were supporting the movement initially are no longer on board as a response to the ongoing violence that is being taken up by the protestors. It is interesting to note however that the ability to pick out only the violent aspects of the protests ignores that violent outbursts at protests are more likely the exception rather than the rule. The author then questions the movement itself by stating that Quebec’s tuition fees, despite the increase, will still be lower than the rest of Canada and in addition, the tuition increase is a way to close the gaps between the mediocre university performance in Quebec and the rest of Canada. By rationalizing the reason for the tuition increases the author takes away the voice of those protesting helps in conceptualizing the protest as menial in the big scheme of things (TorontoStar, 2012). In addition, the author doesn’t explore the deeper issues that are at hand. Despite the tuition fees being lower than the rest of Canada, the increase will be a huge change in the standard of living for Quebec students as their tuition keeps increasing. Furthermore, what the author misses in their discussion is the reason that these students are protesting. Although there needs to be an increase in the quality of education offered, students feel they should not be taking on the burden of making those changes happen as it should be the responsibility of the government to do so.

Similar to the violence frame is a disruption frame which uses an us versus them ideology to claim that dissent that is happening affects ‘good citizens’ in disruptive ways and that the dissidents do not respect others enough to keep their protests peaceful. Articles by the CBC and by Henry Aubrin for The Gazette both use this framework when discussing the protests. The CBC article focuses on the fact that the student protestors have blocked a major highway and that commuters have had to be re-routed through other streets in the downtown area. Aubrin also focuses on how the student protestors have blocked the metro and have inconvenienced commuters (CBC, 2012a; Aubrin, 2012). The focus of both of these articles is on the way that these disturbances have “helped to alienate the public from the student boycott and to undermine [their] cause” (Aubrin, 2012). Whenever the disruption frame is used, it is always meant to alienate protestors and make them feel like they are not part of the ‘citizenry’ who participates in everyday life. Instead, they are seen as menaces that choose to embrace disruption for no other reason than inconveniencing others.

Unlike the Toronto Star, CBC, and Gazette articles, Greame Hamilton, for the National Post decides to understand the missing aspects from the story and takes on a counter-hegemonic discourse to discuss the wider issues that surround the protests (Hamilton, 2012). He highlights the views of CLASSE, the student group, who have refused to condemn the violence perpetuated by students in the protest as they see it as self-defense against state violence that has been inflicted upon them. Hamilton takes a broader view of the protests and claims they are not only about tuition fees but it has become a fight against a state who represses the rights of protestors to voice their opinions through various laws and violent police force. This article aims to understand the violence in a different framework other than condemning it outright and attempts to present why CLASSE would defend these violent actions. Hamilton presents the points of a political science professor who states that if groups such as CLASSE condemn the violence and insist that it is only instigated by ‘certain individuals’ they “risk of undermining solidarity and legitimizing police repression and the criminalization of dissent” (Hamilton, 2012).

While it is important to examine the types of structures the media uses to frame the Montreal protests, it is also important to examine how these portrayals can have an effect on laws that are implemented. As the Montreal Protests were getting more attention from international communities as well as even more support from students, Bill 78 was passed into law. This act limited students from protesting on university or near university grounds without previous police approval. It also requires protestors to “provide the police with information about the time, location and projected length eight hours in advance” (Harrington, 2012). This law outraged many as they saw it to be a fundamental infringement on their constitutional rights, yet many also supported it because they did not want to be bothered by those who were protesting and this law was seen as a reasonable infringement.

Some news media, such as The Gazette, defended the implementation of Bill 78, arguing that it is not an unreasonable law. Harrington, argued that this bill was “[the] government attempting to balance the right of protesters against the right of the public to go about its business in a safe and orderly manner” (Harrington, 2012). What Harrington fails to examine is the reason these dissidents choose to protest this way. He misses the bigger picture which is that many protests need to go against the bureaucratic institutions that implement these policies as a way to show their disapproval with the way in which they are being repressed. By not following bureaucratic policies, the protests question the status quo and bring more exposure to the movement.

Overall, most of the media coverage of the Montreal Protests applied certain frameworks in reporting on the protest, this coverage could also be seen to sway and have influence over the decision to implement Bill 78 into law. Even though these applied frameworks may not have been used intentionally, it is interesting to examine how they still produce a certain status quo. Although in my research I had collected a couple articles that could be viewed as counter-hegemonic, the majority of the articles that I found worked to de-legitimize the movement, condemn the protestors in some way, and justify government action that was taken against them.

 


 

Works cited

Aubrin, Henry, (2012). “Students may have gone too far; Yesterday’s vandalism doesn’t help the tuition-hike protesters and strips movement of any moral superiority.” The Gazette. Retrieved December 8, 2014 from (http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.library.yorku.ca/docview/1002769723?accountid=15182).

Boykoff, Jules (2007). “Mass Media Underestimation, False Balance, and Disregard,” Pp. 2 48 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

CBC News, (2012a). “Massive student tuition march paralyzes Montreal.” CBC News Montreal, Mar 22. Retrieved December 6, 2014 from (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal/massive-student-tuition-march-paralyzes-montreal-1.1165575).

CBC News, (2012b). “Gatineau student protest leads to 151 arrests.” CBC News Montreal, Apr 19. Retrieved December 6, 2014 from (http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/gatineau-student-protest-leads-to-151-arrests-1.1169938).

Hamilton, Greame (2012) “Graeme Hamilton: Hard to claim Montreal violence isn’t tied into wider protest movement”. The National Post, May 4. Retrieved December 6, 2014 from (http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/05/04/graeme-hamilton-hard-to-claim-montreal-violence-isnt-tied-into-wider-protest-movement/)

Harrington, Matthew, (2012) “Bill 78 is not an unreasonable law” The Gazette, May 9. Retrieved from (http://www.montrealgazette.com/news/Bill+unreasonable/6703620/story.html).

Toronto Star, (2012). “Quebec’s student protest over university tuition increases has gone off the rails.” Toronto Star, May 15. Retrieved October 10, 2014 from (http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorials/2012/05/15/quebecs_student_protest_over_university_tuition_increases_has_gone_off_the_rails.html).

 

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