Language, Ideology and Power III

A study of how Egyptian Bloggers shaped the UK newspaper coverage of Political Events in Egypt

Marwa Elkhodairy of the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) recently presented a talk on narrative formation in the UK press regarding the 2011 Egyptian revolution to Lancaster University’s Language, Ideology and Power (LIP) Research Group.

On the Egyptian media side, Elkhodairy looked into both the Egyptian state-owned press—which unsurprisingly towed the government line and accused protestors of being spies in foreign employ—and various activists’ social media presences and blogs, where they pushed the narrative of protestors opposing corruption and demanding democracy. Her question was which narrative different sections of the UK press aligned with, and—in light of the challenges involved in sending reporters into such a volatile situation—particularly how the framings and narratives used by the blogging activists influenced the foreign reporting.

Elkhodairy split the UK sources into two corpora: one left-leaning (e.g., the Guardian); and one right-leaning (e.g., the Daily Mail and Times). She compiled an analysed their articles on a monthly basis which, she said, proved helpful for identifying cause and effect and highlighting related trends. She stressed that genre was not a criteria in her selections—if an article mentioned events in Egypt, regardless of whether it was editorial or reportage, it was included.

For her analysis, Elkhodairy first performed linguistical quantitative analysis on the two corpora (using Lancaster University’s own #LancsBox software), identifying keywords, word frequencies and associations. Secondly, she performed qualitative analysis (using NVivo).

Elkhodairy found that the left-leaning corpus was twice the size of the right-leaning corpus, which she related to Entman’s framing theory (which identifies sizing as the essence of framing—that is, the act of covering or not covering a topic is a framing mechanism that reflects the values of the publication just as much as their language use). Clearly, the left-leaning corpus felt that the revolution was worthy of coverage where the right-leaning corpus was more restrained.

In her keyword analysis, Elkhodairy found that both left- and right-leaning sources were similar in their mentions of violence and the role of women in the revolution, whilst the right-leaning sources used more negative and economic terms whilst the left-leaning sources focussed more on the use of social media by the protestors and described things in terms of risk. The right-leaning sources were also likely to liken the revolution to that of Iran, whilst the names of specific activists were far more salient in the left-leaning corpus (including some who were never mentioned in the right-leaning corpus).

Along with sizing, Elkhodairy stressed that absence, too, has a framing value, and that the difference between two sources/corpora can be just as enlightening (if not more so) than the salience alone. She used the Proppian archetypes—heroes, villains, princesses, etc.—in her qualitative analysis of the Egyptian blogger corpus, in which she attempted to reconstruct the revolutionary argument from their stated goals, and then the same for the counter-revolutionary argument. She then classified each argument using the schemes proposed by Walton, Reed & Macago.

The counter-revolutionary argument was an argument from negative consequences, which was echoed in the right-leaning UK corpus (with some sources, such as the Mail and Mail on Sunday focussing solely on the negative consequences whilst broadsheets such as the Times took a more analytical approach). The counter-revolutionary argument stated that political instability would lead oil prices and arms sales to rise, but that otherwise businesses would lose out financially. The opposite was true for the revolutionary corpus (and again echoes in the left-leaning UK corpus): the revolutionary argument recognised that there would be short-term negative consequences, but that these would be temporary and outweighed by the potential gains of increased democracy and freedom.

From this, Elkhodairy summarised the ideologies of the left-leaning and right-leaning corpora as democracy and stability, respectively. Different outlets, she stated, are active agents in the construction of our own socio-political environment, in which the right acknowledged the UK’s practice of backing dictators neutrally or supportively, whilst the left condemned it.

There then followed a Q&A.

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