http://iamcr.org/congress/braga-2010

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CONTEXT

In France – between 2005 and 2007 – new influential journalistic platforms have appeared : blogs but also (1) « citizen journalism » platforms : platforms based on a model in which the members of the audience, the citizens, play an active role in the newsmaking process (Agoravox, LePost). And more recently, (2) « network journalism » platforms have appeared :  new web-communities of journalists who produce information, independently from the traditional media, and in collaboration with non-journalists. (Rue89).

Today, we will try to analyse how these platforms cover the climate negotitations (in comparision with the online version of traditional newspapers). There are few studies that have been done on this subject (Shanahan & McComas, 2004 ; Dirikx and Gelders, 2010), and no study at all on the participatory aspect of this subject. We will proceed as follows : first, (1) we will identify the issues and actors, that are percieved (by the different media) as “central to the negotiations”. Second, we will try to identify the ways in which (2) the different contributors/journalists act on their audience through their words (Searle, 1979).

MEDIA REPRESENTATION OF ACTORS AND ISSUES

Here are the different articles classified according to the issues they focus on. In traditional papers (LeMonde, LeFigaro), the three most important issues are (1) negotiations (37 and 33 %), (2) education and eco-sensitivity (19 and 24%), and (3) demonstrations. In participatory media – Aoravox and Rue89 – the three most important ones are (1) « negotiations » (25 and 35%), (2) « science » (19% and 24%) (3) « religion and ideology » (14% and 10%).

We see – without any surprise – that the issues that are left behind (or taken as implicit premisses) by traditional platforms, are massively expressed (or put into question) on participatory platforms. These participatory platforms are used for the expression of viewpoints which – otherwise – could not easily be expressed ; and it includes criticism the logics of the negotiations, criticism of Cap & Trade, as well as climate scepticism, and conspiracy theories…

That’s all for the issues. How about the actors ? We see that the mere identification of political actors leads to the establishement of specific frameworks of understanding which favour the expression of particular viewpoints. Example: some articles associate emerging countries (BRIC) to the developed countries, others do not. The drawning of these categories has a tremendous impact on, either the denial, or the recognition of the historical responsibility of the developed countries (77%).

A word must also be said about the identification of scientific actors. The participatory platforms gave a lot of importance to them during the negotiation, but not to any of them. One can observe that a strong tendency for some participatory journalists to relay the scientific voices that are convenient with the ideological views they is willing to defend (Carvalho, 2007). So, the phenomenon described by A. Carvalho – in her articles about the British traditional press in the 1980’ – can easily  be extended to the participatory press. Some journalists [participatory journalists included] “pick individuals at the margins of respected science (…) and magnify their opinions in order to sustain a certain view of the world and a certain social order » (Carvalho, 2006, p. 27). And – as a result of the recent development of the participatory platforms – this individual “truth-building” process is becoming accessible to anyone.

SPEECH ACTS

There are different ways in which a journalist can act on his environnement – his/her audience – by words (Searle, 1979).

(1) Assertives : Assertives are speech acts by which a person commits himself (or herself) more or less strongly to the acceptability of a particular proposition (description). In our content analysis, we categorized these assersives as follows. There are, first, assertives about (1) the existence of global warming, which are extremely rare. Second, those about (2)  the causes of global warming, which are quite frequent in the participatory media. Third, one finds (3) assertives about the  consequences of global warming – in TP as well asi in PP – and finally (4) assertives about the degree of responsibility of the different actors, and how it is possible to define it. This fourth point is the heart of the negotiation. But, as we have seen in our article: the use of the concept of “scientific certainty” and “scientific proof” (about the causes and consequences of GW) is intrumentalized – in the participatory press, as in the americazn press in the past – to avoid this question of “responsibility”. It reinforces the ethics of inaction (Carvalho, Boykoff).

(2) Directives : Directives are speechs act in which the locutor does no longer describe things the way they are, but things way they should (not) be. Journalists are traditionaly reluctant to express directives. But in the case of climate change, the french newspapers did not hesitate to use more of this prescriptive language (ex : common editorials) : in many articles, we can find the idea that it is the « last chance summit », « we have ten days to re-think our modes of consumption and production », « the last opportunity that we have to limit the damage done » . This prescriptive discourse has been heavily criticized or even rejected on participatory plaforms, (which did not hesitates to compare it to ideology, and religion). It is important to remark that these critiques are not necessarily expressed by right-wing conservative climate skeptics. They are also expressed by people who believe in the existence of AGW, but ask questions about the implicit premissies that are at the basis of the climate negotiations : « why do we think that cap and trade is the only way, or the best way, to tackle climate change ?». Is it sufficient to mitigate it ? etc.

(3) Commissives : Commissives are speech acts in which a journalist claims (to the reader) that he or she undertakes to do (or to refrain from doing) something. A commissive expresses a form of promise (« I/We accept that… », “…refuse to… »). A commitment. By their commitements, journalists adopt a particular framework of action that is essential for maintaining the relation with the audience. It is a way to reinforce a relation of trust with the audience.

(4) Expressives : Expressives are speech acts in which the journalist expresses personal feelings such as « regret« , « congratulation« . In traditional media – which are attached to the the principle of neutrality –  the expression of personal feelings is almost inexistent. By contrast, in the participatory press  – agoravox in particular – authors do not have to see journalism as the fruit of a disembodied activity. They allow themselves to say « I », and to formulate expressives such as « I regret », « I think it is a pity » or « it would be sad », « it’s undecent » (Agoravox, Rue89).

(5) Declaratives : Declaratives are speech acts that are pronounced in order to obtain the acceptance of a specific reality among a given audience. They open and close specific frames of interaction (like when a judge announces that « the session is open« , when a croupier says « the chips are down”). The media produce declaratives when they describe the summit as an “historical moment » (LM07), as a “decisive moment in history”,  as the “last chance summit”… They establish a strict framework of understanding, whose access is conditionned by specific norms and beliefs –for example- the belief that Cap&Trade is an appropriate means to tackle climate change. It presents itself to the agents as the main framework of understanding of the action climate change. A sufficient condition for success. Those who think other means would more appropriate to diminish our levels of carbon emissions are put outside of the realm of interaction.

Conclusion

Let me finish with this brief conclusion: The participatory platforms are probably as partial as other media, but they have at least one considerable advantage, they express a wider variety of partial views, which – if the discourse is properly argumented –  can lead the citizens to question the grounds of their jugements, and the conditions in which these jugements are made.

(M. Simonson, O. Rosas, 2010)

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