Black Protesters = Thugs
White Rioters = Passionate Individuals
Throughout history, social movements have been used around the world to symbolize and advocate for sociopolitical ideologies and objectives of a particular group. Today, mainstream media is considered one of the most influential platforms for social movements to disseminate information to the public. Unfortunately, through media agenda setting (telling the pubic what to think), gatekeeping (filtering information), and media framing (highlighting a particular factor to skew public perception) has adversely impacted the public perception of past and present social movements. Previous research regarding the impact of mass media’s coverage of social movements has referred to the “protest paradigm”- the media’s disposition to focus on topics or characteristics of a social movement in ways that tend to divert attention away from the movement’s key issues and objectives. Moreover, social movements that contain adversarial views and challenge the status quo of society are perceived less favorable by mass media.
Is the media that important to the movement? Is the media that powerful?
Well yes! Currently, the universal media market is controlled by approximately 6 global corporations known as the “Big Six”: Viacom, Time Warner, General Electric, News Corporation, Disney, and CBS. In addition, the “Big Six” houses the three largest and most influential U.S. news networks – CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. This centralization of media power increases the probability of gatekeeping, agenda setting, and negative framing of controversial movements.
Some may view this as plenty enough media choices?
On the contrary, in my opinion, these individuals couldn't be more WRONG. However, in their defense, they are simply victims of the the illusion of choice created by media consolidation. By definition, media consolidation is a process whereby progressively fewer individuals or organizations control increasing shares of the mass media. Case in point, In 1983, 90% of American media was OWNED BY 50 COMPANIES. As of 2011, that same 90% is OWNED BY 6 COMPANIES. In other words, 6 companies control 90% of what we watch, read, and listen to.
How Did This Happen?
Once upon a time, during the 80's...The government regulated ownership of media outlets to prohibit a single broadcaster from monopolizing the market. Fast forward to the passing of the Telecommunications Act of 1996 and you will find that the FCC loosened restrictions on media ownership which allowed companies to own more media outlets. As result, more and more media outlets began to fall under the control of a few giant corporations. Thus, the birth of Media Consolidation.
If you are still wondering why this is important to social movements...
Gaining positive media coverage is crucial for many social movements, as the way they are portrayed in the mass media can have important implications for their ability to mobilize citizens to participate in their protests. Early in the post, I mentioned that social movements that contain adversarial views and challenge the status quo of society are perceived less favorable by mass media. If you were to conduct a content analysis of media coverage of the past protests resulting from the police killings of Blacks between 2014-2015, you will find that the protest paradigm, media bias, and agenda setting is prevalent. The fact that 6 companies control 90% of American media increases the chances of agenda setting for political or monetary reasons, decreases the diversity in coverage, and increases the power of the gatekeepers.
I will be posting more on this topic the 3rd week in February. If you are in the Baton Rouge area on February 10, I will be presenting Breaking the Frame: Examining the Delegitimization of African-American Protest by Mass Media and the Need for New Dissent Strategies and Media Policy Reform, at the National Association of African American Studies Annual Conference. My presentation will examine and illustrate the adverse impact of agenda setting and framing of the Black Panther Party Movement and the Black Lives Matters Movement. My presentation will also discuss the need for new dissent strategies in the African-American community. Critics of African-American sociopolitical movements, past and present, often consider the movements to be ineffective, impotent, and unwarranted. Case in point, Critics of the Black Lives Matter Movement believe that such a movement can only incite violence. Moreover, critics of the movement have drawn a parallel between the Black Lives Matter Movement and the Black Panther Party Movement and question whether the movement and police can coexist to evoke social change. I have conducted a descriptive content analysis of mass media coverage of the Black Panther Party and Black Lives Matter dissent tactics. I have also applied three delegitimization frames found in the protest paradigm literature – evocation of public opinion, protester characteristics, and use of official sources. My presentation will report my findings and will illustrate a correlation between public opinion and media framing of the Black Panther Party Movement and the Black Lives Matter Movement.
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