Upcoming book: The Digital Transformation of the Public Sphere

I am currently co-editing a volume with my former supervisor Dr. Athina Karatzogianni (University of Leicester) and colleague Elisa Serafinelli (University of Hull). The full title is The Digital Transformation of the Public Sphere – Conflict, Migration, Crisis and Culture in Digital Networks. Publication is scheduled for September 2015. The book is a collection of articles related to the digital transformation of media-based public spheres with particular emphasis on the impact of Internet technology as well as the mutual affectivity of conflicts, migration, and public discursivity.

I am going to contribute a chapter on the transnational web sphere that emerged during the Eurozone crisis between 2011 and 2013; I will post a full contents list later this month, once we have the final draft ready. Below read a summary of the introductory chapter, which also provides an overview of the book’s overall purpose and aim:

A constantly evolving set of digital media technologies affects communicative interactions between individuals and collectives, which inevitably leaves an impact on the shape, scope, and function of contemporary public spheres. These can no longer be seen as normative discursive formations limited to the national context as proposed in the Habermasian tradition; they should rather be analysed in terms of their mediality and their increasingly transnational orientation. The various available online media in particular catalyse the speed and range of communication flows and dissolve physical, but also social and cultural boundaries in various contexts.

This again affects the perception and negotiation of crises, the reconfiguration and materialisation of conflicts, and the reproduction as well as distribution of popular culture; each one is a “quasi-object” in itself that triggers the formation of publics of different sizes, potentially spanning around the globe. Migration, migrant communities and the role of media technologies in their formation and continuity become adequate empirical research subjects in this respect, since they often touch several of these discursive fields at once.

They are prime examples for the transnationalisation of discursive relations through the accommodation of digital media technologies. Migrant issues are also at the centre of contemporary political and social conflicts, which tend to result from transnational economic crises. In sum, they provide a starting point for critically analysing the current and continuous digital transformation of the public sphere.

Image courtesy of Unsplash.com

Publication Project I: The Transnational Blogosphere in Africa and Europe

Within the three years of a PhD programme, a student should publish at least one to two articles and present an equal amount of papers at conferences. Hence, I started to plan a number of smaller research projects that will hopefully be published in one of the many renowned academic journals next year. The first of these articles deals with transnational communication on blogs – a topic I have recently discussed in my German MA thesis. However, this time I will cooperate with my former classmate Tomi Oladepo who is a PhD student at Warwick University. She also works on digital public spheres, political communication, and participation (she wrote a brilliant MA thesis on similar issues at Coventry university). We can therefore easily and productively exploit the synergies of the work on our PhD dissertations to produce some high quality side projects.

In the planned publication we will provide a theoretical approach on the digital public sphere and political communication online – developing our thoughts by critically summarizing the respective academic discourses in communication science, media studies, sociology, and political science. We will then expand the discussion by taking a closer look on forms of transnationalism online – and empirically prove to what extent blogs offer a platform for political discourse beyond national borders. One of our main interests deals thereby with the question on who defines him/herself as an ‘African’ or ‘European’, respectively, and how they communicate such an transnational identity: When, where and why do individuals (users) of different national backgrounds come together online and discuss what kind of political issues? Can we detect hints to a common ground or a transnational identity (as “Africans” rather than Nigerians  or Congolese for instance, or “Europeans” instead of Germans or British). Who participates? What do they say? What networks can we identify? By contrasting Africa and Europe, we will hopefully be able to point to some substantial differences but also similarities between both geographical spaces and their digital extensions (mainly due to historical and, most importantly, economic aspects):

  • in the manner of utilizing digital media for political purposes,
  • in the composition of public online discourses and the role of the ‘national’,
  • in the structure on networks of political blogs focusing transnational issues,
  • in the patterns of communicative interaction, referencing, linking etc.,
  • in the reflection on the state as well as progress of cultural and political integration.

You can take a look at  some examples for our prospective subject-matters-of-consideration here and here. We still have to define our methodological approach but we`ll probably apply a form of content analysis in order to collect sufficient data for proving our theses, considering both qualitative and quantitative aspects. Nevertheless, we are still in the very early stages of planning and we might come up with a totally different epistemological perspective and instrument. At the moment, we’re aiming for publication in the second half of 2012. Until then we’ll provide updates on the project on this and Tomi’s blog, find the link above.

Please feel free to share your thoughts.

The PhD Proposal

UPDATE: This PhD proposal secured me a full scholarship – stipend and fees – at the University of Hull, where I completed my doctoral degree in March 2015. Though much of the methodology and empirical part changed over the course of the past three years, the basic research motivation(s) remained largely the same (but it was of course further refined to more precise research goals). Read the original below.


I’m pretty busy applying for PhD programmes these days and I have already sent some applications to universities throughout Europe. Though it still takes a few weeks before I get official responses, I have already received unofficial feedback – which has been quite positive. At the moment, my personal favorite is the City of London University (it offers great funding opportunities).  Read my proposal, i.e. the research project I would like to work on in the next three years:

Proposal for a Ph.D. Research Project

Area of Studies: Media and Communications

Europe Online: Towards a Digital Transnational Sphere or Isolated Web Spaces?

 A Comparative Study on the Structure, Function, and Scope of Contemporary Online Discourses in regards to Participation and Segmentation in the European Union

1. Introduction and Research Motivation

In 2011, the European Union faces substantial social, economic, cultural, and political challenges: The continuing economic crisis, increasing migration problems, environmental issues, and a shift towards the political right in various member states are only the most prominent ones. The EU is forced to communicate each political decision carefully to the continent’s population, particularly in such times of crisis; it actually needs to address a European public. Assessing the chances and limits of transnational public spheres within the geographical, political, and cultural spaces of the European Union is a recurring topic in academic discourses – most notably in communication and media studies (Bee/Bezoni et al. 2010; de Vreese 2010; Triandafyllidou et al. 2009). Various articles, case studies, and research projects on the issue exist. However, the majority of these approaches mainly focus the role of conventional mass media in ‘European’ public discourses (e.g. Balcytiene/Vinciuniene 2010; Berkel 2006; de Vreese 2002). Only a few academic contributions pay attention to online media and their relevance to processes of cultural, political, and social convergence in the EU (e.g. Jankowski/van Os 2004; Koopmanns/Zimmermann 2003). In fact, no larger empirical study has focused the Internet and its actual impact on European self-perception and public discourses beyond national frames yet (Risse 2003: 2).

