New working paper: Mecodify: A tool for big data analysis & visualisation with Twitter as a case study

A working paper on Mecodify, an open-souce data analysis and visualisation tool by Walid Al-Saqaf is now available!!

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This paper describes Mecodify, an open-source tool aimed at codifying and presenting online data primarily for the use of social media researchers. Although the first stage of the platform’s development is confined to Twitter as a source of data, the tool has the capacity to develop so it could use data from other platforms including but not limited to Facebook, Instagram, and even news websites. This essay identifies potentials of growth and development as well as limitations of the tool.

New MeCoDEM Policy Brief: The role of Twitter during times of crisis

A Policy Brief by Christian Christensen and Walid Al-Saqaf  is now available.

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The research project Media, Conflict and Democracy (MeCoDEM) has published a new policy brief document. The paper “The role of Twitter during times of crisis” is based on three studies conducted on the use of Twitter during periods of conflict and crisis. The brief is authored by Christian Christensen and Walid Al-Saqaf of Stockholm University.

The three cases cover a spectrum of conflict-related social media use: the South African SONA case exemplifies (failed) government communication in an emerging democracy; the Garissa attack in Kenya is a case of a terrorist attack associated with a minority in a fragile democracy; and the Stockholm terror attack on 7 April 2017 is an example of Twitter communication in the wake of terror in the context of an established democracy in Europe.

A series of policy suggestions are offered relating to, for example, the symbiotic relationship between Twitter and mainstream media outlets; the power of a social media platform to bypass “traditional” media; and, Twitter as an elite, niche platform.

New MeCoDEM Policy Brief: Communication and conflict in transitional societies – Integrating media and communication in development cooperation

A Policy Brief by Ines Drefs and Barbara Thomass is now available.

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Dear reader,
For three years, a consortium of researchers from eight international universities analysed, within the EU-funded project Media, Conflict and Democratisation (MeCoDEM), a broad range of questions concerning media and communication in the context of conflict and democratic transition, as well questions of media development aid. One of the outcomes of our research, which we hope will be useful to your organisation, is this policy brief. We are happy to receive any comments and feedback.

Best regards,

Prof. Dr. Barbara Thomass

New working paper: Communications, power and governance in democratisation conflicts

A working paper on communications, power and governance in democratisation conflicts by  Nicole Stremlau and Gianluca Iazzolino is now available!!

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Executive Summary

This paper explores the role of digital and traditional media in shaping formal and informal leaders’ interactions with their own constituencies and a broader audience, by both advancing their messages and narratives and manoeuvring to steer a specific political agenda. It specifically considers the role of power, leadership and strategic communications in both exacerbating and mitigating violent conflict in emerging democracies. By weaving together strands of the political science scholarship on political communication and political settlement, while engaging with concepts of hybrid governance and leadership, we attempt to knit a framework that challenges normative assumptions on institutional communicative practices.  By bringing together these disparate strands of scholarship that are rarely in dialogue, we question a characterisation that often contrasts vertical mainstream media with more horizontal and inclusive social media, arguing that a more nuanced view of the political significance of both spaces of communication is required, and one that highlights their interplay and blurs the boundaries between online and offline, and in doing so refocuses on the notion of power, placing it at the centre of analysis, to examine how entrenched relations of patronage can be let unscathed, transformed or even reinforced by networked forms of communication.

New working paper: Mainstream Media Power and Lost Orphans: The formation of Twitter networks in times of conflict

A working paper on mainstream media power by Walid Al-Saqaf and Christian Christensen is now online!

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Executive Summary

This paper is an attempt to add to our understanding of social media use during times of political and social crisis by presenting an analysis of the use of Twitter during a specific event: the terrorist attack in Garissa, Kenya in 2015. In particular: how networks were generated on the social media platform in the aftermath of this event; what these networks may be able to tell us about how information flows following democratic conflict events; and, what the type of actors located at the centre of these flows tell us about the nature of Twitter communication.

  • The results of the study show, at least in terms of the use of Twitter during the Garissa case study, that mainstream news organisations maintain a significant portion of their historical currency when it comes to both providing information and having information forwarded from their accounts. In particular, the BBC, CNN and Reuters emerged as key actors and network nodes.
  • Other actors emerged as important, particularly local bloggers and activists. These results point to the role of local social media ‘celebrities’ and activists in media ecologies.
  • Evidence of the broader challenge of self-published user-generated content (either in the form of single tweets and/or more formal publication) to ‘established’ journalism did not materialise in the data analysed in this study, with our defined ‘Broadcasters’ and ‘Networkers’ still dominated by established journalistic organisations. At least in terms of spread and sharing, this form of journalism was paramount. Thus, Twitter proved to be an important vehicle for mainstream journalism to both spread information and promote their brands during this particular event.
  • The results of the study, and the identification of the key network nodes also points to an issue raised in both popular and scholarly literature: the rather narrow levels of use of the platform, and the elite-centric nature of Twitter users. Unlike Facebook, which has much broader user base but tends to be used for fewer, or in-depth postings and comments, Twitter is a platform that lends itself well to ‘live’, on-the-spot updates (including videos and image) but has a much smaller number of users, many of whom are journalists, politicians, celebrities, activists.

