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Mediating Post-Soviet Difference

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"Ethnicity, Race and Nationalism in European Media and Film: Rights, Responsibilities, Representations"

Over 90 people gathered for three days from 23 to 25 May 2013 in The Chancellors Hotel Conference Centre in Manchester to discuss issues of ethnicity, race and nationalism in media and film. The aim of the conference was to facilitate a cross-cultural, comparative study of the impact of media and film on the playing out of the “crisis of multiculturalism” in West and East European societies, and to analyse the similarities and differences in media and cinematic approaches to ethnic cohesion issues throughout Europe.

Two of the five keynote speakers came from outside academia. Richard Stone OBE was a panel member of the 'Stephen Lawrence Inquiry' into racism in policing (1997/99) and recently published a book called 'Hidden stories of the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry – how the agenda of a major Inquiry gets undermined'. In his lecture, Stone demonstrated the controversial and complex nature of the media involvement in this case. The second speaker from the field of practice, Henri Nickels, described the activities of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights in Vienna, for which he works as a Programme Manger for Research.

Not all of the “conventional” academic keynote speakers were conventional in how they approached their talks. Sabrina P. Ramet from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim entertained the audience with an impromptu performance of a song for Tito. In her talk on the role of the ethnic factor in the break-up of Yugoslavia, Ramet looked at how the media were used by nationalist politicians in Serbia and Croatia in order to politicize ethnic and religious identities. John Downing from the Department of Radio-Television, Southern Illinois University, chose an ironic title for his talk:“Reflections on racisms, ethnicities and media in a brand-new post-racist Europe”However, the lecture went well beyond irony and appealed to scholars to adopt a more activist approach to ensuring responsible media coverage of issues relating to race and ethnicity. Downing also described his own experience as a researcher on racism and the media, and as an activist protesting against racial prejudices in US academia and beyond. Marie Gillespie (The Open University, UK) shared with the conference participants the results of her AHRC-funded research on the relationship between international broadcasting in the UK (BBC foreign services) and social media. Her lecture had the intriguing title “Tweeting the Olympics: The BBC World Service, British Soft Power and Cosmopolitan Imagination”.

The 21 panels covered a wide variety of issues around ethnicity, race and nationalism in European media. An important topic was media presentations of multiculturalism. One panel explored the relationships between social cohesion and trends in the use and production of media in the UK as well as media approaches to the coverage of migration during the 2010 UK general elections. Humour on the small screen was explored through two papers on the representation of Romani people in Finnish television sketch series and Indian families in UK television. Both papers highlighted the difficulties entailed in moving beyond objectification and stereotype in comic television depictions of ethnic minorities. Papers throughout the conference discussed questions related to immigration and integration, as presented, for example, in Austrian crime series and British soap operas.

Racism was discussed in its appearances online, in the press and on television screens. A topic elaborated in two papers was the racial subtexts of media coverage of recent urban riots in Russia and the UK. Some Q&A sessions turned into animated discussions, for example around the question of where researchers should situate ethical boundaries when carrying out fieldwork among groupings on the far-right, such as the English Defence League. A lively debate also developed over the extent to which it is permissible to generalise about ‘the media’ when analysing anti-Islamic discourse. It was argued that television is very different from the popular press, and that what is true of broadcasters in one country does not necessarily apply to others. Another discussion evolved around terminology used in analyses of representation of Roma when many objected to the binary use of Roma versus the civic term of the country they live in, as this, so it was argued, discursively excludes the Roma from their respective nationalities.

The notion of Europe as understood in this conference went beyond the boundaries of the European Union and included Russia, other countries of the former Soviet Union and Turkey. Papers included media and film depiction of ethnic relations and nation building in post-Communist countries, such as civil society in the Belarusian press, Buddhism in Buriyatian media and cinematic presentations of bride kidnapping in Kyrgyz tradition. Turkish media were discussed in relation to the Kurdish question and minority filmmaking in Turkey.

