Gramsci’s Theory of Hegemonic functions in the age of citizen journalism and social media
Radio, television, and newspapers are used as the primary source of news before the advent of internet technology. But the scenario is changing day by day. News websites most of which are owned by major media companies are now strongly competing with the print and traditional electronic media as being the first source of news. Alternative news sources on the internet like social networking sites, user generated contents, blogs are also getting huge popularity. Compared to mainstream media (radio, television, newspaper) the new sources of news are faster, low cost and interactive. Due to internet facility any one can upload any content for sharing with others through social media like Twitter, You tube and Face book. Some of the news reporting published in these sites are actual reporting from the venue of incident contributed by the audiences with standard level of broadcasting quality. The contributions of the user-generated contents by the wider public are also known as citizen journalism. This is also a very widening concept. The benefit of Citizen Journalism is that the audiences witnessing an incident can record and upload the audio or video or print product via social media. Users can put comments, analyse and make discussions on these posts and as well as express opinions about stories published on the mainstream media. These sorts of commentary and debate keep these stories alive some times much longer than expected.
Antonio Gramsci is one of the scholars in the field of communication theory. His hegemonic functions theory is a widely popular thought. This essay will briefly discuss the hegemonic theory of Gramsci considering the concept mass media and as well as analyse how far Gramsci’s theory of Hegemonic functions hold true considering the growing trends of citizen journalism and social media.
2.0 Hegemony and the Media:
Media is continuously playing constructive role for the development of society. Among various approaches Jurgen Habermas’ idea on the public sphere and the Gramci’s views based on hegemony are widely prominent in this regard. According to Habermas (1989), public sphere is the open area of social life where all members of the society are engaged to form public opinion on general interests. Here, the interaction between members for sharing of information and ideas, exchanging views are occurred without interference from any authorities. The precondition is people will interact spontaneously by engaging in discussion or any other forms of communication. On the other hand, hegemony describes the domination of one class over the other. Here the focus is how one group achieves the influence over the other by a combination of political and ideological thoughts. In this regard, Gramsci explains the functions the ideology for achieving the acceptance from the dominated class. This suggests that influential groups in the society enjoy the monopoly for circulating and creating of ideas favouring their interests (Abercrombie-1996). It is common that, those in power always wants to keep their control and in necessary case manipulate the environment similar to the way they controls their material assets. Interestingly, one of the most efficient tools used on such motive for achieving higher result with less resistance and greater willingness is the media. According to Gramsci’s view media disseminates the ideas and information favouring the powerful and help maintaining the status quo and stabilise the elite’s grip over authority (Wedeen-1999). Robert Cox applied these concept in the arena of International Political Economy. According to Cox, hegemony is very important for the stability and maintenance of the world hierarchy as well as for the domestic sphere of an individual country. Cox said that number of world powers have achieved the success in forming universal order which is very well-matched with their own interests. Interestingly, all this were not done based on military power and forcing by coercion. Rather these were the outcome of a kind of established consent among all the stakeholders belonging to the system. Callinicos (2002) describes from the literature of Cox that The Pax Britanica and Pax Americana are the two befitted example for hegemonic regime afterwards two successful hegemonic ideas are free trade and democracy. In this regard, Fairclough (2003) argued that achieving the hegemony involves achieving a measure of success in projecting certain rules as universal to all. Satelite Television in disseminating global ideas plays an important role in this development. However, Lull (2003) argues that in particular situation hegemony fails when social resistance is stronger than dominant ideology. In other words, when the dominant ideology is weaker than the counter hegemonic discourse hegemony fails. Considering the reinforcing agents this implies that the failure of a hegemonic idea is possible for any social resistance depending on how strength the resistance posses in itself. Due to these implications, this essay will critically analyse in the age of citizen journalism and social media how far Gramsci’s theory of Hegemonic functions hold true in the field of mass media.
3.0 Role of media in society:
According to Norwegian social scientist and peace research pioneer Johan Galtung (1999), the three basic ingredients of society are as follows:
- The State and related government organizations
- The market (capital) and related commercial institutions
- The civil society
He placed mass media in a floating situation among these three basic building blocks of society, as describes in the following figure:
Figure1: Ingredients of society
At the beginning of media history, it was in a closer position both to the state and to capital. In first stage media was patronage by feudal system and boosted by the mercantile capitalist. With the rise of modern democratic system and multiple party structure, the press (media) reshape its position and began to take closer ally with the civil society (Nordenstreng-1997). Al though the broadcasting media remained its previous position that is closer relationship with government. The second half of the 20th century brought both the print and electronic media in a increasingly closer position to the capital driven markets. Even at present time, Galtung’s triangle (figure 1) does not clarify that market forces have completely absorbed the media. Now a days market forces has completely grab the globalizing society. On the other hand, civil society with its increasing power practices gradually taking hold of promising strength. Thus, at contemporary world, media takes a challenging position in the field of conflicts.