New working paper: Theorising democratisation conflicts: from Liberation Technology to Media Ecology

A working paper on theorising democratisation conflicts by Christian Christensen is now online!

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Executive Summary

The purpose of this paper is to provide a conceptual framework for considering the role of ICTs (broadly defined) within democratisation conflicts. The ultimate purpose of the project, ‘Media, Conflict and Democratisation’ is to investigate the role of traditional media and ICTs in conflicts that accompany and follow transitions to democracy. The focus of the project is on four areas of contentious politics: (1) citizen politics and identities, (2) political power and accountability (3) elections and (4) transitional justice.

  • The potential use of ICTs for communication management is at the forefront of the thinking for this paper, in which existing policy initiatives in relation to ICTs for conflict resolution will be addressed. It is important to note, however, that the role of ICTs in exacerbating conflict (and not simply ICTs in conflict resolution) will also be addressed.
  • We review a number of reports and studies in which the use of ICTs in relation to democratisation and transition are addressed. Two things emerged from these studies that are noteworthy: first, socio-political context was discussed as a key factor in understanding the role of technology; and, second, relatively little mention was made regarding the inter-relationship(s) between ICT/social media and established mainstream media or alternative media outlets.
  • A brief overview follows of three critical perspectives on technology in relation to social and political change: (1) Technology Discourse, (2) Technological Constructivism, and (3), Liberation Technology/Technologies of Liberation. These three areas have been chosen because they provide intellectual frameworks for considering (in a critical fashion) the relationship between technology, information and emancipation; and, in addition, how these definitions and operationalisations could potentially impact broader social understanding(s) of the affordances of contemporary social networking technologies.
  • In the final section of the paper an attempt is made to connect ICT use in democratisation conflicts with what we might call ‘mainstream’ media use (newspapers, magazines and radio), and to do so without falling into the trap of techno-determinism or techno-utopianism. This is done through a presentation of the concepts of ecology, technologies of deliberation as an inter-connected theoretical framework for understanding this new, more complex inter-relationship.
  • These theoretical frameworks dovetail with a number of the common recommendations made by the reports presented in the early part of the paper, particularly with regards to understanding ICT use within specific local contexts. The concept of media ecology is particularly useful in this respect, as the relationship between ICT use/content and mainstream news coverage is a major factor in the media democratisation project. An empirically-grounded understanding of the relative level of disintermediation within particular ecologies will be crucial to developing suggestions for future policy, as well as an understanding of how positive or negative deliberation does (or does not) evolve within those ecologies.

New MeCoDEM Working Paper: Comparative analysis of political communication and media strategies in conflict

A comparative analysis of political communication and media strategies in conflict by Gianluca Iazzolino and Nicole Stremlau is now available!

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Executive Summary

This paper examines how political authorities communicate with one another and to their constituencies during democratisation conflicts in Kenya, South Africa and Serbia. By adopting a comparative perspective, it aims to situate the logics and practices of political communication in the broader political and socio-cultural milieu in which they originate and are deployed. It also discusses how narratives and ideologies inform the strategies deployed in the conflict, the role of old and new media as it emerges from both the interviewees’ expectations and experience, and what the gap between these two tells us about the transformations that ICTs are prompting in political communication:

  • A common feature of the conflicts is that they are all seen as a contemporary reflection of underlying tensions and deep-seated frustrations rooted in inequalities and unresolved issues that predate democratic transition: the end of the Milošević’s regime in Serbia, Independence in the case of Kenya, and the end of Apartheid in South Africa.
  • In each case, framing the past sets the stage for interpreting the current situation and building a vision of the future. The source of legitimacy of the parties involved in the conflicts is, in some cases, placed in transcendent values (such as Serbian identity, Christian norms, Ubuntu) or “the rule of law”.
  • Democratisation appears as an unfinished process in the three countries, as the tensions between more authoritarian structures of power and institutions based on representative democracy are brought to the fore. Moreover, media outlets emerge as actors with their own agenda. Market pressures not only test the boundaries of quality journalism, but also force politicians and state authorities to compete for limited attention by using increasingly polarising tones and arguments.

The comparative analysis also offers a glimpse into the use of social media for mobilising supporters online and reflecting many of the themes in the mass media, including the reproduction of forms of patronage and political co-option, while also posing new questions about greater citizen participation and spaces for public authorities to ‘listen’ to grassroots constituencies.

New MeCoDEM Working Paper: Structural working conditions of journalism in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa: Empirical findings from interviews with journalists reporting on democratisation conflicts

Empirical findings from interviews with journalists reporting on democratisation conflicts and discussing structural working conditions of journalism in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa by Judith LohnerIrene Neverla and Sandra Banjac are now available!

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Executive Summary
This report provides an overview of core comparative findings from MeCoDEM interviews with journalists in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa. It investigates the structural working conditions of journalistic actors in transitional societies across a set of comparable democratisation conflicts. Empirically, the study builds on qualitative semi-structured face-to face in-depth interviews with 100 professional journalists working for local news organisations in the four countries. Interviews employed the reconstruction method.