An important conference topic was the depiction of ethnicity, nationalism and race in cinematic productions. One paper argued that blaxploitation films were more than violent low-brow B-movies and suggested that their positive roles were often overlooked in a foregrounding of their violence and sexually explicit content. Recent film theory was applied to an analysis of Claire Denis's35 Shots of Rum, set in the suburbs of Paris, and theories of exile and diaspora to an analysis of the Spanish film,Even the Rain. Other papers on film included an exploration of nationalism in Serbia and the cinematic representation of Roma.

It is hoped that selected paper from the conference will form the basis of two journal special issues.

Below are some of the papers presented at the conference:

Conference programme (pdf)


Below are some of the papers presented at the conference:

Media representations of Polish migrants in Spain and in Britain

How to communicate integration conflicts

Russian media and the politics of belonging

Branding the unadaptables. The discoursive construction of Roma in Czech media

Othering for a better consuming

Mirrored nationalism. Spanish and Belgian newspapers depicting the others’ conflict

Orientalism in the mediated portrayals of India and Ukraine

Women under (Domi) nation: The Manipulation of Gender Imagery in Former Yugoslavia




"Race and Ethnicity in the Russian Media: Rights, Responsibilities and Representations"

Public debate, The Frontline Club, London, Thursday, 18 October 2012

The recent explosion of migration flows across the world, the crisis in which established models of multiculturalism find themselves in Europe and elsewhere, and the current global financial and economic crisis have combined to raise the prominence of issues of race and ethnicity in most nations. Russia is second only to the USA in the number of migrants it receives each year. Moreover, it is still living through the consequences of the collapse of the multi-ethnic Soviet state, and remains one of the most ethnically diverse countries in Europe. It also operates a model of multiculturalism that is unique to it. For these reasons, the issues are manifested vividly in Russia, as evidenced by the steady rise in ethnically and racially motivated hate crimes it has experienced, the continuing influence on its political culture of extremist nationalist groupings, and the enduring legacy of peculiarly Soviet conceptions of the relationship between race, ethnicity and nation. The shocking outbreak of violence against ‘non-Slavic’ people which occurred in Moscow and throughout the Russian Federation in December 2010, and the fact that Putin devoted one of his pre-election manifesto articles in March 2012 to ‘The National Question’ offer recent confirmation of the stakes.

As in other societies, the media in Russia play a crucial role both in exacerbating the tensions which the ‘national question’ arouses (the spread of racial hate language and nationalist extremism on the internet; the use of ethnic profiling and racial stereotyping in crime reporting), and in fostering inter-ethnic cohesion and harmony (national policies on promoting diversity and equality in broadcasting). Here, too, the precarious condition of media freedom under Putin, combined with the dramatic increase in the use of social media and other new technologies, make Russia a particularly interesting case study.

The purpose of this event was to involve practicing journalists from Russia, along with academics from both countries, in a discussion of these phenomena. Drawing on the cross-cultural, comparative dimension that such an occasion affords, we attempted to answer questions such as to what extent are the broadcast media aggravating inter-ethnic tensions in Russia today, how serious a threat to social cohesion in that country are extremist websites, blogs and other new media forms of global and national provenance, are ethnic and racial minorities accorded appropriate rights to representation in Russia’s national broadcasting system, what, if anything, can Russian journalists learn about reporting in this sensitive area from their counterparts in other European countries, what are the conceptual frames to which Russian journalists resort when covering this area and what are their consequences.

Speakers: Aleksandr Verkhovsky, SOVA (Moscow); Anton Volskiy, NTV Channel (London); Aleksandr Khabarov, Russian TV Channel “Rossiya” (London); Dmitry Linnik, The Voice of Russia UK (London); Oksana Vozhdaeva, BBC Russian (Moscow); Alexey Malashenko, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (Moscow); Viktor Muchnik (Tomsk TV-2), and Viktor Shnirelman (Russian Academy of Sciences).

