By Oussama Raqui
The recent protests in Morocco have been at the centre of public debate in the last few months. The death of Mohcine Fikri in Al Hociema by being crashed in a garbage truck has led to a tumult all over Morocco. As a reaction, people in Al Hociema kept protesting till the movement grew larger and have been followed by millions of people. In the same vein, people in Jerada demonstrated afterwards asking for socio-economical changes. Thus, these protest movements have become at the heart of public debate, especially in social media. There is no doubt that this popularity of protest movements has annoyed the political system in Morocco as long as it constitutes a threat to the status quo. Here comes the role of the state media in counteracting the spread of that culture of protest in Morocco. Following a critical discourse analysis of 2M news bulletin about protests in Jerada, we shall discover the misleading aspects of the news report with special regards to its visual construct.
We start first by looking at the biased formulation of the news coverage as a whole. The genre of the medium under analysis is news report. When we approach the coverage of the protest as normal viewers would do, we think that the news reporter will be objective. The Moroccan audience would expect to hear the truth and nothing but the truth from the news reporter. The coverage of the protest in Jerada could have been broadcasted in one of the discussion programs that the channel airs. But the producers chose to deal with it in news report only for the central reason of misleading the audience by not being objective and neutral. Besides, the “inverted pyramid” structure of news is utilised in Jerada report as long as priority is given to the stability of the city after the protests, the denial of the killing of a young boy and the claim that photos about Jerada protest are fake. But the causes of the protests and the role of the government in providing solutions for them are to be found in the last part of the reporting.
Another important aspect of the biased nature of the news coverage is its verbal and visual framing. The report is based on two frames. First, we find that the events are presented as a narrative. The producers want the Moroccan audience to believe that the police officers did not kill anybody, the protesters are liars for they share photos of violence in the Middle East and claim they are about Morocco, there is only the violence of the protesters who injured police officers and burnt their cars, and finally the government is working on the demands of the people. This frame is highly supported by the visual. We notice that even before the reporter has finished his verbal statement, the first picture of protesters throwing stones is seen behind him. Then, other pictures show injured police officers and burnt cars. We wonder why pictures of the people working in bad conditions in the coal mines where the events took place were not shown. Of course they would not fit the frame that the producers of the report want the viewers to follow. Second, within this frame we find another frame that supports the big picture. The demonstrators are represented as the bad guys in the story, whereas police officers are the good guys who do their job and are victims in the events. Thus, the news reporting managed to shift the attention of the audience from discussing the reasons behind the protests to believing that the demonstrations are the cause of the violence.
The frames discussed above show clearly that the news producers had the intention to hide one side of the truth and reveal another. What is foregrounded in the reporting is the frame of “violent” protesters against “peaceful” police forces. But the demands of the protesters, the causes of violence and the solutions are backgrounded. The normal role of the TV channel is to inform the public of such important information about the living and working conditions of the protestors, their history with coal mines and the demands they protest for. But they chose not to do that for the simple reason of omitting important information and hiding the truth. More importantly, we cannot find the voice of the protestors. Normally the news reporters should have interviewed the protestors or they could have showed their slogans which are widely spread on social media. In addition, the violence of the police which was the cause of the violent reaction of the protesters is omitted from the coverage. Also, there are no signs of the injured demonstrators. This shows that the omission of many aspects of the event makes 2M news reporting biased to a larger extent.
In the same vein, we can say that the use of still and moving pictures is as well a sort of manipulation. The moving pictures representing stability of life in Jerada in the beginning of the reporting are used to forground the former idea. When it comes to the protest, the report shows still pictures of demonstrators. It is a safe representation that aims to background the events. The immobility of the demonstrators’ photos in the reporting lead to the death of what they depict, following Roland Barthes conception of photography. In this way, the demonstrations are represented as belonging to the past as opposed to the stability of Jerada in the present, which supports the framing discussed earlier. We can say that the ideology behind such use of still images is to reduce their effect and limit the spread of protest movements all over Morocco. It is important to note that the overall structure of the news report presupposes that the government and the ministry of interior are the ones who say the truth in an official version supported by ‘evidence’ in the form of pictures, whereas all what the demonstrators are saying are lies and misinformation. The main insinuation here is that police officers are the victims of unjustified violence and the protestors are irresponsible citizens. That is what the state run media wants the Moroccan audience to believe.
