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Screening Protest - (tele)visual narratives of dissent across time, space and genre

Project details

The Screening Protest project concerns screening in all three senses. First, it focuses on representations of protest on television screens (although others are involved). 

Secondly, by comparing coverage in different political and cultural contexts, it will identify which protests are screened out by some broadcasters, but made visible by others. Comparing journalistic and popular cultural narratives is another point of access to differential visibility. Contemporary journalism is often found wanting, constrained as it is by economic considerations, objectivity norms and, in some contexts, political pressures, so people turn increasingly to political drama and satire, seen as ‘speaking truth to power’, for understandings of politics. 

When it comes to screening in the third sense, the Screening Protest project will provide insights into how well television has met the challenge of representing the people who feel that political representation has failed them – the protesters who take to the streets of the world.

Representations of protest in the media, and in particular the televisual narratives that frame them, provide the empirical focus of this project. By mapping and comparing differences between these representations on different dimensions, the project explores change in two intersecting realms – that of politics under globalization, and that of the rapidly evolving media landscape in which that politics is played out.

The empirical focus is warranted because of the continued centrality of television, which remains the primary source of political information for most people. Television is a key player in the changing media ecology, and is far more than the traditional box in the living room: television news is disseminated online, on designated YouTube channels, on podcasts, and on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Unlike social media, however which have attracted a disproportionate amount of attention in recent protest research - it is also ‘a social institution consisting of rules, roles and organizations in an environment of other social institutions’. This necessitates continued attention to the content produced by the phenomenon designated as ‘television’.

(Tele)visual narratives of dissent are compared across time, space, media culture and genre in three studies that are analytically distinct yet interrelated, and amenable to the observation of semiotic seepage between what can be thought of as media discourses of ‘today’, ‘yesteryear’ and ‘elsewhere’. Answers to three overarching research questions are sought:

  1. How do representations of protest in global television news, broadcast between 2008 and 2018, vary according to protest site and issue, and newsroom culture? An answer to this question is sought in the project’s first component study, which concerns the media discourse of ‘today’.
  2. How do such contemporary representations compare with images of protest in the media at key moments over the past century, as exemplified above? An answer to this question is sought in the project’s second component study, which concerns the media discourse of ‘yesteryear’.
  3. How do news narratives of protest compare with those of fiction on screen? An answer to this question is sought in the project’s third component study, which analyses protest and the protester as depicted in popular culture (television fiction and film), or the discourse of ‘elsewhere’.

Taken together, the three component studies of the Screening Protest project investigate the blurring of borders between the national and transnational, between formal and informal politics, and between media forms and genres.

The project team

Grant holder



This research was made possible through the support of the following organisations: