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Summary of first three panels

Cyprus Workshop 18, 19, 20 March, 2015

‘Participation, Media Representation and the Financial and Political Crisis’

John Seed

18th March

Panel 1 – The Crisis, Discourse and Media: Responsibilities and Pragmatics

Three papers, two from Cyprus (Gregoris Iannou and Andreas Panayiotou), one from Ireland (Julien Mercille) reported on the press response to the 2008 financial crisis. Each focused on precise chronologies to map the shifting vocabulary of crisis across a range of newspapers, especially between 2009 and 2012. There was considerable congruence between Cyprus and Ireland in the ways in which the crisis was framed and debated – attack on the public sector, praise for the restorative effects of the free market, support for austerity. How far is this shared discourse, across many parts of Europe, the result of a common political economy of the media? The account of the Irish media was particularly uncompromising here, stating that the press systematically reflected corporate interests. But all the papers raised questions about how the press was used in a coordinated manner for strategic political purposes.

The discussion probed further some questions raised about the political economy of the print media in Ireland and Cyprus – and elsewhere. In particular there was some discussion of the tensions between private owners of newspapers, their journalists, the interests of advertisers and the response of the readers. It was suggested that what mattered was not so much a consistent and coherent ideological position on contemporary events as a framing which contained diversity of positions and critical debates within broadly hegemonic limits.

Then Miguel Vicente-Marino presented a short illustrated lecture, ‘Political Disaffection and Social Protest in Spain’. This opened with a background narrative of political processes since the death of Franco in 1975, stressing the extent to which the transition to democracy in Spain was driven by political elites ‘from above’, not through civil society and popular mobilization ‘from below’. There was then a detailed discussion of political turbulence from May 2011 and why popular discontent and civil disobedience has failed to make much impact on elections and government policies. The print media, across the political spectrum from left to right, has been obsessed with political corruption – a way of individualising and depoliticising the Spanish crisis. Meanwhile Podemos, refusing any political alignment with left, right or centre, challenges dominant political forms and has engaged in a variety of innovatory strategies. However, its impact on the European elections in Spain in 2014 was limited. It received around 1.2 million votes, only 8% of the electorate.

Finally, two short papers from Bulgaria (Stoyan Antonov and Dobrinka Parusheva) returned us to questions about media framing of popular protests, especially in 2011-12.

Panel 2 – Performative Arts/ Music & Crisis

This session raised questions about how the performing arts can either reproduce or challenge the status quo. The Irish group asked: what is a ‘protest song’; and sketched out some of the ways in which various kinds of popular music in Ireland were indignantly antagonistic to austerity politics. There was some discussion of Damien Dempsey, especially his song ‘Celtic Tiger’.

Mike Hajimichael argued that any popular music which is in one way or another connected to social problems can be counted as protest music. But the question is not just a matter of the music’s negative relations to the hegemon but also its positive relations to various kinds of subculture and to opposition groups. He referred to a long tradition of debate on the topic, including Adorno, Stuart Hall and Paddy Whannel, Dick Hebdige, John Fiske, Les Back, and others. How can the effects of protest music be assessed? Often excluded from mainstream media, hits on You-tube may be a more useful measure of impact – though there are problems in building too much on such weak foundations. There was some stress on listening as an active and participatory process by audiences. Another interesting point drew attention to how popular music sometimes referred to contemporary events and thus provided a record, an artefact of memory, a resource for future histories.

One topic of discussion raised the spectre of Adorno and the extent to which popular protest music was already incorporated into the status quo, merely appearing to protest while in reality incorporating its audiences into commodity culture. Are artistic performances effective for articulating protest anyway?

19th March

Panel 3 – Media Framing/Media Narrative and The Crisis

Tao Papaioannou and Lia Paschalia Spyridou: the current crisis is marked by the extent of its mediatisation. From the beginning dominant strategies included: emergencisation – there was no time for debate; technocratisation – the situation was too complex for democratic debate. Thinking about different kinds of narrative and how the story of the protests of March 2013 in three Cyprus and three European sources revealed different narratives, or at least different emphases. Interesting points about media spectacle: there was dramatic representation of events without attempting to explain the issues – though spectacle itself can be inflected to emphasise carnival or violence. ‘Talking heads’ were used to legitimise certain explanations as the authoritative judgement of the expert. The critical position of the BBC raised interesting questions about Britain’s ambiguous position vis a vis the EU, the Eurozone and its former colony.

Dimitra Milioni looked at TV representations of the 2013 Cyprus protests and stressed their complexity. On the one hand protest was delegitimised by processes of marginalisation and trivialisation. The drama of protest and the emotional expression of protestors contrasted with the quiet reason and authority of the experts. On the other hand there was some media attention to police violence and its victims and there were interviews with protestors. The latter were not passive but actively used media opportunities through their spokespersons and through the staging of media spectacles. Various questions raised included the relations between written text and visual images.

The Irish team looked at protests in Ireland – around water charges, especially. In general the Irish media democratised guilt for the national crisis – an ideology of collective blame. Many protests were entirely ignored by the Irish media, especially if they were peaceful. There was also little public recognition of traditions of civil disobedience and its political legitimacy. The media feeds on violence and disorder, enabling it to demonise any challenge to the established reality.

Milena Katarska focused on the key period of protests in Bulgaria: June-September 2013. The protests of June 2013 were represented by the media and by many of the participants as reasonable, the expression of respectable people with jobs who paid taxes – even the young and the beautiful. A tension with other sectors of protest represented as the poor, the humiliated, and the ignorant – a tension which corresponded in some respects to social tensions and to antagonisms between ‘the Bulgarian’ and the immigrant or ‘the Turk’.

Nikos Stelgias raised important questions about the Turkish Cypriots and the crisis. Turkish media followed closely events in southern Cyprus as well as in Greece and across the EU. Turks had their own bitter experiences of financial crisis in 2003-4 and the effects of the European crisis of 2008-9 were felt not just in northern Cyprus but across Turkey. His important conclusion was that there was not a Greek crisis nor a Cyprus crisis nor even an EU crisis – but a deep historical crisis across the whole region.