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Are The Media Using The Wrong Yardstick To Measure The Revolution?

June 6, 2017

Is WinterThe concept of “revolution” used by Western media to report on the so-called “Arab Spring” (itself a term coined by the Western media) is rooted in understandings of the revolutionary events that took place in Europe and her colonies in the eighteenth and nineteenth century.

The concept of revolution used in global media discourses is, as a result of its origin, loaded with meanings informed by the Western understanding of modernity and progress.

The resulting Eurocentrism led to an inability by most journalists and their editors to comprehend the regional, cultural, and political peculiarities of the Arab Spring.

Those are the conclusions of a media frame analysis by Petra Cafnik Uludağ, professor of Political Science at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

In her paper “ critically examines how the global media uses the concept of revolution when reporting about the Arab Spring. The paper appears in the most recent edition of the journal Critical Studies in Media Communication.

Media framing analysis involves “discovering the principles of selection, emphasis and presentation composed of little tacit theories about what exists, what happens, and what matters” (Gitlin 1980). Frames are not “bias” in the popular sense of the term; they are the inevitable product of the generating and articulating news stories out of the actions and activities of life.

A media frame analysis of stories about the Arab revolts in The Guardian and The New York Times between 2011 and 2013 reveals the use of six common attributes derived from outdated Eurocentric notions of revolution, Uludağ claims. These six attributes are:

  1. violence: the notion that violence is an unfortunate but often necessary part of revolutions is part of the Western experience from the American Revolution to the French Revolution to the Russian Revolution, and many, many others besides.
  2. public support: the widespread participation of the masses–from the “grassroots,” by the “citizens” or by the “Proletariat”–is assumed in most Western understandings of revolution
  3. economic inequality: as Karl Marx once pointed out, since the start of the eighteenth century, there were no significant European revolutions that were not preceded by commercial and financial crises.
  4. fundamental changes: revolution is usually defined as involving progressive and irreversible change in the institutions and values that provided the basis of political authority.
  5. new governments: a change of regime is taken for granted as an intended, and necessary, outcome for a social upheaval to be properly called a revolution.
  6. destruction of long-standing principles: and with the change of regimes should come a corresponding change in the principles of governance–from Monarchy to democracy, for example.

While early European political philosophers from Locke to Paine to Tocqueville to Marx focused on these characteristics, Uludağ insists that contemporary political science recognizes a wider range of features defining and characterizing revolution, including revolutions created by small elites, nonviolent revolutions, and small-scale transformations whose broader effects are felt over time. But, Uludağ says, the concepts of revolution used by Western media to frame coverage of the Arab Spring do not reflect these broader understandings of revolution.

Instead, Western media used a universal, “commonsensical,” “one-size-fits-all” usage of the concept of revolution. Since the Arab Spring was defined by the Western media as a revolution using these six attributes, the media fails to adequately address the events because it forces them into a Eurocentric frame with its own understanding of modernization and progress.

Such use of the concept of revolution affects perception of the events while de-emphasizing their revolutionary character. Most importantly, Uludağ writes, it tends to see the events as revolutionary only when they can be portrayed as a “them” (oppressed Arabs) turning into an “us” (secular democratic moderns).


Gitlin, Todd. 1980. The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Berkeley, CA, Los Angeles, CA & London, U.K.: University of California Press.

34(3): 264-277.

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