  • The analysis confirms that journalism faces highly complex, ambivalent, contradictory and changing structural conditions in all MeCoDEM countries.
  • The structural conditions of journalism are shaped by legacies of the past (marked by non-democratic regimes and sometimes colonial rule) and persisting power structures. The state and powerful political actors are perceived to play an important role in the media sector, mirrored in different forms of political interference directed at newsrooms and individual journalists in the way of repressive legal frameworks, political ownership and advertising, economic censorship and blackmail, as well as threats directed at the physical and psychological safety of journalists. Journalists perceive the relationship between different communities in society to be reflected in the constitution of and atmosphere among newsroom staff.
  • Even though journalists operate in a more liberal environment than under autocratic rule in Kenya, Serbia and South Africa, media privatisation has created new dependencies and pressures: Against the background of profit-making pressures in capitalist and highly commercialised media markets, journalists claim to work under precarious working conditions, marked by time constraints due to short-staffed newsroom and juniorisation, high professional insecurity and poor salaries arguably making journalists vulnerable to bribery and corruption. Challenges relating to journalistic professionalism also translate into insufficient training on conflict-sensitive reporting and safety measures for journalists reporting on conflicts, low professional organisation and self-regulation, as well as a lack of professional solidarity and prestige.
  • The salience of different elements of structural constraints varies depending on the stages of transition and consolidation which imply different degrees of democratisation relating to media structures. These become evident, for example, in differing levels of legal and practical media freedom, state interference in the newsrooms and the nature of threats against journalists.
  • Also, the nature and salience of structural constraints depends on the conflict context: Violent protests (such as the service delivery protests in South Africa or the Pride Parade in Serbia) become a challenge especially for the physical and psychological safety of reporters working on the ground. Predominantly political conflicts (such as election campaigns) enhance various forms of overt and subtle political interference in the newsrooms and pressures against individual (mainly senior) journalists.

New MeCoDEM Working Paper: Media framing of democratisation conflicts in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa: a content analysis

A content analysis on media framing of democratisation conflicts in Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa by Nebojša Vladisavljević and Katrin Voltmer is now available!

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Executive Summary
This MeCoDEM working paper presents an overview of the main findings from a quantitative content analysis covering different types of democratisation conflicts (i.e., conflicts over citizenship, elections, transitional justice and distribution of power) in four countries: Egypt, Kenya, Serbia and South Africa. The sample involves 5162 newspaper articles and news stories in the four countries selected on the basis of two main criteria: the degree of independence of media outlets from government and political parties, and their relevance. The key findings from the content analysis are organised around several themes: causes of democratisation conflicts, portrayal of conflict parties, preferred solutions to conflicts, perceptions of democracy, role of the media, authoritarian past, and tone of reporting and polarisation.

Although this paper focuses principally on description, we also speculate about the main factors that shape similarities and differences in media coverage of democratisation conflicts. The main finding from the content analysis is that cross-national variations that we found in media reporting of democratisation conflicts appear to depend on several factors:

  • Our data strongly reflect specific country contexts (and contexts of broader regions from which they come from, including the Arab Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa and post-communist Europe) to be a consistent factor that shapes the pattern of media coverage, reflecting the close interdependence between media and politics. Historical and geographical influences crystallise over time into specific political, institutional and cultural legacies and thus shape media framing in different ways. For example, the army is perceived as a relevant political institution in Egypt (and much of the Middle East) – due to its dominant role in politics since independence from colonial rule – but not in other countries. However, the relationship between country context and media coverage is not a simple 1:1 reflection and multiple transformations of meaning in public discourses can tilt interpretations of political events toward unexpected directions.
  • Regime type and the stage of democratisation matter when it comes to media framing of political conflicts because press freedom is an important aspect of democracy. As a result, countries that feature similar levels of democracy, or find themselves at similar points in democratisation, cluster together on several (but not all) relevant variables. Across all four countries, media’s portrayals of the achievements of democracy differ considerably with the most negative reporting recorded in South Africa and the most positive in Serbia. This finding is puzzling because these two countries can be seen as the two most advanced democracies in our sample. Factors that contribute to a positive evaluation of democracy are peaceful elections, the rule of law and economic growth, whereas institutional deficiencies, social inequalities and limited citizenship undermine beliefs in democratic governance.
  • In addition, media reporting also varied depending on types of democratisation conflict – which reflect the main arenas of political contestation – though less so than on country contexts. Our data show that elections, as a highly institutionalised type of conflict (though it also probably depends on regime type/situation), were covered somewhat differently than other conflict types. Across all countries, the quality of media coverage is limited by bias, emotionalisation and – most importantly – polarisation.

In particular, conflicts over the control of power trigger sharp polarisation, whereas elections – contrary to existing literature – seem to force media towards a more restrained style of reporting. Further research, which draws on other sources, including the qualitative analysis of media content, interviews with journalists, civil society and political actors, as well as document analysis, is required to explain how exactly and why all these factors shape media coverage of democratisation conflicts.