As the distribution of the WWW continues to spread on the continent, examining online phenomena could yield important insights on tendencies towards ‘trans-nationality’ and a common ‘European’ identity. After all, citizens, the media, and political institutions have access to unprecedented technologies for communicative interaction that theoretically facilitate public debate and cultural exchange.

My research project will bridge this gap by analysing participatory online media and their potential for open transnational discourses, i.e. public spheres, in four stages:

I. The development of an elaborated theoretical framework for analysing and understanding transnational public spheres in the age of digital globalisation; this includes an in-depth revision and discussion of already existing notions of the public sphere (e.g. Habermas 1962, Noelle-Neumann 1998, Luhmann 1992, Sunstein 2007, Dahlberg 2007). By comparing and combining theoretical approaches from different academic cultures1, I will try to examine the subject-matter-of-consideration from a pluralistic perspective. Integrating theories on political communication, information societies (Webster 1995), digital democracy (Dean 2005; Lovink 2008), media convergences (Jenkins 2006; 2003), media audiences, and the formation of (transnational-)identities through discourse (Hall 2004) is crucial for achieving this. It is indispensable to include an analysis of the dominant discursive formations that determine the structure and outcome of online debates on and in the EU, i.e. the politics of in- and exclusion as regards participation in web-based discourses.

II. An extensive, comparative content analysis of EU-related online media and -debates in both quantitative and qualitative respect; this requires the development of a complementary methodological approach and the compilation of an appropriate text corpus.

III. Interviews with a selection of professional content providers in EU-related contexts (e.g. online journalists, EU-PR writers, popular bloggers), which I will conduct either off- or online (e.g. Skype); this allows me to evaluate the utilization of web technologies to ‘communicate’ Europe .

IV. Based on the findings of the previous steps, the establishment of a detailed taxonomy of EU-related online media, a characterisation of European ‘netizens’, and a map of transnational online networks of public spaces within the Union. Finally, I will be able to give substantiated answers to the question whether the Internet stimulates the emergence of transnational spheres or it rather promotes the demarcation of (nationally) isolated web-spaces – an important aspect in regards to the future course and success of the “European project” (Tisdall 2010). Ideally, the outcome of my research will also provide a methodological model that might be used to analyse similar phenomena in other web-based contexts.

2. Research Questions

In order to assess the structure, scope, and function of online content regarding the EU, I will approach and answer the following  research questions, which are divided into three categories:

I. On the Potential of Transnational Public Spheres in European Information Societies: What online content on the European Union is available and does it add up to networked, digitalised public spheres across national borders, i.e. does the Internet actually facilitate the emergence of transnational, ‘European’ public debates? Where do they occur, what does their structure look like and what function do they have? What are the differences between the various online platforms (e.g. blogs, websites, Twitter, social media) as regards their potential for public debate in EU-contexts?

II. On the ‘Providers’ of Public Forums Online: What issues do professional content providers perceive to be ‘European’? What differences in identifying and evaluating ‘European’ issues do exist (e.g. national vs. transnational interests)? Where do the providers of content allocate themselves within Europe and its web- based environment? How does the EU communicate to the populations of its member states online?

III. On the Recipients/Users (and therefore possible ‘Europeans’): Who is participating in online discourses? Do the discussants reflect a certain ‘European’ self-conception? Who regards him-/herself to be European and where does this transnational self-perception collide with national identities? Do multilateral, deliberative-democratic discussions on controversial issues – such as climate change, migration, economy etc. – occur? Where do crucial short-comings in terms of openness and inclusion become apparent?

3. Data and Methodology

The core of this research project is an elaborate content analysis of online media platforms that focus the European Union and relevant trans- or international issues:

  • Websites and forums provided by the institutions of the EU (e.g. European Commission 2010)
  • Decidedly transnational, European news media online (e.g. European Voice 2010)
  • A selection of ‘Europe sections’ from popular news media online, located in three important member states: the UK (e.g. Guardian.co.uk), Germany (e.g. faz.de), and France (e.g. lemonde.fr)
  • A selection of blogs, Twitter-accounts, homepages etc. provided by decidedly ‘pan- European’ groups and organisations The text corpus will mainly consist of articles and posts, i.e. discourses, on websites, blogs, forums, and social networking sites.

To delimit the sample, I will set a temporal frame covering the years of ‘European crisis’ 2008 to 2010. The analysis aims for two levels: The “content-level”, i.e. the articles, blog-posts, Facebook-messages, Tweets etc. and the “comment level”, i.e. the direct responses from users/readers. The instruments for the data survey are a detailed codebook and data entry forms. Since it is not possible to gain satisfactory insights from a quantitative examination only, I will also analyse a sample of texts qualitatively by applying an adjusted form of critical discourse analysis (Richardson 2006). The second part of the data collection consists of interviews which will provide additional information for a deeper understanding of the intentions for utilising online media to address a public audience.

4. Conclusive Remarks

Ideally, my research project will develop an applicable theory to understand and analyse the structure, scope, and function of (transnational-)public spheres in contemporary, digitalised information societies and provide a complementary methodological approach to assess such phenomena both qualitatively and empirically. It could become a model to analyse similar phenomena in other web-based context.

