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Surveillance normalization and critique: News coverage and journalists’ discourses around the Snowden revelations

Wahl-Jorgensen, Karin ORCID:, Bennett, Lucy K. ORCID: and Cable, Jonathan 2017. Surveillance normalization and critique: News coverage and journalists’ discourses around the Snowden revelations. Digital Journalism 5 (3) , pp. 386-403. 10.1080/21670811.2016.1250607

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In the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s leaks about “bulk data collection” by the NSA and GCHQ, questions about mass surveillance have come to the forefront of public debate. This paper, based on (a) a comprehensive content analysis of newspaper coverage, and (b) interviews with journalists covering stories related to surveillance in the UK, outlines a key tension between journalists’ self-understandings and practices which has profound consequences: On the one hand, we suggest, media coverage contributes to normalizing surveillance by emphasizing concerns about national security and stressing the surveillance of elites, to the detriment of an interest in the gathering of “bulk data” on populations. On the other hand, journalists, though acknowledging national security concerns, are frequently critical of and resistant to the extent, nature and necessity of mass surveillance. Our paper suggests that despite journalists’ desire to communicate the complexities of mass surveillance, the structural constraints of their professional practice - in particular their reliance on official sources – make it difficult for reporting to move beyond the legitimating discourses provided by these official sources.

Item Type: Article
Date Type: Publication
Status: Published
Schools: Journalism, Media and Culture
Uncontrolled Keywords: content analysis; interviews; journalism; mass surveillance; national security; objectivity; Snowden; surveillance
Publisher: Taylor & Francis
ISSN: 2167-0811
Date of First Compliant Deposit: 6 December 2016
Date of Acceptance: 17 October 2016
Last Modified: 07 Nov 2023 07:44

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