Table of Contents
2. A Synopsis: Reactions to the Palestinian Application for full U.N. Membership
3. Media Bias: Distorting Issues like the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
.Every message gets distorted when covered in the media...” states Luyendijk (2009, p.236). He concludes that today news is mostly about crisis and demonstrates that journalism is limited to the political system in which it emerged (Luyendijk, 2009, pp.237&239). Is this always the case? Of course, most people are aware of the newspaper they read not being completely objective. Subjective evaluation and plain facts are often fused subtly or unconsciously. When it comes to politics, it seems to be especially difficult for journalists to cover a topic without taking sides. How can one know, then, to which extent the presented information is real or politically biased?
This problem is complicated as the issues dealt with increase in complexity. There is much more to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than a single article can cover. Ever since the beginning of the conflict at around 1900, it has gotten progressively intricate. Today there are more countries involved than Palestine and Israel. Any topic that comes up within this conflict consequently causes contradicting reactions, depending on the side a party supports and its own (political) interests. For instance, a recent issue now launched the discussion anew and inflamed opposite numbers: Palestine’s official request for full U.N. membership. While there are various reasons for governments to be against or in favor of the application, this paper claims that news cannot report on the matter without somehow adopting national political opinions.
This paper, therefore, analyzes in how far the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is politically distorted in the media, using the example of the recent Palestinian application. The main research question - whether or not the media are biased by the political attitude of the journalists’ country - is answered throughout investigating the extent of political staging in newspapers. The first part, thus, deals with the analysis of exemplary articles from main newspapers from the U.S.A. and Qatar. All of them were published within the week after Abbas’ request to the United Nations (23.-30.09.2011) and directly react to it. The U.S. plays an important role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since it tries to mediate between the two parties, but supports Israel. The analysis investigates whether its journalists reflect this attitude. Qatar’s view on the issue, against it, is of interest because Qatar is a two-sided country: very Western on the one hand - wealthiest nation on earth in 2010 along with initiating peace efforts in the conflicts of the Middle East - and yet an Arab emirate with Islam as the predominant religion on the other hand. It has to be understood that, as just some articles, taken from only two countries, form the basis of the examination, it is not representative. It merely serves the purpose of exemplarily showing the (mis)representation of the current issue in the media. This is further discussed in the second part of this paper: the results from the analysis are linked to general academic findings about media bias and taking sides in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Finally, this paper points out that journalists are indeed influenced by and thus limited to the stand of the political system in which they live.
2. A Synopsis: Reactions to the Palestinian Application for full U.N. Membership
One and the same issue can be reported on in completely different ways. On September 23, 2011, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas submitted an official application for full membership of Palestine in the United Nations to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. Palestine has so far only had an observer status and is now hoping to gain all the rights that accompany official recognition of its statehood. However, accepting the request could majorly impact the further development of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; a consequence some welcome whereas others want to prevent it. These are the plain facts.
Nevertheless, or maybe even because, consequences are regarded from contradictory points of view, there is no consensus on the topic in the global media. In how far are newspapers for instance, nonetheless politically biased? In order to find out, the articles from Qatar and the U.S. have to be analyzed in terms of objectivity versus subjectivity and how either one is shown through the heading, the choice of content, language and the tone they use. Examining the titles of the selected articles, according to the mentioned criteria, reveals that four of six American ones are clearly against the Palestinian application or otherwise strongly biased, while only two carry neutral headings. In contrast, four of the six articles from Qatar have rather objective headings, since no emotional or metaphorical language is used. The remaining two headlines side with Palestine and express an anti-American attitude. In the analyzed titles, opinion is mostly conveyed through metaphors or clearly evaluative words, such as “Abbas puts damper on bid to renew talks” (Daraghmeh & Teibel, 2011) and “America’s dangerous game” (Whitbeck, 2011), to name a Qatari example. Another instance of transmitting bias is idioms, in this case used by the USA Today: “Palestinians' end run.. .adds fuel to Mideast fire” (“Palestinians’ end run”, 2011). Throughout strong images or words, headings, therefore, cause people to associate certain emotions. Americans probably feel fear when reading about the “U.S. fading.” (Cooper & Myers, 2011), whereas anyone is alerted by “Risks.” (Horvath, 2011). Unlike prejudiced headlines, the more neutral ones do not use lurid language, but apply an unemotional, matter-of-fact tone. Instead of employing metaphors, these titles mostly consist of dry facts: “UN Security Council to Consider Palestinian Bid Tomorrow” (“UN Security Council”, 2011) or “Answers to key questions...” (Sanders, 2011). All in all, they appear to demonstrate that the American newspapers have a stronger tendency towards (political) bias than the Qatari ones. However, this has yet to be proved.
