Which revolution is being televised?

As to be expected, I am glued to my laptop at the moment following the developments of the situation in Egypt. What strikes me is the communicational difference to the situation in Iran 2009: With the Internet (mostly) shut down, Al Jazeera, as well as news agencies AP and Reuters, are nearly the sole source of information.

Naturally, corporate foreign news organisations are confined to major urban centers, in the case of Al Jazeera (resp. Al Jazeera English) Cairo, Alexandria and Suez. And following numerous attacks on their reporters, they are even restricted to their own offices. The revolution is being televised – but which revolution does the television show?

Since the Internet and mobile network shutdown, news from rural areas have all but vanished from international reports. Commentators have repeatedly stressed that the uprise in Egypt is exceptional for happening all over the country, but whatever is happening outside the urban centers right now – it goes unnoticed. I.e., for the international audience it effectively does not take place.1

In a short digression, it’s also noteworthy that there are now news that Al Jazeera Arabic was taken off air a couple of minutes ago. The most important news source for Egyptians first on the revolution in Tunesia and then on the developments in their own country is thus no longer available. Alaa Abdel Fattah, Egyptian superblogger and longtime opposition activist, has pointed out the impact of supranational media in the Guardian: “From the internet and satellite TV a new pan-Arabism is born.”

It’s a close call to compare this situation to the much talked-about role of social media during the “green revolution” in Iran one and a half years ago. What is noteworthy is that Blogs, Youtube, Facebook and Twitter diversified the range of news sources – I might just point to the videos of the death Neda Agha-Soltan, which were spread over the Internet. While apparently not relevant to the organisation of protest, Twitter and other social media certainly changed the portrayal and perception of the “green revolution” in the West.

However, in Iran the protests never spread nationwide in the way they are now in Egypt. There were demonstrations in other major cities apart from Tehran, yet they stayed minor events in comparison to the mass rallies in the capital. Most notably, I barely found (English-language) sources on the ongoings in these smaller cities. Should one conclude that the Internet doesn’t make reporting on uprisings (spatially) more diverse?

The recent developments in Tunesia seem to go counter such an analysis. Sure, the situation there went unnoticed by a broader (Western – it was amplified powerfully by Al Jazeera in the Arab world) audience; but social media such as movie-sharing platforms were used from the beginning to spread news about the uprising from the beginning.

The Internet enables us to get informed on the ongoings in any place connected to the network, however remote it might otherwise be. Egypt’s Internet shutdown has effectively narrowed down our perspective to the angles of Al Jazeera’s television cameras. Does that change civil resistance? Being skeptical about media’s role in these in general, I am not sure. But it is certainly an issue to watch as events unfold.

  1. Just as I am writing this, Al Jazeera English is interviewing somebody from Bani Suwaif. So it seems they are, after all, able to create connections to more remote places. []