Power to the Medium, the Message, and the People

Like many people, I find myself gravitating increasingly towards the computer to get the news. I turn to Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates – all crammed in 140 characters. I sign in on Facebook to partake in mobilization campaigns and grassroots lobbying efforts. I then browse through news websites for articles, and I go to YouTube for raw footage of protesters carrying signs for a cause.

 

Are these just fragments of reality that are neatly packaged in frames or do they reflect a wider choice of media sources and increased direct access to more comprehensive information? Media are being utilized in increasingly interesting ways throughout various political landscapes, with forms of social media taking on specific roles in times of political unrest.

 

We have witnessed the end of the Moubarak regime in Egypt. The movement to achieve this aim was propelled by the voice and the unshakable determination of the Egyptian people, and the Internet. Such scenes of protests fueled by anger and propelled by injustice may seem novel for some observers. As Armenians, however, we are accustomed to demonstrations unfolding on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Capitol Hill in Washington DC, or the Champs Elysées in Paris, and even in Republic Square in Yerevan. Voices, signs, and awareness are raised for Genocide recognition, for the re-instilling of human dignity, and for the establishment of self-determination. The scenes are, at times, mediated by a screen. At other times, we are there in person. My aim is not to compare the intent, scope, and risks between these protests. While watching the scenes in Egypt, however, I could relate to the commitment of the protesters, and the appeal of confronting tyranny and unrelenting denial.

 

The involvement of media and communication technologies in social and political movements is not novel. More than 50 years ago, another form of communication technology – radio – was being used within a liberation struggle in Northern Africa. Frantz Fanon has described the pivotal role that radio played in the struggle of the Algerian people against France during the 1950s. At that time, Radio-Alger was the official voice – in French – of the colonial administration. Although many Algerian families did have a standard of living sufficient to purchase radios, the programming catered largely to the French settlers. As such, radio was a French presence that did not initially interest Algerians, because it was after all “an instrument of colonial society and its values” as Fanon writes. Furthermore, this technology was seen as threatening the stability of Algerian society. It contained humor, language, and moral taboos which could have potentially offended the Algerian audience.

 

Fanon has described how, eventually, the Algerian population became interested in radio due to the proliferation of Arabic broadcasts from Syria, Egypt, and Lebanon. Also, when Tunisia and Morocco began awakening with the desire to break free from colonialism, Algerians also realized that something important was developing on the horizon, and that there was a vital need to have their own sources of information, not those of the colonizer. As a result, after 1954, radio became extremely important for Algerians. Not only did they discover their own voice, but the radio enabled them to stay informed, and it ultimately became an important tool of resistance which was pivotal in organizing the rebellion.

 

In the same way that the Egyptian government cut off Internet access in the recent crisis, the French authorities in 1955 used electronic jamming to disrupt the transmissions of the opposition radio station Voice of Fighting Algeria. As a further measure, French authorities even went to the extent to prohibit the sale of radios and battery sets, in order to silence Algerian voices.  

 

I cannot cover here the entire political and social scope of radio’s role in the decolonization of Algeria. Although Algerians were dealing with a foreign power whereas Egyptians had been under an internal authoritarian regime, reading Fanon’s work still has had a particular resonance for me.

 

What I have come to realize is that under the right circumstances and with a proactive stance, voices can be heard. Whether it is the decolonization of Algeria, the end of authoritarian rule in Egypt, or even stimulating awareness of past injustices in Anatolia, changes have occurred and will continue to take place. Media can be an instrument of authoritarian rule. But when media are utilized to oppose and resist such power, silencing the voice of the people can become harder …fortunately. 

 *Note: Frantz Fanon’s discussion of radio is from, “This is the Voice of Algeria”, in his book A Dying Colonialism. 1967{1959}, Grove Press Inc.: New York. pp. 69-97

Lalai Manjikian

Lalai Manjikian

Dr. Lalai Manjikian is a humanities professor at Vanier College in Montreal. Her teaching and research interests are in the areas of immigration and refugee studies, media representations of migration, migrant narratives and diaspora studies. She is the author of Collective Memory and Home in the Diaspora: The Armenian Community in Montreal (2008). Lalai’s articles have been published in a number of newspapers and journals including The Armenian Weekly, Horizon Weekly, 100 Lives (The Aurora Prize), the Montreal Gazette, and Refuge. A former Birthright Armenia participant (2005), over the years, Lalai has been active in volunteering both within the Armenian community in Montreal and the local community at large, namely engaged in immigrant and refugee integration. She is also the qualitative researcher on the Armenian Diaspora Survey in Montreal. Lalai also serves as a board member for the Foundation for Genocide Education. She holds a PhD in Communication Studies from McGill University (2013).

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