Media Representations of the Concordia University Anti-Netanyahu protests

This blog post will analyse the dominant representations of the Concordia University Anti-Netanyahu protest/riot within mainstream news media. This analysis will identify and critique the kind of information being included/excluded, the manner by which the protesters were framed and suppressed, and the consequences of the particular representations.

The examined articles do a poor job at addressing the distinction between the peaceful protestors and those who engaged in unlawful conduct. There were approximately 1000 pro-Palestinian protestors gathered in opposition to Mr. Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech (Maclean’s, 2002, para 1-2; BBC News, 2002, para 2). Their collective aim was to cancel the speech because Mr. Netanyahu had hostile policies towards the Palestinians, there would be no debate/question-and-answer period, and his audience of 500 was pre-screened/handpicked in terms of their support for Israel (What is anti-Semitism, 2003, para 1). In pursuit of this aim, 200 of the 1000 protestors tried to break through riot police barriers, shattered windows, tossed chairs and newspaper boxes at officers, and physically assaulted several “high profile” members of the Jewish community (Paskey, 2002, para 1-2; Cohen, 2012, para 5). And in light of these events, the speech was canceled (CBC News, 2002, para 1-3). With that said, this means that there were 800 protestors who did not engage in unlawful conduct. The mainstream news media did not address these 800 peaceful protestors; rather, the focus remained on the 200. The reasons behind the disproportionate attention given to the 200 protestors over the peaceful 800 are entrenched in neoliberalism. News stories, like everything else, are meant for consumption. In order to make a news story more appealing to the consumer, it must be more “newsworthy” (Boykoff, 2007, 247). The latter portion of the protest could be discussed and characterized in terms of being a “riot”; not because it was explicitly regarded as one, but because its violence made it comparable to one and therefore more “newsworthy”. But then by discussing the “riot” in isolation, the mainstream news media decontextualized it and implicitly conflated it with the former peaceful portion, if not eclipsing it entirely. Additionally, in failing to address the 800 peaceful protestors, the mainstream news media simultaneously failed to address their reasoning behind wanting to cancel Mr. Netanyahu’s speech. Thus further decontextualizing the protest in conjunction to the role of all the protestors in it.

Upon having discussed how mainstream news media focused on the 200 protestors whose actions resulted in Mr. Netanyahu’s speech being cancelled, we can effectively apply some of Jules Boykoff’s concepts concerning the framing and suppression of protests and protestors. As a side note, these framing and suppressive tactics are not mutually exclusive and can be used to discuss the exact same phenomenon. First, we can apply what Boykoff regards as the “violence frame”. Depicting the protestors as violent/having the potential to be violent delegitimizes them and invalidates the reasoning behind their dissent (Boykoff, 2007, 222). As was discussed earlier, the reports on the Anti-Netanyahu protest/riot spent most of their time discussing the violent actions undertaken by a minority in an otherwise peaceful movement. Sources like the Globe and Mail were no exception; they implicitly facilitated the link between a protest and the potential for violence via their decontextualized reporting of the facts. For example, their report said that once the word of the protest emerged around the campus, security officials were notified to prepare prior to the actual demonstration (Peritz & Ha, 2002, 36). The missing link in this conditional is filled by public discourse or “common sense” thinking which assumes/gets the reader to assume that dissent necessarily entails violence. Second, we can apply what Boykoff regards as the “disruptive frame”. By depicting protestors as oppositional to civility and order, the news media implicitly draws a connection between being a protester and being a menace (Boykoff, 2007, 227). Sources such as the Jewish Tribune demonstrated this whereby they spent quite a bit of time discussing the vandalism, violence, the cancelation of Mr. Netanyahu’s speech, and the cancelation of scheduled classes. Mr. Netanyahu regarded the protestors’ actions as disruptive as well when he said that they were contrary to “democracy” and more corresponsive with “terrorism” (BBC, 2002, para 5) . This equivocation with terrorism is interesting in itself because the Anti-Netanyahu protest/riot took place almost a year after 9/11. Insecurity was at an all time high and any perceivable threat to the interests of the west and its allies was treated with hostility. Moving onward, third, we can apply what Boykoff regards as the “freak frame”. By discussing the protestors in terms of their non-mainstream characteristics, said protestors and their reasons for dissent become un-relatable. The example Boykoff uses in his text is that of a young privileged idealistic hippy with magenta hair (Boykoff, 2007, 229). A differing example of this comes from an editorial that described the Anti-Netanyahu protesters as “angry left-wing…hardliner Muslims and other radicals” who cannot stand “the idea of people they dislike having a say” (The National Post Staff, 2010, para 2-3). Fourth, we can apply what Boykoff regards as a useful suppressive tactic, “disregard”. By disregarding a social movement in its entirety, one ensures a lack of mass media coverage and, therefore, a lack of public sympathy (Boykoff, 2007, 252). The application of this last tactic may be a bit of a stretch only because the incident was reported on. But if we consider the included/excluded information discussed in this blog post, we can derive that there was a lack of representation for the 800 peaceful protestors and their reasons for dissenting. Some articles, at best, characterized the protestors as being “pro-Palestine”, and therefore did not indicate their reasons for being pro-Palestine/opposed to Mr. Netanyahu’s policies and his pro-Israel speech.