In a democratic society media is also viewed as the fourth element based on the classic separation of powers in the political system, as proposed by Montesquieu (Cohler et al. 1989). According to this traditional thoughts, the parliament members elects from general elections constitutes the legislative power, while the government with all its ministries and other administrative wings constitutes executive power and the courts represents the judicial power. The media as an independent power has been added to this picture as a fourth branch of the state to ensure the check and balance among the branches of the powers in a political system.
The mass media i.e print, electronic and new media in contemporary world enjoys a particular status and respect in the society due to its developing role. Besides mass media also enjoys the constitutional guarantee of freedom of information based on many international laws and on the ground of human rights. (Hamelink-1994). This is also true for developing countries, mostly of the democratic countries.
4.0 Impact of new media:
The emergence of new media empowered every individual in the society with the ability of becoming a producer and broadcaster. People who have been for long were only the listener of one way mass communication are now the playing role of an interactive listener. Now a day, the distinction between information producers and the consumers are increasingly becoming difficult to differentiate (Salman and etal-2011). Salman also argued that as the experiments with the thought of global citizenship increasingly expanding, the empowerment offered by globally distributed social media, may become shared more widely in coming days. This scenario of new mass media i.e. print, electronic and new media warrants for a demanding adjustments to the theories of media hegemony.
Technology is expanding day by day with an increasing rate of innovation. The rate is so rapid that the prediction for long-term new media information flows is very difficult to predict. Considering the increasing expansion of the new media Arino (2007) suggested to the traditional media practitioners to join with them. Interactivity is the significant characteristic for internet. In fact it is the unique multiplier for increasing tradition of citizen journalism world wide.
New media empowered common citizens for reporting their political experiences while maintaining standard quality and community values. One example of such new media is the Twitter. The user of a twetter first broadcast the death news for Osama bin Laden. Media experts predict that in the long run, these tendencies may constitute the most revolutionary aspects of the new media environment (Salman and etal 2011).
5.0 Arab spring analysis:
Separating old media from the new media is a difficult task now a day. In the Arab spring both media reinforced one another. New media provides wider information based on the original facts of information arena and thus new and old media form creates complex interrelations.
New media played the most important role for creating and influencing the international attention during the Arab uprisings. Social media such as Twitter connected individuals from west as well as from Arab to participate, inspire and disseminate unfiltered content to its followers. In Egypt this inspires the participants to gather at the Tahrir Square. In Syria, it implies watching tragic videos of killing civilians. International Organizations and foreign governments watched these videos to supplement their limited information about the actors in Arab spring. Thus it is an incident that President Barack Obana said on spring 2011 that he hoped the google guy (referring to Facebook page “We Are All Khaled Said”) will win after the Egyptian transition (USIP-2012).
During Arab spring, the connection between the local and the international authorities and organisations were indirect. Journalist for mainstream media either from Al-Jazeera or American media relied significantly on the new media. In the case of Libya and Syria for all most all news reporting were based on the users generated contents either sent to the media stations or uploaded to social media sites. Mainstream media organizations used social media to disseminate actual information to its stakeholders and for interviewing the activists and made many of them international celebrities.
This new media was a supplementary for the traditional media increasingly providing necessary backup for the old media. Traditional media organizations specially the reporters often browse online videos of “citizen journalists” rather than depending on their own local correspondents specially in case of Tunisia and Egypt. On youtube footage produced by citizens received huge page views compared to mainstream media outlets. Facebook, Google and youtube all were directly connected to these videos (Mohamed al-Nanabhay-2011). The discussion on Twitter of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions influenced significantly Al-Jazerra media coverage during the Arab spring (Lotan and etal-2011). Additionally, Mainstream news providing organizations used Twitter as a means of contacting the activists of Arab spring. Egyptian activists Amr Gharbia describrs that during the sit-in at Tahrir square the international news organizations often followed their hashtags(group message), contacted them for getting information about future activities and thus they got the opportunity to connect with the mainstream media (Aouragh and Alexander-2011).