By establishing a detailed taxonomy of EU- related online media and analysing the Web’s potential for transnational discourse, I will be able to highlight aspects in ‘communication on Europe’ that need further improvement on the side of professional content providers (e.g. EU-PR writers and online journalists focusing the EU). Moreover, it can bridge the gap between different academic cultures, i.e. connect and combine theoretical and methodological concepts from German Communication Sciences and Anglophone Communication- and Media Studies. Since I had the chance to study in both systems (and to receive both degrees), I am well aware of the different perspectives and approaches on one and the same field of study. Especially in regards to research on the public sphere, public opinion, and political communication, there is good potential for a productive exchange of findings and experiences.

 

5. List of References

Balcytiene, Aukse/Vinciuniene, Ausra (2010) ‘Assessing Conditions for the Homogenisation of the European Public Sphere: How Journalists Report, and Could Report, on Europe’, in: Bee, Christiano/ Bozzini, Emanuela (eds.): Mapping the European Public Sphere. Institutions, Media, and Civil Society. Farnham/Surrey: Ashgate: pp141-159.

Bee, Christiano/ Bozzini, Emanuela, eds. (2010): Mapping the European Public Sphere. Institutions, Media, and Civil Society. Farnham/Surrey: Ashgate: pp83-99.

Berkel, Barbara (2006) Conflict as a Catalyser for a European Public Sphere. A Content Analysis of Newspapers in Germany, France, Great Britain, and Austria. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.

Dahlberg, Lincoln (2007) ‘The Internet, Deliberative Democracy and Power: Radicalizing the Public Sphere’, International Journal of Media and Cultural Politics. Vol. 3 (1): pp.47- 64.

Dean, Jodi (2005) ‘Communicative Capitalism: Circulation and the Foreclosure of Politics’, Cultural Politics 1 (1).

De Vreese, Claes (2010) The EU as a Public Sphere. http://europeangovernance.livingreviews.org/Articles/lreg-2007-3/ (21/01/2011)

De Vreese, Claes (2002) Framing Europe: Television news and European integration. Amsterdam: Aksant Academic Publishers.

Erbe, Jessica, (2005) “’What Do the Papers Say? How Press Reviews Link National Media Arenas in Europe”, in Javnost – The Public, 12(2): pp75–92. European Commission (2010), http://blogs.ec.europa.eu/ (21/01/2011)

European Voice (2010), http://www.europeanvoice.com/ (21/01/2011)

FAZ (2010), http://www.faz.net/s/Rub99C3EECA60D84C08AD6B3E 60C4EA807F/Tpl~Ecommon~SThemenseite.html (21/01/2011)

Guardian (2010), http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/europe/roundup (21/01/2011)

Habermas, Jürgen (1996) The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere. An Inquiry into a Category of Burgeois Society. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Hall, Stuart (2000) ‚Who needs identity’? in J. Evans / P. Redman eds. Identity: a Reader. London: Sage.

Jankowski, Nicholas/van Os, Renée (2004) “The 2004 European parliament election and the internet: contribution to a European public sphere?”, Conference on internet communication in intelligent societies, Hong Kong, conference paper.

Jenkins, Henry (2006) Convergence Culture. New York and London: New York University Press.

Jenkins, Henry / Thorburn, David (2003) ‘Introduction: The Digital Revolution, the Informed Citizen, and the Culture of Democracy’, in Jenkins, Henry / Thorburn, David, eds. Democracy and New Media. Cambridge/London: MIT Press.

Koopmans, Ruud/Zimmerman, Ann (2003) “Internet: A new potential for European political communication?”, WZB Discussion Paper, SP IV 2003-402, Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin für Sozialforschung, Berlin Le Monde (2010), http://www.lemonde.fr/europe/ (21/01/2011)

Lovink, Gert (2008): Zero Comments. Blogging and Critical Internet Culture. New York/London: Routledge.

Luhmann, Niklas (1992) “Observing the Observers in the Political System: On the Theory of Public Opinion”, in: Wilke, Jürgen (Hrsg.): Öffentliche Meinung, Theorie, Methoden, Befunde, Beiträge zu Ehren von Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann. Freiburg: pp77-86.

Noelle-Neumann, Elisabeth (1998) Public Opinion, in: Jarren,Otfried/Sarcinelli/Saxer(Hrsg.): Politische Kommunikation in der demokratischen Gesellschaft, Wiesbaden: pp81-93.

Risse, Thomas (2003) An Emerging European Public Sphere? Theoretical Clarifications and Empirical Indicators. Nashville: Paper presented to the Annual Meeting of the European Union Studies Association (EUSA).

Sunstein, Cass R. (2007) Republic.com. Princeton, NJ.: Princeton University Press.

Tisdall, Simon (2010) Has the Whole European Project Peaked? http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/may/11/european-union-euro-reform (21/01/2011)

Triandafyllido, Anna/ Wodak, Ruth/ Krzyżanowski, Michal, eds. (2009) The European Public Sphere and the Media. Europe in Crisis. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

Webster, Frank (1995) Theories of the Information Society. London: Routledge.

IMPORTANT NOTE: It is not allowed to copy the contents – also in extracts – of this post/proposal. This text is, like any other content on this weblog, property of the author.

Wikileaks and the (alleged) “Diplomacy-Crisis”

Though I should actually be working on an oral presentation on Maoism, I cannot restrain myself from commenting on the latest “Wikileaks-Coup”. Once more, the (allegedly) “subversive” website attracted an incredibly intense media coverage. I will spare you an elaborate recap of what has happened – you can read, watch or listen to the story on each and every media channel.  All major newspapers, news websites, and broadcasters have put the story on the publication of 250.000 “sensitive” diplomatic documents on the top of their agendas; you can find background information on the issue almost everywhere. Sensational headlines  speak of a “real” diplomacy crisis. Another catchy term is “cablegate”, an allegory to the infamous Watergate-scandal of the Nixon administration in the 1970s. Well, I have my doubts here.