By strategically choosing decontextualized bits and pieces of an incident that draw on the worst behavior exhibited during said incident for the purposes of creating a more “newsworthy” story, the mainstream news media coincidently contributes to the construction of the criminogenic dissenter. It adds this idea to the public discourse that a protest and its participants are to be automatically associated with rioting. In doing so, popular discourse and what we regard as “common sense” thinking demonize and delegitimize demonstrations of dissent; thereby, leading to its justifiable and eventual criminalization (Boykoff, 2007, 246). This obviously poses a threat to one’s ability to legitimately express dissatisfaction with the status quo in an otherwise democratic framework. In addition, this logically entails the maintenance of the status quo. Given Canada’s allied relationship with Israel and the historic conflict between Israel and Palestine, it makes political sense for Canada to support Israel’s interests and neglect the Palestinians.

In summary, this blog post analysed how the mainstream news media disregarded the underlying issue at the heart of the demonstration, demonized and delegitimized all of the protestors for the actions of a small, violent, and disruptive minority, and furthermore, facilitated the maintenance of the status quo in terms of Canada’s international affairs.

References

BBC News. (2002, September 10). Canada Protests Stop Netanyahu Speech. BBC News. Retrieved From: < http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/2248555.stm&gt;.

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass Media Deprecation.” Pp. 216-247 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

Boykoff, Jules. 2007. “Mass MediaUnderestimation, False Balance, and Disregard.” Pp. 248-260 in Beyond Bullets: The Suppression of Dissent in the United States. Oakland: AK Press.

CBC News. (2002, September 10). Montreal Protesters Force Cancellation of Netanyahu Speech. CBC News. Retrieved From: < http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/montreal-protesters-force-cancellation-of-netanyahu-speech-1.312529&gt;.

Cohen, Mike. (2012, September 19). The Concordia University-Netanyahu Riots: A look Back 10 Years ago. The Jewish Tribune. Retrieved From: <http://www.jewishtribune.ca/features/2012/09/19/the-concordia-university-netanyahu-            riots-a-look-back-10-years-ago>.

Maclean’s. (2002, September 23). MONTREAL — A violent protest. Maclean’s, 9. Retrieved From: <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA91672920&v=2.1&u=yorku_main&it=r&p=CPI&sw=w&asid=34ddc7b845599ea6b7baa3f58c5ed1d9&gt;.

National Post Staff. (2010, March 25). National Post Editorial Board: Mob Rule 1, Free Speech 0. The National Post. Retrieved From: <http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2010/03/25/national-post-editorial-board-mob- rule-1-free-speech-0/>.

Paskey, J. (2002). Concordia U. Bars Activities on Mideast. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 49(05). Retrieved From:<http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA147120461&v=2.1&u=yorku_main&i=r&p=EAIM&sw=w&asid=628fcfab2154e6b5fbfa786dbb1317d0&gt;.

Peritz, Ingrid & Ha, Tu Thanh. (2002, September 14).Concordia: A Campus in Conflict. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved From:<http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/concordia-a-campus-in conflict/article1026207/?page=all>.

What is anti-Semitism? (News in Brief: Canada). (2003, April). Catholic Insight, 11(3), 26+. Retrieved From: <http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA100541414&v=2.1&u=yorku_main&it=r&p=CPI&sw=w&asid=e4140e38066f309bd46a0d81364c26c8&gt;.

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