Due to lack of valid information sources, during Arab spring new media content particularly user generated videos were routinely picked up, discussed and broadcasted by the traditional media for national and international audiences. These were only option as the source of information for the citizens in Arab and as well as for the expatriate of Arab countries.
The million dollar question is, what exactly gave Arab spring the successful result? Simple question but hard to answer. In other words, it is definitely too big to answer by indicating one specific casual factor, such as new media. The Arab spring was the inevitable result of series of social conditions, which was long been, oppressed the citizens of these countries. It was the consequences of social conditions such as political stagnation, political imposition and many disappointing small decisions by royal families in these concerning countries. If any of these factors could significantly altered the Arab Spring might not have happened or might took place in a very different shape. Thus it would not be exaggerating if we mention that new media played the role of previously known “hidden variables” in the case of Arab spring (Aday and etal-2012).
Lets discuss the case of Egypt, as to analyze the hegemonic view of Arab Spring. The political regime in Egypt imposed their own hegemonic influence on the citizens. There was a counter force from the citizens which was accumulated through a long period of time. For clear understanding, lets divide protests (counter hegemonic force) into three stages. Firstly, the creation of activist group that could organize protests. Secondly, the organizations of a protest turned into mass uprising. Thirdly result of the revolution. The following paragraphs will discuss these stages briefly (ibid). According to Aday and etal (2012) the three stages of Arab Spring focussing on Egypt revolution are described below:
The creation of core group of activists is the most important phase of the Arab Spring in Egypt. For any successful revolution, the dedicated activities of the core group, which can organize protests, are the must. Over long periods of a year a few thousand of dedicated young individuals had come together to for a movement against Mubarak regime. Later the youth movement used Facebook to organize support and publicity for labor strikes. New media as a hidden variable reduced the “transaction cost” of finding like-minded people and to generate unity among each other. New media provided the activist a censor free tool for communication among the group. In absence of such communication tool, the strength of this movement could have been considerably weaker.
Egyptian activists earlier had tried many times before 2011 to provoke broader protests, which resulted into failure. But this time the strength of censor free communication gave the activists to forward for the second stage of revolution. The exhibition of successful smaller protest have spread the feeling of genuine mass protests. The footage and blogs, and videos captured from the ground field of action by citizen journalist were massively uploaded in the social media. The heavy use of new media and the genuineness of these uploaded materials had cater the attention from the international organizations and also from the west.
Finally, when sufficient mass mobilization took place in Tahrir Square to oust the existing Mubarak regime (hegemonic force), evan at that point of time protestors (counter hegemonic force) were to sure about their success. If fact when the western media support expanded fovoring the counter hegemonic force in Egypt, the discourse got new dilemma. The counter hegemonic force truly became stronger and stronger and at last win over existing hegemonic regime.
6.0 Hegemonic functions in times of revolution:
From previous discussion it is clear that, hegemony is the continued consented dominance of one class over another by means of political and economical influence. (Cox, 1981). From international political point of view hegemony is the dominance of one state over other states (Keohane, 1984). However, Gramsci’s theory of hegemony deals with class. According to his theory a ‘hegemon class’ may face ‘historic bloc’ over time which can create two types of war; ‘war of position’ or the ‘war of movement’. The war of position is the ideological war where media plays principle role for winning the situation. Where as in war of movement situation, challenges to hegemonic force is strong enough to overthrow the ruling class either in violent way or in democratic way (Cox, 1981). In Egypt, both these forms of war help us to define the nature of the revolts that have struggled to establish an alternative “social order out of historical conditions of capitalism” (Ibid.). Gramsci throughout his work tried to construct an intellectual moral bloc, which would make possible the intellectual progress of the masses in a country (Ibid.). This new historic bloc would not act like a new hegemony rather they would facilitate the change over situation. Thus Gramsci in connection with Marx have given us some crucial concepts of analysing, discussing and explaining the events and changes that recently took place in Egypt. They allow us to understand the developments that became apparent in Arab societies from a different viewpoint.
