March 2, 2011

The Press and the Protests

% of Newshole
Egypt 65.4
Libya 18
Bahrain 4.3
Tunisia 3.3
Iran 2
Yemen 1.3
Jordon 0.7

65.4% – Percentage of recent coverage of Mideast turmoil focused on Egypt

For the past seven weeks—beginning with the protests that ousted Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali—the turmoil  in the Middle East and North Africa has been the No. 1 story in the mainstream media. From January 10-February 27, attention to the unrest in the region has accounted for 26% of the overall newshole, easily exceeding the coverage devoted to the U.S. economy (14%).

In that period, one country—Egypt—has dominated coverage of Middle East unrest, accounting for nearly two-thirds of it. The next most covered crisis—the virtual civil war in Libya—has accounted for almost one-fifth (18%). But a major distinguishing characteristic of this coverage is that it has followed an ongoing wave of turmoil from country to country.

The regional unrest began in Tunisia. On January 14, after several weeks of protests, that nation’s president stepped down after 23 years in power, triggering the biggest week (January 10-16) of coverage of that story. From January 10-February 27, Tunisia has accounted for just 3% of the Mideast unrest coverage, but it was the first link in a chain of protests around the region.

The Egyptian demonstrations—which began in earnest on January 25 and culminated with the February 11 resignation of President Hosni Mubarak—then began to dominate coverage. In the weeks from January 24-February 13, the situation in Egypt accounted for 91% of the Mideast unrest story. And overall, Egypt accounted for 65% of Middle East unrest coverage from January 10-February 27.

But after Mubarak stepped down, the media turned its attention to Bahrain, where protestors there sought political freedom and an end to the ruling monarchy. For the week of February 14-20, Bahrain upheaval accounted for about one-third of the Mideast unrest newshole, and in the overall seven-week period, it made up 4.3% of the coverage of regional turmoil.

The week that the violence in Bahrain emerged as a major newsmaker, the growing unrest in Libya, was almost an afterthought, accounting for only 6% of the coverage in the Mideast. But from February 21-27, the fierce fighting that broke out between forces loyal to and opposed to Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi accounted for 89% of the coverage of the area.

During the past two months, other Middle Eastern countries also experienced unrest, but did not generate as much media attention. From January 10-February 27, protests and turmoil in Iran accounted for 2.0% of the overall Mideast story. In that same period, that number was 1.3% in Yemen, 0.7% in Jordan and 0.3% in Lebanon.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