Especially the last comparison seems to be far from being appropriate. In the original scandal, the then government was directly involved in illegal surveillance and monitoring activities; of course, similar things happen today all the time (in partly much more sophisticated manner), too. However, today’s “cablegate” documents have not shown yet, that the US administration did anything particularly “deceptive” or “evil”. Even if some notes on certain politicians are rather embarrassing. But are they really that surprising? Would secret, diplomatic notes from other countries look any different? Let’s see: Arabia has a problem with a possible Iranian hegemony – tell me something new. Putin is Batman, Medwedew resembles his sidekick Robin and Ahmadinedschad reminds people of Hitler – well, I kinda knew that before Wikileaks told us. And to realise that Berlusconi loves parties you do not have to be a diplomat. Moreover, when I read what the US diplomats think of Angela Merkel and Guido Westerwelle, I literally had to laugh out loud – because the characterizations are simply true (well, at least from my political perspective); nothing “sensitive” here. As regards spying on the UN, history has shown that diplomats had always been involved in rather shady forms of information gathering. That’s scandalous to very naive people only.

The whole issue appears to be a bit overblown and serious consequences for the diplomatic relationships between the involved nations remain to be seen. This has already been proven all day, when the different involved statesmen and -women downplayed the impact of this “revealment”. There is no real diplomacy crisis, just a few blushing faces (and some flattery damage containment). However, I am only mocking about today’s “over-emotional” coverage of the issue – I am not thinking that there is nothing truly surprising or maybe even shocking in this 250.000 documents. All I am saying is: It’s a bit too early to draw any hasty conclusions. We have to wait – and contemplate advantages over disadvantages of a force like Wikileaks in our current information environment. This applies to various dimensions of the issue:

1. The most basic question is of course: When does the monopoly on information of a (democratic) state end – and when do activities of organizations like Wikileaks violate  a government’s right on secrecy? I am far from being an enemy of a “free” information flow and I do not believe that contemporary democracies are the most perfect political system to live in (though, and here I agree with Churchill, all others are still much worse). But I am also convinced that too much transparency can be harmful for a collective, i.e. a nation-state in certain truly sensitive respects.

2. Wikileaks fulfills an important function by keeping debates on information, censorship, the media and the role of the Internet alive. In the case of the Afghan and Iraq War Logs, it confirmed what critical observers already assumed: That there is a another, far more complex and difficult reality to both wars. It has also shown that online media can truly circumvent and stimulate traditional media. Hence, there is a moral and political justification for a platform like Wikileaks  – to break established hegemonies. However, in the very moment an “independent” organisation accumulates the strength to challenge the establishment, it is not far from becoming a hegemonic factor within a certain power discourse itself. It is today the no. 1 source for classified information; there are no other notable Wikis for political leaks. In order to hold its position, it actually needs to “produce” constantly new breaking stories. It needs the media and vice versa. This encompasses certain demerits. Therefore, I sometimes doubt that Wikileaks always remembers its enormous responsibility every time it publishes masses of governmental documents – I simply cannot believe that its staff reads and evaluates every single piece appropriately before pushing it over to the media and the public, respectively. So how does who in Wikileaks actually decide which information goes out? I am not the first who questions the organization’s inner and outer transparency. One should never trust 100% in what a government is announcing – the same applies to its antagonists.

3. There is also the question of the actual political impact – I have already touched the problem above. For instance, though there had been a loud and vital discussion on the war logs, the number of anti-war protests did not really increase. As so often, the “scandal” arose broad attention for a relatively brief moment. The new media, the mass media, governments and the public – all factors influence each other, but the actual outcome of each debate needs to be evaluated and scrutinized anew. However, some rather unwelcomed effects of this one are already tangible: Restrictive governments can misuse the whole issue to justify their strict information policies, less restrictive ones will revise their information security policies.

To make one thing clear: Being critical towards Wikileaks here does not mean that I am fully supporting the different official governments’ stands in this debate; I would define my position as a neutral, extremely sceptical one. What I wanted to point out is: It is important that such events are accompanied  by sober, balanced discussions which consider all positive and negative factors; and that it is not enough to throw out a stack of controversial documents and then see what happens.

England vs. Germany – Reactivation of Old Stereotypes

England and Germany have a very special relationship – especially from a cultural and historical point of view. However, it seems that particularly England or the UK, respectively, retains certain stereotypes, myths, and legend about the alleged traditional competitor. They are not always dominating every discourse in the UK involving Germans but become relatively often visible. Sports events like a football match – the classic arena for both nations during peace time – show how fast misconceptions of contemporary Germany are reactivated. Though one of the most advanced Western European societies, she is frequently depicted as an anachronistic, crude mixture of a prussain-militaristic Kaiserreich and a Nazi-Dicatorship. Especially the so-called yellow press nurtures these decontextualised stereotypes with sensational headlines. Daily Mail, The Sun etc. are thereby constantly ignoring the multi-ethic composition of the German team , for instance.

A cursorily glance at the discourse shows, however, that the reactivation of stereotypes is a rather unilateral issue, limited to the UK. It seems that most of the Germans do not really care about what some of their insular neighbors might think about them. To the contrary, the almost satirical exaggerations cause a certain amusement in Germany. Find some of the most interesting British press reaction to the outcome of yesterday’s game here on the Guradian’s website.

Ethics, Journalists, and the Use of New Media

Media producers of all branches or genres, respectively, increase their efforts to use the Internet and the various forms of social media as both a new communication channel and a source for research. Contemporary journalistic work not using new media became almost unthinkable – certain forms like “citizen journalism” or online news (all genres) would not even exist. A modern and successful news/media producer must be aware of the opportunities  but also limits of the world wide web.

Though the digitalised environment of today’s information societies creates and demands different, new modes of  news/knowledge production as well as distribution, there have to be certain guidelines and rules, basing on traditional perceptions of this ‘media craft’ – at least according to some professionals. Especially ethics, which always have been a often heatedly discussed issue in journalism, seem thereby to be an important topic in online media production discourses, too. How to handle social network media sources? How to treat statements made on blogposts, comments or in fora? How to sustain fairness – and guarantee ‘accuracy’, ‘truth’ (or at least ‘objectivity’ – if this is even possible) online? Though some of the basics behind those questions are long known points of contention (especially on ‘truth’ and ‘neutrality’), the Internet confronts the critical observer with various new and complex problems in this context. Especially concerning the alleged freedom of information, property rights, and privacy issues.