The intellectual class in Egypt were capable to fulfill the role of Gramsci’s counter hegemonic bloc (Mohamed-2012). But, over time they were failed to raise the challenge and were not been so optimistic to construct such block. If the intellectual class could form the ‘historic block’, they would have been facilitated the intellectual and political progress of the masses in Tahrir Square. Due to their lack of institutional involvement and no such experience, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) had appeared as weak and chasing rather than leading counter hegemonic bloc. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) block was formed in 1928. It has incorporated Islam and democracy into a single ideology as their manifesto aiming to win over the masses. In neo-Gramscian terms through their activity they created the ‘war of position’ long before to the Arab Spring revolution in Egypt. Before the Tahrir Square incident MB block had already established their local level influence (Atzori-2011). The most interesting thing in Egypt is that during the formation period of revolution in Egypt MB the historic bloc has fluctuated its role between hegemonic and counter hegemonic stances (Rupert, 2003). Muslim Brotherhood has fulfilled the leadership role during the initial 18 days of the Egyptian Revolution and again reverted to hegemonic power for last ten months. The late president Hosne Mubarak resigned and handed over the power to SCAF (Egyptian’s Supreme Council of Armed Forces). This initiative has given the birth of a new hegemonic bloc in the name of SCAF forcing MB bloc to be counter hegemonic bloc. After month of waiting the SCAF delayed the holding of general election, which as a whole deprives the Egyptian people and in specific the MB block (Atzori-2011) for their right to participate under their newly formed Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). However, on June 2012, after a long struggle Mohammed Morsi has been democratically elected President of the country from MB block and finally established Muslim Brotherhood as the new hegemonic block in Egypt.
7.0 Hegemonic functions in time of normal situation:
According to Artz (2003), “Hegemony is not mechanical, nor simply coercive or simply manipulative. Rather hegemony is the political outcome of a leadership’s ability to intellectually and morally move society towards a reluctantly or enthusiastically agreed upon set of cultural and economic practices”. Artz (2003) also argued that, “Leaderships only become hegemonic because they convince others to become allies through persuasive political and cultural practices, which necessarily require normalized interpretations best communicated to the mass people via the media”. During the political stable period for a country, to function in its best, the hegemonic block always needs parallel media hegemony as an institutional and organized tool for enlightening, persuading and demonstrating subordinate classes to specific cultural custom with in the circumstance of its own hegemonic regime (Bar’el-2012). Artz (2003) described from the literature of Thusso (2000) that, “If progressiveness is the ideological representation of a society, than to maximise the corporate interest existing hegemony needs media hegemony to popularize and spread their ideas among the followers. Internationally media hegemony is “obvious”. Due to the support from the west the Arab Spring got momentum at its final stage and became successful. Traditional media, new media jointly played accelerating role to build attention from the international media organizations. All these were accelerated by international media hegemony.
Hegemony always lies beneath the shell, often unarticulated. According to Stoddart (2007) hegemony is always a process. It is not a system or structure. It is a realized complex of experiences, activities, and relationships with changing pressures and limits. Hegemony works as a sort of common sense, rather than a coherent body of thought.
The future of the state owned media in Egypt is swinging among various corners of the society. Due to inappropriate services proved during the Mubarak regime, some civil society members demanded for abolition of state owned press and transform them into private companies, while others demand for purification of the official media. What ever action is taken in Egypt it is equally true that for the sustainability of present Morsi government, it needs its own media weapon for communicating with its voters and general population. This reality creates the need for establishing media hegemony. From international political point of view stability of media hegemony is also pertinent for national and international audiences simultaneously (Bar’el-2012).
Gramci gave us an image of society in which the cultural sphere is a central location for the exercise of social power. According to Gramci’s thought, for hegemonic clash, a long term cultural war of position is more important. In true sense it was prevailing in the Arab societies. The Hosne Mubarak regime established its dictatorship on its population of Egypt and over time his government was more dependent on coercion than to consent. As a result “war of position” was originated in Egypt long before the Arab Spring and it became converted into “war of movement” on January 2011. In the age of citizen journalism and social media the user generated content played the role of catalyst for the counter hegemonic forces and accelerated their strength. True combination of all sources of energy in a similar time blow away the existing hegemonic power and constructed new hegemony. During the Tahrir square movement, basically the new media and the traditional media boost each other and accelerated the speed of the clash. Finally, the Arab Spring broke out in this region and the revolution got success in Tunisia, Libya and in Egypt.
In conclusion it can be pointed that, hegemonic power is something that is always challenged and which is always unfinished. In real world there is no freedom. The ending of existing hegemony, in reverse gives the origin of new hegemony. Thus In the age of citizen journalism and social media Gramsci’s Theory of Hegemonic functions of the media still hold true.
*Writer of this essay Dewan Mohammad Ahsan Habib, is working as Deputy Director (Traffic) in the Head Office of Bangladesh Betar (Radio), Bangladesh.
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