How Egypt’s uprising is helping redefine the idea of a “media event”
In the fall of 1989, television screens in Wenceslas Square in Prague broadcast the massive rallies of the Velvet Revolution to the protesting public. It was a media event where television served as an intermediary, unveiling change as it took place. With the mass unrest in Egypt, though, we have a different kind of media event taking place. New forms of media are working with mainstream to provide a story to the rest of the world.
When I use the term “media event,” I refer to the sense of the term used by communications scholars Daniel Dayan and Elihu Katz. They argued that certain events depart from news events, and instead become ceremonial occurrences that are treated with reverence by broadcasters (and by, today, the online community). In an update to their work in 2007, Katz and scholar Tamar Liebes note that, increasingly, media events provide viewers with “ready access to disruption.”
Ironically, when Dayan and Katz first thought about “media events,” they were inspired by the Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat’s 1977 visit to Israel. The three-day visit marked the first time that an Arab leader had visited the country, and it was continuously broadcast live on TV. And the recent live broadcasting of events in Egypt seems to fall squarely under the theory Dayan and Katz proposed. But amidst all the discussions we’ve had about social media’s role in the uprising, it’s important also to think more broadly about how these events fit into a larger framework of media history.
To Shawn Powers, an assistant professor of global media at Georgia State University and an expert on Middle East affairs, the events in Egypt have captured our attention because they represent the story we love to see: “The story is the perfect American story. There is a clear evil-doer. There’s a clear person you want to remove from power. The images are provocative and as engaging as anything you’ve seen in recent history. There’s a whole mythology of it with a despotic dictator.” And the story only gets more compelling when journalists like Anderson Cooper get attacked — literally — ostensibly for bringing the story to the American public.
To Dayan and Katz, media events are not routine. As they argue, media events “intervene in the normal flow of broadcasting and our lives…Television events propose exceptional things to think about, to witness, and to do.” And in this case, Al Jazeera English and CNN have been providing us the images necessary to think of the unrest in Egypt as an historic moment.
No es este asunto, necesariamente, una “patología de la comunicación”, pero sí es un modo de ayudar a precisar una noción que quizá se utiliza con excesivas alegrías por parte de profesionales y académicos de la comunicación…