From another perspective, we shall see now the visual aspects of the reporting individually and how they support the general framing. All the still pictures used in the reporting fall within the frame of “violent” protesters against “peaceful” police officers. No pictures show the living conditions in Jerada or the closed coal mines which are the main cause of the problem. Furthermore, the protestors are topicalized in the report but with power that is misused; eleven pictures show that the protestors are the doers of the violent actions against the police officers and their cars, whereas only two pictures show the protestors alone. This means that the police are represented as being passive victims which invites the Moroccan audience to sympathize with them. Also, the report does not show any picture of previous demonstrations in Jerada which were peaceful but the police stopped them and the ministry of interior prevented them from protesting. This is important as far as agency is concerned, because the true sequence of events is not the one constructed in the news report. People demonstrated, the police hindered the protests, the protesters reacted and defended themselves and the violence was an inevitable result. The news report cuts the story short by manipulating agency: the protesters are violent the police officers- society as a whole- are victims of that violence.
The above arguments can be supported by considering various aspects of the utilised pictures in the report. We find many differences between the pictures of the police and the demonstrators. The photos depicting the protestors are long shots with high angles. The producers did not choose and decided not to show close-up shots of the demonstrations. If the demonstrators are “violent” and they are “criminals”, the news reporting could have aired close-up photos that can make the audience scrutinize the actions and the doers of the violence. But, the long shots push the audience to condemn the demonstrators; on the other hand, we find close-up pictures of the injured police officers and their cars so as to make the audience sympathize with them. This shows that the choice of the pictures is motivated. Besides, six photos from the overall pictures contain fire which gives the images high modality based on its bright colour. The pictures taken at night were shown three times during the news reporting though they may be about one burnt vehicle of the police. This is because of their saturation which pushes the audience to believe they are real. But, the pictures of the demonstrators are not bright enough with any close details. So the effect that the image makers want to convey to the Moroccan audience is that the violence of the protestors is real, but the demonstrations are not important and their causes are not worth knowing about.
Now that we have shed some light on the news reporting as a whole and its discursive practice, let us see the larger context within which all elements revolve. One may ask the simple question: why was this news reporting about Jerada aired on TV at that time in such a biased manner? The sociocultural and political situation in Morocco has been in a constant change since 2011. Demonstrations have been taking place in all parts of the country raising social and economic demands. The protests in the Rif region have challenged the political system which resorted to coercive measures by imprisoning so many activists of the movement so as to stop the demonstrations. With the help of social media, the cultural aspects of protests have become influential for Moroccans living at the bottom of social space with all its sufferings. 2M news reporting could have covered the events in Jerada by highlighting the serious social and economic failures of previous governments so that solutions can be found.
Going back to the report, we find that the producers used the spokesman of the government Mustapha Lkhalfi to support the frame of “violent” protestors Vs “peaceful” police forces. He said that measures were taken by the government to solve the problems, but his words are in the passive that we do not know who took those measures. This shows that only promises have been given by the government and no actions were taken. Also, the report ends by stressing the idea that the council of the government announced job opening for disabled people! Is this the solution and are all the protestors handicapped? This shows that the government have no attention to respond positively to people’s demands. Therefore, the news reporting is biased and sides with the police forces and the government at the expense of the rights of the demonstrators.
To conclude, the news reporting falls within a biased agenda setting that serves the interests of the ruling elite in Morocco. The voice of the demonstrators is not heard at all, the failure of the political system to respond to them is obscured and the social and economic demands are silenced. From an operational perspective, we find that the news bulletin about Jerada protests takes only 4.54 minutes from the overall 20.40 minutes of the news. This means that even if the news bulletin comes first, the rest of the program reinforces the ideology of the state by stressing ‘economic development’ in other regions in Morocco and the world. Also the news reporting was broadcasted at night and not at noon, which means that the producers wanted to reach a high rate of viewers for the news to be consumed by the majority of Moroccans. In this sense, the state-run media managed to construct a new reality for the audience by manipulating the news report which is supposed to be neutral and objective in democratic countries that respect their citizens.
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