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Communication and Political Crisis

Media, Politics and Governance in a Globalized Public Sphere

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Brian McNair

Communication and Political Crisis explores the role of the global media in a period of intensifying geopolitical conflict. Through case studies drawn from domestic and international political crises such as the conflicts in the Middle East and Ukraine, leading media scholar Brian McNair argues that the digitized, globalized public sphere now confronted by all political actors has produced new opportunities for social progress and democratic reform, as well as new channels for state propaganda and terrorist spectaculars such as those performed by the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. In this major work, McNair argues that the role of digital communication will be crucial in determining the outcome of pressing global issues such as the future of feminism and gay rights, freedom of speech and media, and democracy itself.
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Chapter 5. Communication and the crisis of authoritarian control

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COMMUNICATION AND THE CRISIS OF AUTHORITARIAN CONTROL

If the digital media environment—fast-flowing, volatile and globally connected as it is—creates challenges for good governance and policy management in democratic polities, rather different issues arise for the management of authoritarian regimes. In the pre-digital past, such regimes benefitted from their ability to maintain near-monopoly control of the main channels of communication within their jurisdictions. Top-down mass media—newspapers, TV and radio—were always among the first targets of a coup d’etat or revolution in the twentieth century, and huge resources were devoted to information management by the Bolsheviks, Mao’s Red Army and other twentieth century movements which ushered in tightly centralised systems of government. All contemporary authoritarian regimes seek to exercise control over both old and new media, with varying degrees of sophistication and success. Saudi Arabia has sought to ban Twitter. Bahrain has banned use of Google Earth by its subjects. At times of political crisis, actual or potential, these control techniques become key tools in the maintenance of stable regimes in the face of popular protest.

While the democratizing potential of the internet and the globalized public sphere is clear, democratic or progressive outcomes of political crises in authoritarian societies are not inevitable, even when opposition forces use the ← 101 | 102 → full range of digital media to pursue their objectives. Research on the relationship between, for example, the use of social media and the evolution of the...

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