April 13, 2012

What Happened to Coverage of the “Arab Spring?”

Egypt Libya Syria
Jan 2011 6
Feb 22 10
Mar 2011 1 27 1
Apr 1 8 3
May 2011 1 2 1
Jun 1 2
Jul 2011 3 1
Aug 1 3
Sep 2011 8 1
Oct 1 2 1
Nov 2011 4 5 1
Dec 1 2
Jan 2012 1 2
Feb 1 7
Mar 2012 3

 0.3% – Amount of coverage devoted to the situation in Egypt last month

Last week, representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood—which has emerged as a potent political force in post-Mubarak Egypt—visited the U.S. for the first time and met with White House officials. Despite the significance of the trip and the Brotherhood’s role in strategically crucial Egypt, that subject accounted for less than 1% of the newshole from April 2-8, 2012, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

It has now been over a year since protests and violence swept across the Middle East and ushered in what became widely known as the Arab Spring. This wave of unrest dominated news coverage and propelled international stories to the forefront of the U.S. news agenda. In February and March 2011, the upheaval in the region was the No. 1 story in the media. In April 2011, it was No. 2, behind only the U.S. economy.

But even as the aftermath of the uprisings continue to play out with violence and political turmoil,  attention to the Arab Spring has dramatically declined and is now virtually off the media radar screen.  That is particularly true in the two countries—Egypt and Libya—that had generated the most attention in the U.S. media.

Last year, Egypt’s coverage peaked in February 2011 after longtime president Hosni Mubarak stepped down amid massive protests. In that month, attention to that country accounted for 22% of the newshole.

Since that high point, coverage of Egypt has dropped dramatically, never accounting for more than 1% in a given month, except for November 2011, when coverage climbed to 4% as the nation held its first democratic elections.

A very similar trend in coverage occurred with Libya. In March 2011, coverage of the conflict in that nation accounted for 27% of the newshole, with most of the attention focused on the U.S. and NATO’s decision to enter the conflict.

The months following saw the Libyan conflict fade steadily from the mainstream news agenda, producing sporadic spikes in coverage in August 2011 when Muammar Gaddafi’s compound was seized (8%), and in October 2011 when Gaddafi was captured and killed by rebel forces (5%). Since November 2011, coverage of the Libyan conflict, which still persists, has accounted for less than 1% of the newshole every month.

The current focus of attention in the Mideast is Syria, where violence between government forces and their opponents is reported to have claimed about 9,000 lives. But unlike Egypt and Libya, Syria’s uprising has never dominated news coverage and has, in fact, generated consistently modest to negligible attention.

Since PEJ began monitoring the Syrian conflict in March 2011, coverage has exceeded 3% of the newshole in only one month. That was February 2012 (7% of the newshole) when two prominent journalists were killed in Syria, and U.S. officials decided to close its Syrian embassy.

Monica Anderson of PEJ