In the past week we have witnessed some very serious incidents on the streets of Barcelona. Without commenting on political controversies, we want to use this blog post to analyse how the media, journalists and influencers have reacted to this complex series of events. Has the media coverage of events been fit for purpose? And as citizens, have we acted responsibly in our use of social media?
Image: Julián Rojas, El País
The yellow vests (gilets jaunes) movement in Paris. Protests in Hong Kong against the extradition bill to China. Student mobilizations in Chile. It seems as if practically every day there is a mass protest somewhere in the world which end up turning the streets into battlefields. Although the scenes involving violent citizens are in a minority, it is usually those which are broadcast and end up selling newspapers and fighting for share of audience.
The mobilizations against the “Procés” sentencing in Catalonia have not been an exception. From the blockade of the Prat airport to the concentrations in front of the Police Headquarters, for a week we have been seeing again and again images of burning containers, police charges, stones and firecrackers launches, brawls, looting… However, the media coverage of these events has not been without controversy.
Journalists walking a fine line
Not surprisingly, the national media have reported widely on these events, offering minute-by-minute coverage. The pace of communicating breaking news and the struggle for the audience has meant that at times media have not been able to sufficiently rigorous in their fact checking procedures. Nor have verification sites been able to combat the avalanche of fake news. Some of them have reached unprecedented levels of sophistication by using manipulation techniques such as deepfake.
Without any doubt, it is the journalists on the ground, often caught up between the protesters and the security services who deserve the greatest ovation for their work. We have seen them a few metres from the clashes, equipped with helmets and protective vests as if they were actually war correspondents. Attacked by protesters and even detained by police while doing their job. A situation reported by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights in this tweet:
Worried about attacks on journalists & reported disproportionate use of force by police on demonstrators in Catalonia. Everyone should play their part in de-escalating tensions. Spanish authorities should protect #freedomofexpression & #freedomofassembly https://t.co/Rl3DgmU2rZ
— Commissioner for Human Rights (@CommissionerHR) October 21, 2019
Influencers and companies under scrutiny
In the midst of all this, we have also had a considerable portion of surreal images emerging across social networks. From influencers criticised for taking inappropriate selfies to anonymous citizens who have achieved their 15 seconds of viral fame such as the newly married couple who posed for a photo in their wedding outfits in front of burning barricades.
While most companies have tried to keep a low profile during these disturbances following the strategy of bowing their heads and waiting for it to be over. Other companies, such as food delivery services Deliveroo or Glovo, have been criticized just for doing the opposite: continuing with normal activity while Barcelona “was on fire”. More unanimous have been trade associations such as Foment (National Work Federation) and Pimec (SME Association of Catalonia) or the Hotel Guild of Barcelona, warning that the incidents were causing cancellations of reservations and events.
“The next revolution will be televised,” is something we heard years ago at the faculties of journalism. At the beginning of the 21st century, we not only see it on television: we can follow it minute by minute on digital media, it is shared on social networks and even its next steps are anticipated by using instant messaging apps. We receive a barrage of information, images and videos that create the illusion of living it all in the front row.
However, facing this never-ending volume of information that reaches our screens… Have we actually fulfilled our role as conscious and responsible citizens with the information received? Have we taken a critical approach towards the news that was coming to us?