How is TV reporting the Catalan demonstrations in Spain?

July 22, 2015 § Leave a comment

Capture_TVNext 11th September 2015 we will live a new massive demonstration in Catalonia, but this time the political claim will be followed by elections (27th September) that will provably lead to the unilateral declaration of independence from Spain. This week, moderate Catalan right and left parties reached the agreement for this joint-venture now called Junts pel sí (Together for yes). The impression is that there is no way back, after the long story of conflict and failed negotiations on the issue by both parts.

This is a process leaded by non-governmental organizations and civil society associations, which have organized huge political acts during the last five years and are claiming for a referendum, as Scottish did last year. The end of this hot summer in Catalonia will be as convulse as interesting from a political point of view, and there will be media and television channels reporting for major networks. The Catalan right for a referendum is a true challenge to test the European Union state of democracy.

One of the relevant aspects I have research on during the last two years is the great divergences among television narratives and discourses in the Spanish channels when explaining this political process. I do defend that we assisted to a truly depoliticization of the TV coverage through several mechanism like minimizing the agency of citizenship, focusing on political strategies, or just reporting on anecdotes of the demonstration. Today, Television & New Media had published some in this research line focused on the huge march of September 2012.

Masking Political Engagement: Television Coverage of a Mass Demonstration in Barcelona

Enric Castelló, Universitat Rovira i Virgili

Abstract: This article analyzes how statewide and regional public television in Spain handled the demonstration held on September 11, 2012 (the National Day of Catalonia), in Barcelona under the slogan “Catalonia, a New European State.” The author performed a content analysis of fifty-eight news programs and a narrative analysis of eighty-nine stories. The results indicate that the majority of the channels offered limited coverage of the demonstration. The television narratives also minimized the role of citizen agency in the achievement of goals through democratic participation and displayed a depoliticized account. The author argues that the coverage of the march and its consequences resulted in a masking of citizens’ political engagement; far from promoting an understanding of why the march was so massively supported, it instead presented a story on politicians’ strategy. The author relates this case to a wider trend of media coverage of citizens’ protests in a Western, post-democratic context.

Keywords: democracy, demonstrations coverage, mediatization, political conflict, public television, television news

Read more: Television & New Media, 16(6):521-537

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Nations in the Market

July 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

How consumer practices are nested in nation branding rationales

IMG_20150531_125454We eat Indian, we enjoy a Spanish trip experience, we drink Scotch, and we wear English, or drive a German… The nation and nationalism have adapted well to globalization. Today nation branding is everywhere and it is a category assessing which countries have more or less reputation. There are many factors involved, and today nations are legitimized not only by military or economic strength, but a true system of soft power makes them more or less attractive for tourism, investment, education and international relations. Although some nations like Catalonia claim for a state, they should be aware that states drive only part of the process of national construction. Other socioeconomic actors have taken on the weight: companies of all kinds, public relations consultants, corporations, universities, travel agencies, airlines, etc.

During these weeks I am researching in the Department of Social Sciences at Loughborough University on mapping diverse forms of consumer nationalism. We assist not only to campaigns promoting products in a given country (buy British, buy American, etc.), but these initiatives often become negative when are launched against products of a particular country, such as the repeated boycotts against Catalan cava in Spain, or attacks on Japanese products in China, or the ones suffered by French products in USA when the Iraq war. In the UK, you can see many forms of consumer nationalism ranging from the imprinted Union Jack in many products in the supermarkets, clothes, or establishments, to more subtle presences in gin labels, teas and plenty of products. Occasionally some megastore launches a “Celebrate British” campaign.

In Catalonia we also have examples of this in recent times, and it is not difficult to find wines or beer brands appealing to Catalonia or the Catalans, or even the independence, as shoes with the estelada flag, t-shirts with national emblems, etc. Not to say on the explosion of consumer nationalism around the Spanish flag or other emblems (the bull, la Roja), and many other symbols that exhibit the national symbols in clothes, the watch or even in a tattooed arm. These practices turn nations in tags, marketing strategies and claims for consumers. And this presence is often unnoticed, perhaps banalized to quote Michael Billig’s celebrated concept. This is where the consumer nationalism certainly wins the bet.

We might think that this only occurs in contexts of hot nationalism, like the one in Catalonia, but this is not the case. The United States has practiced very fierce consumer nationalism throughout history. Its flag and national emblems, from hymns or patriotic songs, or the eagle, through a range of symbols that express the Americanness are everywhere in restaurants, supermarkets, clothing stores, etc. In the eighties the United States expanded this national symbolism internationally through products such as tobacco or jeans, and other consumer goods that were linked to the American way of life. It’s true that it had some opposition, but the Western world embraced these national emblems with joy, and linking them with the ideals of ​​freedom, progress and cosmopolitanism.

This consumer nationalism is also a sign of normality of a given country in a global map. Catalonia is in a stage of nation brand building as it was diagnosed by Albert Castellón’s book, Catalonia, next brand in Europe. Maybe the F.C Barcelona is the most successful initiative in this regard. We can say that the football club is the organization which most clearly associates its brand with Catalonia around the globe since the team placed the Catalan flag shirt. It is therefore no coincidence that, when doing research on the presence of Catalan in foreign media, the club is one of the most recurrent themes.

It is obvious that not all national expressions denote activism by those who exhibit them through their t-shirts. Even in some contexts, carrying a bag with the American flag and a stamped skyline of New York is perceived as a symbol of cosmopolitanism and postmodernity. Thousands of people every day walk with a pair of sneakers with a British flag or showing an American emblem in the belt, and so what? But, if we see someone with a badge of Kosovo it is difficult to detach the expression of any political significance. Does the same apply to the Catalan and Spanish flag? Can they be displayed with a high degree of banality? It depends on the context and practices. We dare to say that the four bar flag has reached a degree of banality, so the estelada is used increasingly as a symbol of the national demands.

To consider nation branding is today a must, not only in the field of politics, but in the spheres of culture, education, tourism and business. It is certainly the best way we perceive how nationalism has adapted to the globalized world and the neoliberal context. In contemporary communication practices, the nations are in the market, competing with other national brands and labels, printed in bags, belts, shirts, shoes, eyeglasses, cars… Yes, we can say that there is a true ‘market of nations’ and that our consumption habits are nested there. Let’s go for a Chinese dinner?

Enric Castelló, senior lecturer at Universitat Rovira i Virgili and guest-researcher at Loughborough University

We are not ‘looking at our belly button’

July 1, 2015 § Leave a comment

In Catalan we have the expression ‘mirar-se el melic’ (literally ‘looking at our belly button’) to refer to a selfish attitude in which you only consider or observe your own, narrow and limited context or situation. ‘Mirar-se el melic’ is a critical expression then to note that you are not able to have a wider, opened and richer viewpoint over the complexity and the universal values. And this critique is sometimes argued against the scholars, like me, who have been for years studying, analysing and discussing about nationalism, and specifically about the complex (and rich) context of Catalonia, Spain and the political, cultural and communicative relationships within the Iberian Peninsula.IMG_20150701_130618

If you focus on these topics, some colleagues are used to get bored and just note that you are to much ‘looking at your belly button’. This is just nonsense. And the proof is that you have to come to Loughborough University in UK to attend to a great speech organized by Loughborough University Nationalism Network on Catalan and Spanish nationalism given by an Hungarian scholar who has worked in the USA. You have to come here, the 1st of July, to share with a group of around 30 people from UK, China, Italy and other countries, a debate on the Catalan self-determination process, the FC Barcelona, the conflict around the Copa del Rey whistling other ‘domestic’ issues. Then, you confirm that your issues are universal and that your context is the European context and your worries and interests are similar to other scholars’ worries and interests. You can answer, sorry; this is not my ‘belly button’, but a global issue. We are talking about free speech, democracy, politics, legitimating censorship, and the sports events as a place for political expression.

Today I assisted to an interesting conference by Mariann Vaczi (College of Dunaujvaros, Hungary & University of Nevada, Reno) entitled ‘Football, the Beast, and the Sovereign: Sport and Politics in Spain’. She took a sort of anthropological viewpoint with emphasis in observation and historical approach. She recently wrote an article at The International Review for the Sociology of Sport on this issue and today she presented this and discussed on the topic here, in UK.

The academic world is watching with great interest all what is happening in Catalonia and Spain; and finding a great complexity to discuss about the limitations of democracy, the exercise of hegemonic powers, and the performance of political thought. These are big issues and the huge debate in the very heart of contemporary Europe, and today we discussed about them looking, why not, a picture about castells (human towers). To which ‘belly button’ were we looking at?

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