Using the body of information it collects and the analysis software programs it develops, the IFO is able to measure the media impact of communication campaigns. The following analysis refers to the example of a historic protest in Quebec: “Colère générale contre le Parti libéral” (“Massive public outrage against the Liberal Party”). A coalition opposed to privatization and fees on public services (Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics”) who organized this protest gathered around 140 community, student, union, feminist, populist and ecologist organizations based in Quebec. This event led to the most violent confrontation between protesters and the police in Quebec history.
The protest received extensive media coverage and represented a significant percentage of news productions for several days as shown in this diagram comparing the number of articles about the Coalition’s event with the total number of articles gathered by the IFO.
In terms of visibility, it is difficult to imagine better coverage for an activist rally. On Saturday, 5 May, almost 10% of the news we collected by using our system were devoted to this protest, almost 7% on Sunday, 6 May. Quebec media reported on the issue for several days; the protest represented 1% to 2% of the content published between 7 and 11 May.
Between 4 and 11 May, almost 300 media items addressing this matter were collected by our system, thus generating a total of over 40 000 shares on Facebook and more than 3000 on Twitter. The Coalition’s protest was considered the most important news story in Quebec during at least 48 hours for traditional media as well as for social networks.
From this perspective, the Coalition’s event can be considered a success in terms of undeniable visibility, but to what extent were the violent aspects of the protest placed in the spotlight rather of the Coalition’s claims and propositions? To answer this question, we must distinguish between the visibility of the riot and the visibility of the message delivered by the Coalition. Only a dozen of about 300 media items collected referenced terms such as “pricing,” the Coalition’s main issue. Hence, our analysis focused on the latter body of news stories obtained by isolating the content that presented at least one occurrence of the word “pricing.” A diagram depicting the information flow for this group of news stories published between May 4 and 11 is shown below.
Besides the low number of news stories mentioning the word “pricing,” the flow diagram indicates that at the peak of media coverage on May 5 and 6, when more then 150 media items were published about this event, only two referenced the term “pricing.” In addition thereto, after reading these articles, one quickly realises that the term “pricing” (“tarification”) is only mentioned because the articles refer to the full name of the organization setting up the event, “la Coalition opposée à la tarification et à la privatisation des services publics.” None of these articles talk about the pricing of public services. The violence of the confrontations between protesters and the police completely over-shadowed the issue.
In this context, the title of a press release published on May 8 by a member of the Coalition perfectly portrays the place occupied by violent acts committed during the protest at the expense of the Coalition’s message: “Protests outside the Liberal Party general council meeting in Victoriaville: A message suffocated by tear gas” (translated from French: Manifestation au Conseil général du Parti libéral du Québec à Victoriaville – Un message étouffé par les gaz”).
In a nutshell, despite large media coverage, journalists have not highlighted the “pricing of public services,” the main issue defended by the Coalition. They instead focused on the violent acts committed during the riot. Considering this kind of framing, it is difficult to imagine that the media coverage made the public more aware of the dangers of pricing public services as outlined by the Coalition. It is even more difficult to imagine that the public was made aware of the solutions the Coalition put forward in terms of managing public funds.
However, as for the goal of demonstrating their anger directed at the Quebec Liberal Party, one could argue that the Coalition has not failed, even though it was surpassed by the events. On the communications level, the Coalition waited until May 9, five days after the event, before publishing a second press release. Therefore, the Coalition failed to have an impact during the peak of news coverage on May 5 and 6.
The protest in Victoriaville and its impact on media coverage have negatively affected the Liberal Party’s public relations with regard to the general council meeting. The conclusions and the general message of the Liberal Party following this council meeting would have probably generated more attention by both the media and the public if there had not been the event organized by the Coalition. In terms of agenda setting, one could call it a semi-victory. Even though the Coalition did not succeed in getting its message out to the population, its event contributed to blocking the Liberal Party’s message. And the public was able to measure the anger that part of the population feels against this party and how far some of the protesters are willing to go.
Rocheleau, S. (2012). Tactiques de communication et retombées médiatiques de la manifestation “Colère générale contre le gouvernement libéral ”. Commposite, 15(2), 33–47.