The role of the media after the Arab Spring

  • Date

    Fri 12 Oct 18

Dr Fatima El-Issawi

A major new Essex research project funded by the British Academy will look at the role journalists play in conflicts in three countries impacted by the Arab Spring.

Dr Fatima El-Issawi will lead an international team investigating journalistic practices in Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, and the complex role played by the media in the pacification or resolution of conflicts that are triggered by the recent political change in the region. This includes the media’s varying impact on political transitions in these countries from opening up political debate to legitimizing old regimes’ structures.

Dr El-Issawi said: “Our ambition is to impact the practice of journalists by triggering a debate on their responsibilities. We want to work with journalists to think about their role amid conflict that can have severe negative implications on the lives of people, and on the transition towards a more democratic system.

“In Egypt, for example, the media was used to demonise opponents and frame political change as something very dangerous for society and the future of the country. That prepared the ground for the public to accept the repressions of freedom the authorities introduced in the name of safety and stability.

“In Tunisia we had a different experience. The media changed from being very closed – under the control of the former regime – to being very open, but now we see other problems. We see now politicians trying to control the media through funding or ownership. There are also very big questions about progress towards public service media and the attempts of governments to control this sector again.”

During the 27-month project the team will:

  • work with journalists and the civil society in the region to trigger a debate on journalistic practices and implications on societal divisions and polarisations
  • take their findings to the next generation of journalists with workshops and seminars at newsrooms, colleges and universities
  • build a network of knowledge transfer and contribute to the policy making working with partners such as the Africa Centre at the London School of Economics
  • publish two academic books and a number of journal articles to share their findings

The work is being funded by the British Academy’s Sustainable Development Programme 2018, which supports researchers working to generate evidence on the challenges and opportunities facing developing countries, under the sub-themes of heritage, dignity and violence. Projects must be designed to tackle the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr El-Issawi is among 27 distinguished academics to receive funding from the programme, receiving a grant of almost £300,000. The interdisciplinary project team she leads includes renowned researchers in their field: Dr Francesco Cavatorta from Laval University in Canada, Professor Maati Monjib from Mohammed V University in Morocco, and Dr Kjetil Selvik from the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs.