Scholarly article on topic 'Framing Chevron Protests in National and International Press'

Framing Chevron Protests in National and International Press Academic research paper on "Economics and business"

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Abstract of research paper on Economics and business, author of scientific article — Cristina Coman, Camelia Cmeciu

Abstract Romanians have been protesting against the gas exploration of the US giant, Chevron, in the village of Pungesti. An issue which may have seemed local, has gradually turned into an international one and, thus, it has become visible not only in the national press but also in the international media. This study presents a comparative analysis of the news media coverage of the Chevron crisis and of the forum comments in the online versions of national and international daily newspapers (Adevărul and The Guardian). In our qualitative content analysis of the news stories and of the forum comments we will use two theoretical frameworks: Semetko & Valkernburg's typology of frames (attribution of responsibility, conflict, economic consequences, human interest, and morality) and Nabi's emotion-as-frame perspective. The comparative content analyses will reveal which emotions, themes and frames were most visible in the national and international media (news articles and forum comments).

Academic research paper on topic "Framing Chevron Protests in National and International Press"

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Procedia - Social and Behavioral Sciences 149 (2014) 228 - 232

LUMEN 2014

Framing Chevron Protests in National and International Press

Cristina Comana, Camelia Cmeciub*

aFaculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences, University of Bucharest, 1-3 Iuliu Maniu Bld. Bucharest, 061071, Romania bFaculty of Journalism and Communication Sciences, University of Bucharest, 1-3 Iuliu Maniu Bld. Bucharest, 061071, Romania

Abstract

Romanians have been protesting against the gas exploration of the US giant, Chevron, in the village of Pungesti. An issue which may have seemed local, has gradually turned into an international one and, thus, it has become visible not only in the national press but also in the international media. This study presents a comparative analysis of the news media coverage of the Chevron crisis and of the forum comments in the online versions of national and international daily newspapers (Adevarul and The Guardian). In our qualitative content analysis of the news stories and of the forum comments we will use two theoretical frameworks: Semetko & Valkernburg's typology of frames (attribution of responsibility, conflict, economic consequences, human interest, and morality) and Nabi's emotion-as-frame perspective. The comparative content analyses will reveal which emotions, themes and frames were most visible in the national and international media (news articles and forum comments).

© 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.Org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee ofLUMEN2014. Keywords: crisis frames; themes; emotions; online media.

1. Introduction

In 2010, the Romanian government and Chevron, the US oil corporation, signed an agreement which stipulated that Chevron would own more than two million acres of land in Romania. On October 3 2013, Chevron obtained all the necessary authorizations to start the shale gas explorations in the village of Pungesti, in Eastern Romania. The villagers protested against fracking by occupying the road leading to Chevron's construction site. An issue which may have seemed local has gradually turned into a national and an international issue and thus it has become visible

* Corresponding author. Tel.: +40+722.39.85.42 E-mail address: cmeciu75@yahoo.com

1877-0428 © 2014 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/3.0/).

Selection and peer-review under responsibility of the Organizing Committee of LUMEN 2014. doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2014.08.222

not only in the national press but also in the international media. This crisis situation may be included in what Timothy Coombs (2007) identifies as a preventable crisis cluster. Although Chevron is on the third position in the 2013 Fortune 500, its representatives provoked an information void. Their silence response may be considered an inappropriate action and under these circumstances, this communication behaviour may trigger strong attributions of crisis responsibility which may lead to severe reputational threat. Chevron's lack of communication during the Romanian protests urged us to analyse the news media coverage of the Chevron crisis and the forum comments in the two online national and international newspapers (Adevarul and The Guardian).

2. Theoretical framework - framing theory

In our content analysis of the news stories and of the forum comments we used two theoretical frameworks: (1) Semetko & Valkernburg (2000)'s typology of frames (attribution of responsibility, conflict, economic consequences, human interest, and morality); (2) Nabi (2002)'s emotion-as-frame perspective. Framing "functions in much the same way as a frame around a picture: attention gets focused on what is relevant and important and away from extraneous items in the field of view" (Noakes & Johnston, 2005, p.2). Thus, in their news stories, journalists act as framers since they produce their own vision of reality, creating a socially constructed process (Gamson & Modigliani, 1989; Gitlin, 2003).

In the literature on crisis communication (Semetko & Valkernburg, 2000; An & Gower, 2009; Valentini & Romenti, 2011), five crisis news frames are mentioned: (a) attribution of responsibility frame - attributing responsibility for the cause or solution of an event, problem, or issue; (b) conflict frame - reflecting the conflict between individuals, groups, and organizations; (c) economic consequences frame - reporting an event, problem, or issue in terms of the consequences it will have financially on an individual, groups, organizations, or countries; (d) human interest frame - bringing a human face or an emotional angle to the presentation of an event, issue, or problem; (e) morality frame - placing the event, problem, or issue in the context of religious tenets or moral prescriptions. Different studies on business crisis news coverage (An & Gower, 2009; Valentini & Romenti, 2011) show that attribution of responsibility, economic consequences and conflict are the main frames used.

Nabi (2003, p. 227) considers that the framing of issues may be linked to emotions since they shape one's interpretation and provide an affective insight into the ideas or events. Kim & Cameron (2011) extended Nabi's "emotion-as-frame" hypotheses to the context of corporate crisis situations. They found that the persons exposed to anger-inducing news tended to have more negative attitudes toward the responsible company than those exposed to the sadness-inducing news.

3. Method and research questions

This article explored the main frames, themes and emotions related to the Romanians' protests against Chevron through a qualitative content analysis of the news stories and public's comments in a national daily newspaper (Adevarul) and an international daily newspaper (The Guardian). Our choice for these two outlets has two reasons: Adevarul is the Romanian online newspaper with the highest number of views and unique clients (www.brat.ro), whereas The Guardian, unlike the US media, is the UK newspaper which released two articles on this protest against Chevron. Our analysis covered two periods of time: (1) October (14-17) when the protests started (7 news articles in Adevarul which generated 200 comments and one article in The Guardian from October 21, which generated 35 comments); and (2) December (5-7) when the Romanian police used force against the protesters (6 news articles in Adevarul which generated 340 comments and one article in The Guardian which generated 76 comments).

In our analysis we will use both a deductive and an inductive method. Through a deductive approach we will use Semetko & Valkernburg's frames as analytical variables in order to check to which extend these five frames are visible in the journalists' articles and in the public's comments. Through an inductive approach we will provide an in-depth analysis of the articles and comments in order to emphasize the themes and emotions related to the frames. The emotions, themes, and frames were identified through progressive theoretical sampling (Altheide, 1996). Indicators of emotion (words and syntagms) led to first order concepts (themes) and second order concepts (frames). The two authors served as coders. Both of them read and coded the articles and comments independently and

constantly discussed the findings. This type of checking within a qualitative analysis may serve as the quantitative "inter-coder reliability" and it is essential for meeting the criteria of conformability and credibility (Baxter & Babbie, 2004). The research questions were the following:

RQ1: What were the main frames, themes, and emotions used in the Romanian and UK media on the Romanians' protests against Chevron?

RQ2: Do the public's comments reflect the same frames, themes, and emotions used in the national and international media?

4. Findings

4.1. Conflict, attribution of responsibility, human interest — the most visible frames in the news article

Three frames were the most visible in the two newspapers: conflict, attribution of responsibility, and human interest. Land struggle was the main theme associated with the conflict frame. The news articles described the parties involved (protesters/villagers versus Chevron and police), the reproaches brought to Chevron, and the casualties: "On the early morning of December the 2nd, before sunrise, over 250 gendarmes entered the village of Pungesti, destroyed private property, arrested 50 villagers, beat 2 people up to hospitalization, closed down all access roads, refused the access of the press, didn't let the children of the village go to school" (Adevarul, Dec. 5); "The police and gendarmerie increased their presence and created an exclusion zone, for a while preventing any other protesters from entering the area. When the trucks tried to move in, events turned violent" (The Guardian, Oct. 21).