Report on the public debate in the Russian Journal of Communication


BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Thinkers 2012:

Sue-Ann Harding, the formerproject RA, has been chosen as one of 10 winners of BBC Radio 3’s New Generation Thinkers 2012.

Originally from Australia, Sue-Ann Harding was a migrant in the UK at the University of Manchester researching Russia's Beslan hostage disaster, and is now an expat in Qatar at Hamad Bin Khalifa University.

Expat or Immigrant

Sue-Ann Harding gave a talk entitled Expat or Immigrant at the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival which took place at The Sage Gateshead Friday 2 - Sunday 4 November.

Monuments to history

In the short film Monuments to history, Sue-Ann Harding urges us to consider how states might use monuments to influence our perceptions of historical events, as she examines a monument to the victims of the 2004 Beslan school hostage crisis.



BBC Monitoring Workshop Thursday May 10 2012

We were delighted to be able to follow up our visit to BBC Monitoring last year (see below) with a joint University of Manchester/BBC Monitoring workshop held at Caversham Park. The group of PhD students and staff from Manchester gave brief presentations on the following topics:

Ilya Yablokov (Conspiracy Theories in Contemporary Russia: Putin’s Re-election)

Irina Clarke (Shifting Conceptualisations of ‘Civil Society’ in Belarusian Media Discourse)

Dr Madeleine Reeves (Migrant workers in Moscow)

Precious Chatterje-Doody (Elite Conceptions of Security: History, Identity and Russian Foreign Policy in the 21st Century)

Emma Heywood (Television News Coverage of the Middle East Conflict: Russia, France, Britain)

Vera Tolz and Stephen Hutchings (Television Coverage of Putin’s Pre-Election article on ‘The National Question’)

and staff from BBC Monitoring also shared their expertise:

Peter Marshall (The Role of Twitter in Russia's Protest Movement)

Jack Mitchell (LiveJournal's Impact on Real Life in Russia)

Stephen Ennis (YouTube and the rise and fall of the Russian opposition)

Each presentation was followed by lively and stimulating discussion and overall, was a most enjoyable and worthwhile experience. We hope to be able to continue and nurture this collaboration in the future, possibly by a similar workshop held here in Manchester.


Visit to BBC Monitoring

On Wednesday 20 April 2011 we travelled to Reading to visit the team of Russian media monitors and analysts working at BBC Monitoring, Caversham Park. We were made most welcome and spent a very enjoyable and productive day taking a tour of the site and speaking with people about their work. During the lunch hour, we gave a brief presentation outlining our research project, including some very preliminary observations made from our quantitative analysis of Russian daily news programmes and from our case study material on the December 2010 street violence in Manezhnaia Square, Moscow. Our audience was interested and knowledgable and the question and answer session provided some very useful feedback.


International debate: ‘Is European Multiculturalism in Crisis?’

The international debate on the topic ‘Is European Multiculturalism in Crisis?’ was held at the University of Manchester on 23 March 2011. Participants included:

Nicolas Bancel (Université de Lausanne)

Mary Dejevsky (Chief Editorial Writer and Columnist, The Independent)

Jon Gower Davies (writer), Kenan Malik (Writer, Broadcaster)

Tariq Modood (Director of Bristol University Research Centre for the Study of Ethnicity and Citizenship)

Erik van Ree (University of Amsterdam)


Official Project Launch

Thank-you to all of those who came to the official launch of the project, which took place on Tuesday May 17th from 4pm to 6pm at University Place, room 4.204.

As well as introducing the project aims and objectives, each member of the project team also spoke about how the work is going, and presented a few preliminary observations.

We were delighted to be able to welcome our specially invited guest Dr Elizabeth Teague, a Senior Analyst at the Russian Desk of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Elizabeth spoke about her work and her interest in the topics investigated by the project, particularly contemporary manifestations of nationalism in Russia.

The launch was open to the public and, after a brief question and answer session, discussions continued during the wine reception. Thanks to all who expressed such interest in the project




Koreans march for Jesus