To find an interesting example for such ethical guidelines, please visit Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA). Here, media professionals postulate rules for using and treating online sources – and try to approach crucial questions like the ones mentioned above. It shows how those who are directly involved in the production process of online content attempt to meet the challenges of a changed information economy.

Thanks to my colleague Tomi, who passed me the link – visit her blog here.

One Story, three Perspectives – The Dubai Assassination 2010 and the Media

The following essay uses  critical discourse analysis (CDA) as a qualitative method to examine differences between media producers and -platforms. I use the assassination of the Palestinian military leader Mahmoud al-Mabouh in January 2010 as an empirical example. The text provides an comparative  analysis of three different media outlets concerning their coverage  of the story. This might be of interest to people focusing on journalism and communication sciences.

“Who killed Mr. Al-Mabhouh?”

A Comparative Critical Discourse Analysis on the News Coverage of the Dubai Assassination 2010

1. Introduction

On 19th January 2010 Mahmoud al-Mahbouh, a Palestinian Hamas military commander, was killed in a hotel in Dubai. Evidence gathered during the investigation hint to the possibility that the assassins were members of the Mossad, the Israeli secret service. It later emerged that the alleged agents used stolen passports of residents from the UK, France, Germany and Israel. The findings of the investigations conducted by Dubai’s police department aroused a broad media coverage, especially in the United Arab Emirates, the UK and Israel. Until today, the issue remains ‘newsworthy’ and numerous articles, commentaries and reports have been published. Hence, it became the focus of different media discourses around the globe. The involved governments, organisations and individuals have very different perspectives on this incident. The same applies to the different news media producers, which observed and covered the issue as well as the subsequent developments. The controversial debates on this incident are transported and, to a certain extent, formed by the media.

A comparison of “hard news” (e.g. Tran Thi/Thomson 2008: 51) on the issue, produced by news media allocated in the involved cultural and political spheres, can reveal important differences in several dimensions: in the used “news language”, applied agendas, argumentations, sources and the ideological/political backgrounds; therefore, the media portrayals and implicit evaluations of the incident are subjects of analysis. Furthermore, the representation of the victim and the alleged assassins are crucial aspects as well; here, the construction of identity plays a considerable role. Distinctive techniques of news presentation on different media platforms are of particular interest, too, as for each channel varying content production processes apply. In sum, three forms of news media texts have been chosen for this analysis: Comparing a newspaper, an online article and a TV news clip; this choice of subjects allows to ascertain and highlight structural differences. The present analysis applies a form of critical discourse analysis (CDA, e.g. Richardson 2007) as a qualitative method to  approach selected media texts. Several basic theories of news text research are also part of the theoretical framework, most notably those on ideology, identity construction in media discourses (e.g. Hall 2000 & 2006), gatekeeping and agenda setting (e.g. McCombs/Shaw 1994 & 1999). However, the present paper only provides a limited, relatively cursorily analysis of the chosen topic in regards of its media coverage; it still highlights the most striking differences between communicators and formats in this extremely controversial political discourse.

2. Methodology and Sources

2.1  Methodology and Theoretical Background

To examine the selected media artefacts the critical discourse analysis (henceforth CDA) provides an appropriate methodological approach: this critical in-depth reading of the source material allows to draw conclusions on the different “news languages”, argumentations and priorities of the texts; it thus opens the way to examine and identify differences and certain tendencies. Especially social and discursive practices (Richardson 2007: 178 et seq.; Scollon 1998) play an important role in this respect, i.e. the relationship between the texts and their social, political, cultural and ideological context (Richardson 2007: 27). It is crucial to identify who produced a statement/description/depiction in a text and who the same communicator tries to address, and which position either of them takes towards the issue in focus. A critical analysis of the discursive structure also facilitates the comparison of different forms of media texts, as it puts its emphasis on the semantic level. Nevertheless, CDA has certain limits and more substantiated conclusions on the approached issue would require a broader empirical basis. Thus, all conclusions are somewhat limited to the few examples of this analysis. Epistemologically, the author applies a constructivist perspective, in which news media construct ‘realities’ which consequently have an affect on the recipient’s ‘world perception’. They “construct and express meanings” (Gillespie/Toynbee 2006: 2) or to put it in other words: by applying discursive techniques, they provide knowledge (e.g. Gillespie/Toynbee 2006: 122).

2.2 The Sources: Three Different Perspectives

The text sample includes an article from the British Guardian newspaper, an online article from the Israeli Jerusalem Post, and a news report broadcasted on Al-Jazeera. Each one represents a different perspective on the highly controversial issue. This choice of sources provides the basis for comparisons on at least two different levels: Firstly, it is possible to contrast different ideological and political agendas. Secondly, it allows to point out differences between media platforms in regards of the structure of their news products. The articles and the clip were all ‘published’ on the 17th of February and cover the ”identity theft” (The Guardian 17/02/2010) committed by the alleged “assassination squad”. Apart from the attack itself, especially this issue caused diplomatic disgruntlement between Israel and a range of European countries[1];  in the case of the UK it lead to serious tensions between high level representatives from both countries.

The Guardian is one of the oldest and most popular newspapers in the UK (http://www.guardian.co.uk/gnm-archive/2002/jun/06/1 23/03/2010). It reaches around 335000 readers and represents politically a centre-leftist position. It has constantly covered the events, often as a ‘top story’ and in detailed, long articles, providing background a lot of  information, similar to the BBC and many other British media producers. The usage of British passports by the alleged assassins and the subsequent diplomatic scandal between the UK and Israel made the incident a highly newsworthy issue to British news media. Hence, this news source becomes to a certain extent representative for one of the British positions in this specific media discourse. However, even though the Guardian is a widely read publication, it is only one among various perspectives within the UK’s media landscape. Other important print media such as the Times or popular tabloids like the Sun and the Daily Mirror may cover the same story quite differently. The same applies for the other two chosen news texts, too: they represent only one of the perspectives in their cultural space. Due to the limits of this paper, these differences cannot be further outlined. A more elaborate research project would have to pay more attention to this aspect.

