Integrative Disruption: The Rescue of the 33 Chilean Miners as a Live Media Event

Integrative Disruption: The Rescue of the 33 Chilean Miners as a Live Media Event

César Jiménez-Martínez (London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), UK)
Copyright: © 2016 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9967-0.ch005
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Generally speaking, the study of media events as tools of political communication seems to have mainly focused on “integrative” events, such as sports competitions or staged celebrations (e.g. Dayan & Katz, 1992; Rivenburgh, 2010). Lately, there have also been calls to study “disruptive” situations, particularly terrorist acts (e.g. Katz & Liebes, 2007). Limited attention has been paid to the role that natural disasters or other catastrophes may play in this realm (e.g. Cottle, 2011). My chapter attempts to contribute in the latter line, focusing on the rescue of the Chilean miners of October 2010 and which arguably became one of the most relevant media events of recent history. Using Critical Discourse Analysis to examine the narratives constructed during the live coverage by local television station TVN and global broadcaster BBC World News, this chapter argues that, from a theoretical point of view, traditional categories such as “integrative” or “disruptive” appear to be ill equipped to deal with the current complexity of media events. In addition, despite the different accounts constructed by local and global media, media events seem to be much more cohesive and restricted to what has been recently argued by some scholars (e.g. Hepp & Couldry, 2010). Thus, it appears that governments can potentially use catastrophes to build narratives useful to advance different political, economic or cultural purposes. However, in order to reach that cohesion, a series of controversial issues are left out of these narratives, for instance, in this case, the responsibility of the owners of the mine in the accident, the poor security conditions of the excavation site or the fierce control of communications imposed by the government.
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We are not heroes and they are not heroes. They are victims of bad working conditions. And the bad management of the mine. (Lily Gómez, wife of Mario Gómez, one of the 33 trapped miners, interviewed in Macqueen, 2011)

It may not commonly be taken into account, but the different theoretical approaches toward media events should always be viewed in relation to the wider political and sociocultural contexts in which they emerge. As Dayan admits (2008), when he and Elihu Katz published Media Events: The Live Broadcasting of History (1992), their emphasis on hegemony, integration and reconciliation was partly influenced by the mood of the aftermath of the Cold War, particularly the ideas popularized at that time by Francis Fukuyama about the ‘end of history’ (1992). Similarly, later revisions made to the concept, which argued that traumatic events such as terrorism, disaster and war were taking centre stage in detriment of more celebratory occasions (e.g. Katz & Liebes, 2007), were an answer to 9/11 and the subsequent War on Terror (Sun, 2014, p. 459).

Although these and other similar revisions have represented a significant contribution in pushing forward the understanding of media events, they have also been dominated by a mostly Westocentric or ‘Northern’ perspective. As such, they have paid limited attention to approaches coming from other regions, which on occasion may provide divergent accounts. For instance, some examples from China have demonstrated that the classic model of media events, which aims to celebrate national unity in a ceremonial way, has not been completely upstaged by traumatic occurrences, but is in fact ‘still alive’ (Cui, 2013, p.1220; see also Sun, 2014).

This chapter will problematize some current perspectives concerning disasters and media events, using a remarkable ‘Southern’ episode as a case study: the broadcast of the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners in October 2010. Watched live by an estimated audience of 1 billion spectators around the world, the rescue has been considered a historical media event as well as a source of inspiration and feel-good for people (Bachman, 2010; Brooks, 2010; Stanford, 2010). Despite this high visibility, it remains an understudied episode. A quick glance at the literature shows that only a few works have attempted to analyse it (e.g. Ferry, 2011; Malešević, 2013; Philips, 2011; Prieto Larraín, 2011; Scandura & Sharif, 2013; Useem, Jordán & Koljatic, 2013). Interestingly, while all these works have agreed on the key role played by media organisations, with few exceptions (e.g. Rossi, Magnani & Iadarola, 2011), the contribution of media and communication studies to a better understanding of this episode appears to be minimal.

Based on an analysis of videos of the live broadcast by the Chilean station TVN and BBC News, I will argue that this case suggests that, in spite of what some authors have recently proposed, the conceptualisation of media events should leave behind the categorisation between ‘integrative’ and ‘disruptive’. In addition, it appears that the inclusion of global media organisations in what used to be mostly national events does not guarantee that alternative or disruptive accounts will be given a voice. Finally, this story is a reminder of the potential political uses disasters may have, such as this case, in which the communicative controls imposed by the government and the responsibility of the company owning the mine were overlooked in order to benefit the Chilean authorities.

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