The vivid descriptions of the land struggle may be closely linked to the attribution of responsibility frame. The types of local, governmental and parliamentary responsibility were the most visible themes associated with this frame. The Romanian newspaper suggested that the local and governmental authorities are responsible for the issue of fracking: "The mayor, accused of blackmail. The villagers from Silistea consider that they were betrayed not only by the county authorities, but also by the local ones" (Adevarul, Oct. 16); "(...) The mayor simply gave all the approvals and left on a long holiday (...)" (Adevarul, Dec. 5); "On October 3, Chevron obtained all the authorizations to drill the first shale gas exploration well in Romania, in the county of Vaslui. The company obtained all the necessary documents from the state authorities to inspect the soil in the area of Silistea" (Adevarul, Oct. 14); "Moreover, the Romanian Parliament is planning to pass a law which will give corporations the right to evict any person from their own land and their own home" (Adevarul, Dec. 5). The UK newspaper mainly focused on the governmental responsibility both for the deal with Chevron and for the violent actions which took place in the Romanian village: "In 2010, Chevron signed a deal with the Romanian government giving it leases for more than two million acres of land in Romania, which it says could hold enough shale gas to make Romania energy independent" (The Guardian, Oct. 21); «Prime minister, Victor Ponta, has responded to anti-fracking protests around the country by saying that "the actions of the gendarmes were 100% according to the law and I congratulate them for this." » (The Guardian, Dec. 5). Besides the theme of local versus governmental responsibility, the theme of urgent action is present in both newspapers. The Romanian news articles mention the urgent actions under the form of a thorough investigation, required by NGOs (ActiveWatch, APADORCH, Militia Spirituala/Spiritual Militia and Funky Citizens) and by the elite representatives, whereas the UK newspaper mentions the investigation demand of the executive director of the Helsinki Committee Association for the defence of human rights in Romania.

The civic groups mentioned in both the Romanian and UK newspapers highlight the human interest frame which mainly focused on compassion. The UK news articles provide "a human face" by going into a villager's private experience of the protest: «Costica Spiridon, 56, a former village mayor, said: "They came on Tuesday morning with their clubs, they shoved me, I fractured a rib."» (The Guardian, Dec. 5). Feelings of outrage and empathy-caring are obtained by the use of vivid descriptions of the elderly victims: "A man in his 70s was forced to the ground and trampled over. He was taken to hospital in critical condition." (The Guardian, Oct. 21) Unlike the UK newspaper which used personal vignettes of the villagers-protesters, the Romanian news articles used the theme of

solidarity for the human interest frame: «The people from Bucharest, solidary with the people from Vaslui: "Pungesti, we are coming!" Hundreds of people protested in many districts of the Capital» (Adevarul, Oct. 16); "

They have mobilized, raised signatures to fire the mayor, made a poll in the village which showed that 98% of its population did not want this kind of exploitation." (Adevarul, Dec. 5).

The UK newspaper used the morality frame by highlighting the role played by the Orthodox priest from this "deeply religious area of Romania" (The Guardian, Oct. 21). The moral messages promoted by the priest were metaphorically represented as "a contemporary invasion" of the corporate enemy. At the same time, he made a plea for peaceful protests.

The Romanian newspaper articles were mainly objective with the exception of two opinion articles which focused on anger-inducing news ("Chevron has been a terrible accomplice of the whole situation: while gendarmes were beating villagers, the employees of Chevron were setting their machines on a land belonging to the village", Adevarul, Dec. 5) and fear-inducing news ("People are scared and have threatened to burn down their homes", Adevarul, Dec. 5).

4.2. Attribution of responsibility, conflict — the most visible frames in online comments

Emotions were more visible in the forum comments and anger was the most pervasive emotion used in the comments. In both newspapers, the anger-inducing comments mainly focused on two frames: attribution of responsibility and conflict. Besides the three levels of responsibility (local, governmental and parliamentary) highlighted in the Romanian and UK newspaper articles, the comments in both newspapers bring forth three more types of responsibility: a) a macro-political responsibility, the 'US versus THEM' theme being the most pervasive; b) a media responsibility by taking the side of the government and Chevron; c) Chevron as an ecological disaster producer. The macro-political responsibility embeds two strands. On the one hand, the comments reveal a clash between the Russian domination or the US colonialism (THEM) and Romania as a slave (US), which is seldom metaphorically framed: "Romania should be treated by the US as a strategic partner and not as a colony (...)" (D.P., Adevarul, Oct. 17); "Let us have a closer look at this fight between the West brown knight ('uncle sam') and the East beast ('the bear') for the innocent and dummy lady (our country) ..." (F.G., Adevarul, Oct. 17). On the other hand, they induce a state of disgust against the EU ignorance: "The EU commission is informed...but they do the same like all the other politicians: nothing!" (A.T., The Guardian, Dec. 5). The media responsibility was rendered by verbal attacks directed against those TV stations and newspapers which made a plea for Chevron or against the journalists who induce subjective frames of the reality: "The Antena 3 station invited Mr. Sarbu and Barbu and both of them were spinning words about 'the law', about the fact that 'it was a mere matter of exploration' and about 'workplaces'" (M.I.T. Adevarul, Oct. 17); "The sub-text to the article seems to be that the locals are simply after more money." (B.M., The Guardian, Oct. 21); "It is an anti-Chevron protest, and not an anti-American uprising. Do not use these sensational headlines." (M.D., Adevarul, Oct. 16). One major fear-inducing theme refers to Chevron as an ecological disaster producer at a global level: "The situation is even more sordid. Chevron is a company which provoked ecological catastrophies wherever they operated. In Canada, California, Germany, Nigeria, Ecuador . " (F.G., Adevarul, Oct. 17).