The Jerusalem Post might not be the most widely read Israeli newspaper but still reaches a broad audience worldwide, especially in Israel, the U.S.A. and France (Britannica,http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/302951/ The-Jerusalem-Post 23/02/2010). Since its takeover by the Hollinger Group in 1989 it shifted its political preference from a leftist to a right-wing position, often expressing a “tougher line on issues such as security and the Palestinian territories” (BBC NEWS, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/ middle_east/4969714.stm 23/03/2010).  The publisher also provides a daily updated news website. The assassination of a Hamas leader such as Mabhouh is a highly newsworthy topic to an Israeli news source like the Jerusalem Post, due to reasons of proximity, relevance, ‘recency’ and the ongoing conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

Al-Jazeera English is a 24-hour news channel located in Qatar, which is accessible both on TV and the Internet. It is part of the bigger Al-Jazeera satellite television network which launched in 1996 and incorporates several special TV channels and news websites (DocStoc, http://www.docstoc.com/docs/6294775/Al_Jazeera 23/03/2010). Al-Jazeera reaches,  especially in the Arabic-speaking world, a large international audience. It regards itself  as a ‘counter balance’ to the hegemony of Western media networks (Al-Jazeera, http:// english.aljazeera.net/aboutus/2006/11 /200852518 5555444449.html 23/03/2010). Due to the very same reasons named above, the Dubai incident has special news value to an Arabic news producer; unsurprisingly,  Al-Jazeera provided constant coverage of the events as well.

3. Analysis of Media Texts

The comparison of the chosen media texts reveals several striking differences concerning their form, narratives, usage of sources, argumentations and (indirect) evaluations of the incident. The Dubai assassination, its media coverage, and the political implications must be examined against the background of the general conflict in the Middle East.

3.1 The Guardian (17/02/10, Newspaper article/Appendix1)

The article “Dubai killers stole identities of UK citizens: Real British nationals named among suspects deny role in Hamas murder“ was published on the front cover of the issue. This media text is a classic newspaper article, including a catchy headline, a pre-text, quotations, sources and some background information. It is structured into three parts: 1. Headline and introduction, which provide the most important information; 2. The main section that describes and explains the actual event as well as related developments, and it cites statements and sources; 3. Background information and explanation of  the broader context. Compared to the other texts, this is the longest one and contains the most information. In terms of agenda setting the issue was given top priority at the time. The misusage of UK passports and possible diplomatic tensions between the involved governments contributed significantly to the news value of the story. The article describes the operation as well as the including ‘identity theft’ rather negative, and implies that it actually is a full diplomatic scandal. It refers to various Arabic and European sources, which criticise the attack or hint to similar, past incidents (see appendix 1). Furthermore, the authors name Israel as the most likely originator of the attack. Analysing the description of the “hit squad” in this article, there seems to be virtually no doubt that the Israeli secret service is responsible for this attack[2]: The authors write about “which role Israel plays” and do not question if its government is involved at all. However, in the last sentence of the article a former Mossad agent is cited, who expresses his doubts on Israel’s involvement, but this point is not further elaborated or commented on: “A former Mossad official, Rami Yigal, told Israel Army radio the assassination‚ doesn’t look like an Israeli operation’“ (The Guardian 17/02/2010). On the contrary, this brief statement on the whole issue appears in the context of the article as if it was a flimsy denial. Furthermore, the attack is depicted as an “elaborately orchestrated plot“ and the Dubai police is quoted, describing the incident a “meticulously planned killing”. This portrayal further implies that the whole operation must be the work of a professional organisation that operates on this level in the region, which is most likely to be the Mossad. Past Israeli actions, using stolen passports, are listed as further evidence for this assertion, too.

Concerning the issue of ideology, the Guardian represents a Western European, centre-leftist perspective, which condemns – at least officially – such secret execution operations, especially when their citizens’ passports are misused. Hence, the article emphasises the unlawfulness of this incident. It also cites one of the victims, who expresses his anger and fear. This quotation fulfils several functions in this text: 1. Showing another important perspective in this discourse, 2. Highlighting the criminal character of the very incident (and consequently of the alleged assassins themselves), 3. Contributing to a more interesting, diversified narrative. Quantitatively, the text mentions the “the killing” and the “assassins” in considerable frequency (see appendix 1). Only a few bits of information are given about Mabhouh himself. In the first line, the authors refer to him rather neutral as a “Hamas official”. Though the article briefly hints to his involvement in the killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989, the Palestinians representation remains cursorily: „Mabhouh was one of the founders of Hamas’s military wing and had been wanted by Israel for his role in the 1989 kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers on leave. His participation was acknowledged by Hamas last month.“ (The Guardian, 17/02/2010). Despite this short contextualisation, Mabhouh’s representation appears restricted to the role of a victim in an unlawful attack. This aspect in particular differs strikingly with the depiction of the Hamas commander on JerusalemPost.com.

3.2 Jerusalem Post (17/02/10, Online article/Appendix2)

The online article’s headline is “Mildiner: I woke up a ‘murderer’”. It diverges significantly from the other two text-types, especially in comparison to the newspaper article, the other ‘written’ text in the sample. Generally, new media texts can potentially benefit from a range of technological advances: most notably interactivity, media convergence[3], and high speed distribution of information (Hall 2008: 216 et seq.). However, in terms of form and structure information products on news websites are still often shorter than their printed counter-parts and keep the level of coverage on an issue comparatively cursorily. This is mainly result of their economic nature, i.e. that they are mostly for free; viable ways of selling professional online news products are just emerging (e.g. Hall 2008: 219 et seq.). Though many publishers of print products constantly improve their online derivates, they still do not provide the same amount of information as in the newspapers. The specific value of print products is primarily constituted by the provision of more details and background information.

