Throughout 2011, activists uploaded photos and video of events in the Arab world. Much of this raw footage was re-mixed and set to music by other activists, expats, and artists. Re-mixing can be an excellent way to learn to curate and make sense of outside sources. And of course re-mixing is also subjective, so learning how to “read” and critique a mash-up of someone else’s footage is educational, too. What choices did the person doing the mixing make? What did they add (captions? older video?) and what did they leave out? What story are they telling?
This is a mash-up to Somali hip-hop artist K’NAAN’s “Wavin’ Flag.” The video begins with Gamal Mubarak, President Mubarak’s son and presumed successor to the presidency, mocking the April 6 movement, the organization responsible for organizing the January 25 protests that set off the revolution. This is followed by a collection of some of the most iconic imagery from the next 18 days – uploaded by zynabon:
Media coverage of pro-democracy protests across the Arab world – collectively known as the Arab Spring – has captured the world’s attention. Amy Sanders (Social Studies teacher) and Cathy Wolinsky (Instructional Technology Integrator) at Yarmouth High School in Yarmouth, Maine, seek classroom partners for a collaborative study of the Arab Spring. The project, modeled after the Flat Classroom® Project, will begin in early October and last approximately one month. Utilizing the CHOICES Teaching with the News lesson, “Protests, Revolutions, and Democratic Change,” the project envisions students working in collaborative teams to learn more about the protest movements in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. Students also will be asked to reflect on what they have learned and connect to their experiences with democracy. If you would like to join the project or would like more information, please contact Amy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1980s & 1990s Overview – CNN Note: In this clip Reagan refers to Qadhafi as a Muslim fundamentalist. At the time, Islam was less politicized, so usage of the term “Muslim fundamentalist” was even more slipshod than it is today. Although Qadhafi often drew upon Islamic rhetoric to rally Libyans, in the Arab world he is regarded as a secular dictator, not a Muslim extremist akin to Osama Bin Laden. It is crucial that students learning about the Middle East understand that these are leaders whose ideologies are not just “different,” but diametrically opposed to one another. A common misconception is that Bin Laden was a Muslim radical and so other Arab leaders must be Muslim-radicals-lite. In fact, they are political enemies. One of Al-Qaeda’s main objectives was to overthrow secular Arab regimes, which would include Qadhafi’s Libya. The actual uprising in 2011, however, was not motivated by Islam and was not led by Islamists.
This can be confusing to Americans because the U.S. has opposed both Islamist and secular regimes at different times, even as they were opposing each other. But attempting to simplify the issue by calling them all “Muslim fundamentalists” — as Reagan does — ignores one of the biggest sources of tension in the Middle East.
Ronald Reagan’s Address to the Nation on the Air Strike Against Libya
April 14, 1986
Ninety-four percent of American high school students use some form of social media. In this speech from re:publica in Berlin, Jillian C. York, Director of International Freedom of Expression at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, talks about the free speech and censorship policies of Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Blogspot, and YouTube, and how they impacted activists in the Middle East. Each company starts with similar, and sometimes conflicting, interests:
1) an economic incentive to attract more users,
2) a legal and moral commitment to free speech,
3) a legal and moral objection to “offensive” content,
4) trouble defining what constitutes “offensive” content, and
5) limited staff (especially Arabic-speaking staff) to sort out problems on a case-by-case basis.
Each company handles this conflict somewhat differently, which is the subject of York’s speech and a subject high school students are qualified to judge and discuss, from their own experience, even if they haven’t been following political events abroad:
The concept of state-controlled media may be unfamiliar to American students, especially students too young to remember the Cold War (when “Soviet propaganda” was a regular target of criticism from U.S. politicians and U.S. news networks). Most countries, including Western democracies, provide some government funding to the media. The question is not whether a country’s press is “free” or “censored,” but rather a question of scale — how much control over the media does the government exercise? Egypt, for example, had state-owned and -run newspapers and television stations, but it also had a thriving underground press, which was mostly overlooked by the government.
But Libya, alongside China, Iraq, and North Korea, was considered extreme in the level of control the government held over the media. This was true even before the Arab Spring. Once the uprising began in February, 2011, Qadhafi cracked down even harder: all foreign journalists were expelled from the country, internet and SMS services were limited, and the state-run television broadcast only pro-Qadhafi messages. In response, “citizen journalists” — ordinary Libyans using camphones and the internet — began recording events and distributing their message using whatever communication mechanisms they could find.
This Listening Post segment from Al-Jazeera, titled Libya: A media black hole, examines the role of citizen journalism. The first ten minutes are about Libya; the next 15 minutes look at citizen journalism in other countries, including Hungary, Bahrain, South Africa, and Burmese expats broadcasting from Norway.
Although citizen journalism is vital to the free exchange of information, it also raises questions of accuracy. Journalists reporting for official media outlets, such as CNN or Al-Jazeera, are bound by legal and ethical standards that citizen journalists do not have to follow. Can citizen journalism be trusted? Another Listening Post segment examines this issue. Again the first ten minutes are about Libya, followed by news from other countries:
Students should also understand that governments are not the only institutions that control a country’s media. The United States is rare even among Western countries in the extent to which the press and the government are independent from each other. Who, then, does fund newspapers and television stations in America? Some of the money comes directly from subscribers, but most of it comes from advertisers. This introduces new problems. In 1990, Gloria Steinem described the trouble with finding and keeping advertisers for Ms. Magazine. Corporate sponsors exercised too much control over the magazine’s content, so its editors went ad-free from 1990 to 1996. Ultimately this proved too expensive, the magazine was sold, and began accepting ads again.
The nonprofit group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting lists the members of the Board of Directors at major news networks and the corporations with which they are affiliated. How might this impact the type of stories that are covered in the United States, and the slant they’re given? How is corporate influence similar to, and different from, straightforward government control of the press? What are the alternatives?