In both newspapers, the conflict frame focuses on the theme of 'for and against' protesters and Chevron. The siding with the protesters and villagers may be linked to the theme of solidarity as part of the human interest frame. The commenters disagree on the protesters' moral integrity: one side uses anger-inducing comments about the bribery of protesters ("... Who pays these protesters? Don't these people think at the workplaces that may be thus provided, or at the lowering of the gas price?", F.R., Adevarul, Oct. 15), and the other side defends their moral soundness: "They are not paid by anybody. I know some of them personally and I can guarantee for their integrity." (L.O., Adevarul, Oct. 15), "Those people are worried that chemicals used in fracking will poison their wells and rivers and soil. They are mostly old people, why would they want money? to move? move where?" (A.S., The Guardian, Oct. 21). The comments in the Romanian newspaper focus on the media banning of opinions. The commenters reproach the Adevarul journalists that besides misinforming the Romanians with manipulative titles, they also ban their right to the freedom of expression: "I do repeat that it is not nice to ban. I wrote an opinion. If it is bad, let the readers criticize me. I do not agree with shutting one's mouth. It is even worse than during the Russian dominance." (S.Z., Adevarul, Oct. 17).

The morality frame is most visible in the comments of the Romanian newspaper articles. The 'decay state of Romania' theme prevails and it focuses on the lack of civic involvement: ". the country is also to be blamed because the citizens do not involve in the civic actions. Now it is too late, unfortunately, we are harvesting the crops of our idleness." (N.D., Adevarul, Oct. 16); "Is the Romanian people a mere stump? We will see. You may be right because it allowed to be stolen and mocked at by all worldwide trash ..." (V.I., Adevarul, Dec. 7). The counterpart of these comments coincides with some social prescriptions about how to behave in such circumstances. The arguments of a glorious past are used in fright-inducing messages which may be associated with a state of social awakening: "Moldavian yeomen, you are the descendents of Stephen the Great, grab your pitchforks, scythes, and axes and let there be out of the gendarmes what was left of the Poles at the Cosmin forest. Stab the officers and raise a new forest as a remembrance. So do I say." (A.P., Adevarul, Dec. 7)

5. Discussion and conclusions

Unlike previous studies (An & Gower, 2009; Valentini & Romenti, 2011) on business crisis news coverage which highlighted a visibility of attribution of responsibility, economic consequences and conflict frames, our analysis shows that the economic consequences frame is absent from the coverage of the Chevron protests in Romania. The lack of this frame may be linked to the information void created by the US oil corporation, thus allowing journalists and forum commenters speculate about Chevron's fracking activities.

Although the attribution of responsibility and conflict were the most visible frames in the Romanian and UK news articles and forum comments, there were major differences in the themes associated with these two frames. The news articles focused on the land struggle as the main theme of the conflict, whereas the comments brought forth the 'for and against protesters/Chevron' theme as part of the conflict. Unlike the UK forum comments, the Romanian ones revealed the 'media banning of citizens' opinions' theme which induced angry and bitter comments towards the Adevarul journalists. In both newspaper news articles, the attribution of responsibility frame was associated with the local, governmental and parliamentary responsibility. The comments focused on a broader responsibility, revealing either anger-inducing opinions (the macro political responsibility - US, Russia, EU) or fear-inducing opinions (Chevron as a global ecological disaster producer). The Romanian forum commenters tackled upon the responsibility of the media which provide misleading information by sensationalist headlines. The morality frame was mainly visible in the Romanians' forum comments. The citizens' indifference and lack of involvement in social issues was counterbalanced with the solidarity that some commenters urged.

Our analysis highlighted that the coverage of the social protests against multinational corporations should take into account both the news articles and the forum comments because they become discursive means of inducing a bias perspective on the same reality and of calling to action through civic engagement.

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