The article mainly focuses on Melvyn Mildiner, one of the victims, who provides his personal reaction to the issue. In contrast to the Guardian article, the Israeli author uses the term “alleged assassination” to refer to the event, and this only three times, while his British colleague names the “killers” and “the killing” at least twelve times (see appendix 1). By doing so, this text actually emphasises that it is not clear who really conducted the murder, yet. Though not directly justifying the assassination of Mabhouh, the article tries to dismantle his representation as a mere ‘victim’, too:

„In a video made two weeks before his death, and broadcast on Al-Jazeera earlier this month, Mabhouh said he kidnapped and murdered two IDF soldiers, Ilan Saadon and Avi Sasportas, in 1989. Mabhouh said he disguised himself as an Orthodox Jew during the terrorist attack. Israeli defense officials said Mabhouh was tasked with smuggling long-distance Iranian rockets into Gaza.“ ( http://www.j post.com/Home/Article.aspx?id=168901 12/03/10)

In opposition to the Guardian and Al-Jazeerah, the Jerusalem Post explicitly describes Mabhouh as the actual murderer of the two Israel soldiers. Gatekeeping is another interesting and important aspect: by providing further information about his activities against Israel and selecting this representation of Mabhouh, the author decides how his identity is shaped in this discourse. This inevitably affects the portrayal and interpretation of the whole incident: the assassins killed not a simple Palestinian politician but a combatant in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict who is potentially still dangerous. Consequently, even if the assassination might have been an unlawful act of violence, it could be interpreted as an understandable military action, at least from a right-wing Israeli perspective[4]. One could argue that this viewpoint i rooted in Israel’s direct involvement in the conflict with the Palestinians and organisation such as the Hamas, which declares itself an sworn enemy to the Jewish state. This aspect reflects the news producers right-wing position towards security issues and highlights that ‘gatekeeping’ is also determined by ideological and cultural factors (e.g. Tumber 1999: 74-79), aside from economical ones; it further highlights how identities are constructed and distributed by media.

3.3 Al-Jazeerah (17/02/10, TV Clip/Appendix3)

This news clip titled “Hamas Murder in Dubai: Police say Suspects Passports are Fake” was broadcasted on Al-Jazeera and focuses mainly on the reactions of the people whose “identities have been misused” (Al-Jazeera, http:// www.youtube.com/user/AlJazeeraEnglish#p/search/5/qnT174njNYM 23/03/2010). The clip seems to to provide an apparently ‘neutral’ audio-visual news report which informs briefly about a single issue. The given information is thereby reduced to a minimum, as the structure of this text-type prohibits excessive descriptions and explanations. Due to its short duration of only 1:58 minutes, including three statements, it can only provide basic background information. As this is a visual news medium, ascertaining the used pictures is pivotal to understand this text. The clip starts with takes of Israeli newspapers which headline the ‘identity theft’; pictures of the victims are shown and the captions are cited; CCTV footage, showing the alleged assassins is used, too. The three statements of the identity-theft’s victims are played in via voiceover while the filming shows pictures of the stolen IDs. This stylistic devices contributes to an authenticity effect to the news story. However, except for allegedly hard facts little more information is given. A clear ideological position is not detectable in this text, which could be a consequence of the news item’s structure[5]. However, though the producers try to use a prosaic language, there are some judgemental expressions: for instance, the voiceover explains that some of the victims fear that “something more sinister is going on” (see appendix 3), which implies a negative evaluation of the incident. While the Guardian’s and the Jerusalem Post’s text somehow contradict each other on the question of the Mossad’s involvement, the selected Al-Jazeera news item can be allocated in between both positions; it actually names both possibilities.

4. Conclusion

This very brief analytical glance at the Dubai assassination implies that a news media product is the result of complex  cognitive and discursive processes that are largely determined by a shifting conglomerate of economic, political, and social factors; in certain sense, news items could be described as dynamic constructions. In fact, a closer look on this particular media discourse shows that one actually has to deal with multiple discourses connected to each other: the diplomatic and judicial discourse between the UK (and other European states) and Israeli government, the cultural and political discourses (or rather tensions) between Israel and the Arabian world, and the discourse about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Discourses about secret service activities of the Mossad and historical developements play a major role, too. It also shows that the narrative of an issue, as well as the contained representation of individuals or collectives, also depends on very subjective factors, such as the cultural and/or political background; while the Guardian only cursorily hints to Mabhouh’s role as a Hamas military commander, the Jerusalem Post calls him de facto a murderer. As the Israeli government remained silent on the Dubai incident, it gave space for contradicting interpretations; thus, it played a key role in the course of the discourse(s) on the issue.

A more extensive research project may combine quantitative and qualitative methods[6] and use a bigger sample of articles for in-depth analyses. Approaching this media discourse in greater detail may also include further semantic and linguistic examinations of the selected news texts (e.g. Khalil 2000; Montgomery 2007; Dean et al. 1999: 162 et seq.).

5. List of References

Al-Jazeera, http://www.youtube.com/user/AlJazeeraEnglish#p/search/5/qnT174njNYM (13/02/10)

BBC Newshttp://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/4969714.stm (23/03/2010)

Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/302951/The-Jerusalem-Post (23/03/2010)

Bruhn Jensen, Klaus (2002) ‘The Complementary of Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies in Media and Communication Research’ in: Bruhn Jensen (ed.) (2002) A Handbook of Media and Communication Research. Qualitative and Quantitative Methodologies. London and New York:  Routledge.

Dailymail.com, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1251604/Hamas-assassination-Dubai-Mossad-killing-come-thriller-novel.html (23/02/2010)

Dean, David et al. (1999) Researching Communications. London: Hodder Arnold.

DocStoc, http://www.docstoc.com/docs/6294775/Al_Jazeera (23/03/2010)

Hall, Jim (2008) ‘Online Editions: Newspapers and the ‘New’ News’. In: Franklin,Bob (2008): Pulling Newspapers Apart. Analysing Print Journalism. New York: Routledge.