Therefore, the overall choice of content and the way it is arranged in the articles have to be investigated. Only the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times directly report on the application, while the other four American articles rather focus on the role of the U.S., future peace negotiations or background information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Contentwise merely the USA Today expresses a strong anti-Palestine opinion; e.g. calling Abbas’ application a “ploy” (“Palestinians’ end run”, 2011). Nevertheless, the other articles, although mostly appearing neutral, oppose the application and have hidden remarks against Palestine in general. MacFarquhar and Myers (2011), for instance, state that Israel will be geographically isolated with its (Western) values, because of the Palestinians; an allusion to violence in the Gaza region being Palestine’s fault. Most of the time, there is also obvious praise for the U.S. position in the argument. In contrast, four of the six exemplary Qatari articles primarily deal with Abbas’ request and the application procedure. Just as the two American texts mentioned first, they focus on reasons, consequences, national positions and possible future outcomes of the bid for statehood. However, all but one of the Qatari texts openly side with Palestine; For instance, Karmi (2011) talks about the ‘unquestionable’ advantages of Palestinian statehood. As the American articles make use of pro-Israel quotes, the Qatari ones refer to pro-Palestine speeches and comments.
In summary, it can be said that simply the Qatar News Agency among with the Los Angeles Times published more or less neutral press releases on the issue. All other examined articles are biased, as proved by the type of quotes they select or the way they arrange and combine their material. Daraghmeh and Teibel (2011), for example, state that the Palestinian President will reject any negotiations (omitting that he referred to negotiations without conditions). They further write that international mediators, however, see these as the only way and that the Israeli Prime Minister is supportive of talks. The Qatari articles use just the same strategy and, as against the assumptions, they aren’t less politically prejudiced than the American ones. The Gulf Times argues that Abbas is open for negotiations and next mentions how Netanyahu rejects talks with conditions, which clearly stages Israel as the reluctant party (“UN Security council in talks”, 2011).
To give further proof of most texts’ political subjectivity and few texts’ objectiveness, one must consider language and rhetorical devices as well as the tone of an article. There is a clear distinction between strongly opposing articles, moderate and more balanced or neutral ones. While journalists who openly criticise use an aggressive, provocative and indignant tone, sometimes with a note of frustration or sarcasm, neutral authors mostly apply a cold, matter-of-fact tone that is rather explanatory. Those in between mix emotional writing with an evaluative, sympathetic and level-headed tone. Of course, this can only be proved by the language the author applies, since this is what creates the tone. Here again, most of the biased articles use metaphors and a rather figurative language: “Abbas.. .lighting the fuse that leads to those explosive events”; “Foolish decisions born of frustration.” (“Palestinians’ end run”, 2011) or calling the bid for U.N. membership a “diplomatic theater” (MacFarquhar & Myers, 2011). Authors also back up their pathos with (pseudo) facts, such as Whitbeck (2011) who starts his anti-American article, saying that the number of UN members accepting the Palestinian statehood has risen, “.leaving only 62 UN member states on the wrong side of history and humanity.”. Merely three out of all articles, two being American and one Qatari, actually base their arguments on ‘logos’ and academic data. That way, Karmi (2011) supports Palestine: “A recent BBC survey found majority support for the Palestinian bid in most of 19 countries.”. The other two articles are more or less neutral, which is proved by their literal language - there is no double meaning to it. Whereas all articles - biased, moderate and matter-of-fact - use a concrete, Germanic language, figurative expressions and rhetorical devices are mostly found in biased texts. This way, the reader easily identifies with the ideas the author conveys. In addition to that, a non-academic, colloquial language is immanent in the analyzed articles, which makes them easy to read for the public. This is why “The typical Latinate level of.. .newspapers is 20 percent.” (Rawlins & Metzger, 2009). Hyperboles and concrete verbs are also typical. “.Everyone knows.” (Whitbeck, 2011) and “.. .Negotiations.. .had collapsed” (Cooper & Myers, 2011) make the article more lively for the audience to read on.
In the end, one finds that almost all the investigated articles report on previously selected information, which serves presenting the journalist’s perception of the issue. The choice of quotes, language and tone, majorly influences the audience’s opinion. Even the rather neutral articles, though they give the impression of being trustworthy, reliable and objective, can’t completely avoid siding: “.U.S. officials remain hopeful” (Sanders, 2011) that the ‘right’ decision will be made or “.Abbas praised Qatar for supporting.” (“Abbas lauds”, 2011).
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