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FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam

Cyber Satire and the Quest for Alternative Communicative Spaces New Media in Zimbabwean Diasporas

Awarded: NOK 2.6 mill.

The project Cyber Satire studied editorial cartoons in Zimbabwean media and in online media for the Zimbabwean diaspora. One of the aims of this project has been to analyse online editorial cartoons and study how the editorial cartoons function in online Zimbabwean news media for the diaspora population. Editorial cartoons may pinpoint complex political processes. They may characterise controversial politicians, simplify criticism of complex political issues or give voice to the public's criticism of politicians, political issues or political processes. Editorial cartoons may illustrate general views on complex or hidden political processes. Editorial cartoonists may voice harsh political commentaries and criticism in a humours manner, without taking the crux out of the criticism. Editorial cartoons constitute a significant part of the political commentary in news media, and an additional arena to voice the editorial view on a particular stance. One of the aims of the Cyber Satire project has been to map and document the development of editorial cartoons from early Rhodesian media and particular satirical publications, via particular times in Zimbabwean media history when the editorial cartoons proved to be elements in the public political debate, from the liberation struggle in the 1970s to Independence in 1980, to the establishment of exile online media for the Zimbabwean diaspora in the 2000s. The historical perspective has been significant for understanding the development of editorial cartoons in online news media. Editorial cartoons in online media for the diaspora continue the long tradition from the media in pre-Independence Rhodesia to the media in independent Zimbabwe from 1980 onwards. Editorial cartoons were significant in the early phases of the setting up of online news media for the diaspora after the Zimbabwean crisis in 2000 and the early years of the 2000s. One significant trait of the crisis was that serious infringements in freedom of speech and press freedom, the forced closedown of several key news media, lead to a number of Zimbabwean news editors and journalists establishing independent news media outside of Zimbabwe. The target audience was the exodus of Zimbabweans who left the country, but the themes of the news reporting was mainly news as it evolved inside Zimbabwe. This can be seen also in the themes found in the editorial cartoons in these media in the project period. During the controversial 2008 elections in Zimbabwe, editorial cartoons became key bearers of the online news media's political stance. The editorial cartoons were frequently commented in the comments fields of the news media's Internet pages. Throughput the project period, the frequency of editorial cartoons has varied. The 2008 elections constituted the peak of editorial cartoons being published, but the editorial cartoons have continued to be published throughout the project period. Despite the fact that several key online media for the Zimbabwean diaspora were closed down during the project period, I was able to document a steady publication flow of editorial cartoons that commented on political events and processes inside Zimbabwe. Editorial cartoons with topics from the diaspora were more or less absent from these online news media. A small number of editorial cartoons commented on events in the southern African region, if there was a particular relevance to Zimbabwe. As the project progressed, key Zimbabwean online news media also established their own Facebook pages, where the editorial cartoons were published and discussed. In this manner, the discussion of the editorial cartoons fed into the various diaspora communities. Editorial cartoons may trigger laughter, anger or insight, among other things. Editorial cartoons are not merely a laughing matter, however. Editorial cartoons in online news media constitute a lively and controversial genre, in particular in political situations where freedom of speech and media freedom are under pressure, and in times of increased political conflict.

The primary aim of this project is to study how diasporic communities of Zimbabweans in exile make creative use of new means of communication, particularly social media, in their quest to establish communicative spaces for themselves as well as maintain c lose ties to their country of origin. Political cyber satire and community communication will be the main areas of content investigation. This will provide new insight in the role of political satire as a political tool in its own right in diasporic comm unication, as well as provide new insight into the content of and deliberations in social media networks. This project will thus challenge the national and Western focus that so far has characterised much research on social media and communication, as wel l as challenge the one-sided focus on news and news deliberations in research into diasporic communication networks. Furthermore, the diasporic communities will be explored by means of online media ethnographies.

Funding scheme:

FRIHUMSAM-Fri hum og sam