Hall, Stuart (2000) ‚Who needs identity’? in J. Evans / P. Redman eds. Identity: a Reader. London: Sage.

Hall, Stuart (2006) ‚The Whites of their Eyes’, in: A. Jawoski / N. Coupland, eds. The Discourse Reader. London: Routledge.

JerusalemPost.com, http://www.jpost.com/Home/Article.aspx?id=168901 (12/03/10)

Gillespie, Marie / Toynbee, Jason (eds.) (2006) Analysing Media Texts. Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Gulfnews.com, http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/crime/more-british-and-irish-passports-used-in-killing-1.587632 (23/02/2010)

The Khaleej Timeshttp://www.khaleejtimes.com/ DisplayArticleNew.asp? section=theuae&xfile=data/theuae/ 2010/february/ theuae_february504.xml (23/02/2010)

Khalil, Esnam N. (2000) Grounding in English and Arabic News Discourse. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Pub.

McCombs, Maxwell E. (1994) ‘New Influence on Our Pictures of the World’. In: Bryant/Zillmann (1994) Media Effects: Advances in Theory and Research. London: Routledge.

McCombs, Maxwell E. / Shaw, Donald L. (1999) ‘The Agenda-Setting Function of Mass Media’. In: Tumber, Howard (1999) News: A Reader. New York/Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Montgomery, Martin (2007) The Discourse of Broadcast News: A Linguistic Approach. Abingdon: Routledge.

Richardson, John E. (2007) Analysing Newspapers. An Approach From Critical Discourse Analysis. Hampshire and New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Scollon, Ron (1998) Mediated discourse as social interaction :a study of news discourse. London: Longman.

The GuardianHamas Murder in Dubai: Police say Suspects Passports are Fake (17/02/2010)

Thomson, Elisabeth/Tran Thi Hong Van (2008) ‘The Nature of ‘Reporter Voice’ in a Vietnamese Hard News Story’. In: Thomson, Elizabeth A. /White, P.R.R. (2008) Communicating Conflict: Multilingual Case Studies of the News Media. London: Continuum.

Yonah, Tamar (2009) The Tamer Yonah Show: Who Dunnit? & Biblical Novels, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Radio/News.aspx/1970(21/02/2010)


[1] E.g. France, Germany and Ireland.[2] This evaluation of the incident is in other British new items observable, too: e.g. Dailymail.com, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1251604/Hamas-assassination-Dubai-Mossad-killing-come-thriller-novel.html 23/02/2010.

[3] E.g. being a print and video product simultaneously, embedding links etc.

[4] Several other Israeli news texts share this depiction of Mabhouh, e.g. Yonah, Tamar (2009) The Tamer Yonah Show: Who Dunnit? & Biblical Novels, http://www.israelnationalnews.com/Radio/ News.aspx/1970(21/02/2010)

[5] In other Arabian news products ideological tendencies are more obvious – which is again reasoned in the text’s structure. E.g. http://gulfnews.com/news/gulf/uae/crime/more-british-and-irish-passports-used-in-killing-1.587632 or The Khaleej Times, http://www.khaleejtimes.com/ DisplayArticleNew.asp? section=theuae&xfile=data/ th euae/ 2010/

february/ theuae_february504.xml (23/02/2010)

[6] On the complementary use of both method-types in media and communication studies see Bruhn Jensen 2000: 254 et seq.

Afghanistan War: Media Attention Drops Significantly

America’s longest military engagement has drastically lost the mass media’s attention – at least according to a study on journalism.org. Even though the conflict is far from being solved and NATO troops suffered relatively severe casualties this June (29 soldiers lost their lives).

Last year, signs were still pointing in a different direction: After attention peaked to an all-time high during 2009  (caused for instance by President Obama’s disputed decision to send more troops to Afghanistan), the possibility arose that the war would become a “major ongoing story“. However, the findings imply now quite the opposite. The authors conclude:

[…] this year’s coverage trajectory seems to suggest that the longest-running conflict in U.S. history is still having a difficult time getting into the headlines. (ibid.)

Unfortunately, the researchers do not explain the applied methodology for this study. Thus, their findings are not traceable in full detail. Nevertheless, the presented chart hints to a certain imbalance concerning the war’s ‘news-worthiness’. The Afghanistan Conflict surpassed  the Vietnam War by now as the longest American military involvement – in a foreign country and in general. It is remarkable that despite this fact and a wide range of economical, social, military, and political problems, which remain to be resolved (if they can ever be), media coverage is apparently subsiding.

An exploratory examination of the biggest UK news media websites might indicate certain differences to the U.S. – here, news stories on the Afghanistan Conflict seem to remain on top of the news agenda. Especially news items on fallen soldiers are regularly published or broadcasted, respectively. Prime-Minister David Cameron is currently visiting the country, talking about plans for a withdrawal of British troops. Thus, it is not unlikely that the issue remains on the front pages – at least for a while.

In Germany, the war in Afghanistan remains a contentious issue, the intensity of its media coverage thereby varies. The ‘news-worthiness’  seems to depend on highly controversial incidents involving German troops and – very often emerging from such events – domestic discussions on the justification and actual purposes of the engagement. A recent example would be the infamous airstrike on two tanker trucksordered by a German general back in 2009, which led to various heated debates on the conflict.

A research project on media outlets from different NATO countries on the war might highlight some important as well as interesting differences in the depiction and perception of the conflict among the participating nations. The industrialized as well as digitalized nations of the Western hemisphere may share the infrastructure of interconnected information societies but significant differences still exist on the content level.

List of References

Journalism.org, http://www.journalism.org/numbers_report/Americas_longest_war_fights_for_attention 10/06/2010

Times Online, http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/afghanistan/article7147223.ece 10/06/2010

Spiegel.de, http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/0,1518,648925,00.html 10/06/2010

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