Emerging media following the Arab uprisings

The article “Understanding Emerging Media: Voice, Agency, and Precarity in the Post-2011 Arab Mediasphere” by Yazan Badran from Vrije Universiteit Brussel sought to understand the genesis, development and relevance of the new emerging media organizations in the Arab mediasphere following the Arab uprisings of 2010-2011.

The study builds on the author’s previous work on the field of emerging media in the region. The media organizations featured in the study present a range of different political contexts, mediums, and organizational models.

Central to the study is the concept of voice. Here, it is understood to be the process and ability to engage in self and collective narratives about one’s life, and the conscious valuing of this process. 

It is chosen here in the narrative framework to counteract some of the dominant paradigms of academic research, and allows the author to evaluate the discourses, practices, and structures of the actors, rather than focusing on technocratic notions such as circulation. 

The three aspects the study focuses on are the aforementioned voice, modalities, and political economies. The diversity of the voices in the emerging media sector is a testament to how controlled and sanitized the media landscape was before the uprisings – a move from ‘as if’ simulacrum of presentation to ‘as it is’.

An emblematic example is the rise of Kurdish-language journalism after a state-sanctioned policy of linguicide. Another example is the rise of Tunisian associative media and the articulation of regional marginalization and inequality. 

The pluralisation of media and voices has also brought previously taboo subjects to the coverage, such as sectarianism, gender, and sexual violence. Other matters concerning minorities or displaced people have also been given a voice.

A trend of professionalization can be observed with the emerging new media. From self-expression and self-communication, the new media is becoming more professional – an opposite trend to Castell’s ‘mass self-communication’, a move from professional to the amateur. 

The professionalization is evident in editorial choices and the adoption of journalistic norms and vocabulary, and the emphasis that the journalists of these organizations place on being journalists first rather than citizens or activists. 

The political economy under which the new media operates has been made possible by changes in the society that have made the funding of these ventures possible. Nevertheless, becoming economically self-sufficient is an extremely arduous task.

To allow the emerging media to operate and even provide full-time employment to its workers, media development aid via funding or direct grants plays an instrumental role. The downside of this funding is the suspicion it arouses: the readers might wonder on whose behalf the media is working. Thus the funding impacts the public legitimacy and the organizations have to manage that.

The funding model also creates a power differential between the local media and their international funders that some manage by spreading their donors more and thus being less contingent on any single Western viewpoint.

To conclude, the aftermath of the Arab uprisings has shown a pluralization of voices present in the media landscape. On the level of modalities, there is a diversity in practices but the author argues that the trend is towards professionalization. 

Finally, on the institutional level, the precarity of journalism by large is even more evident here as the organizations have to manage the complex web of legitimacy and financial viability.

The study  “Understanding Emerging Media: Voice, Agency, and Precarity in the Post-2011 Arab Mediasphere” by Yazan Badran is in Media and Communication. (open access). 

Picture: Arab man walking in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan region by 

Levi Meir Clancy.

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