The Study Of The Language Of Media Media Essay
In recent years, there has been a vast amount of research devoted to the study of the language of media (Matheson: 2005; Holland: 2006) and the structure of the news (Bell and Garrett 1998). The media as we well know is made up of words. Cotter (2003) describes that before a child is 18, he/she may have consumed 10,000 hours of talk from just television viewing, and that is only one aspect of the media. Others include newspapers, advertising, internet and radio.
The ‘news’, I believe, is very powerful. Because it defines the nationality of a country, it makes its way into the hands of politicians or a government and into the hands of the people. It could help correct a particular situation in a nation. However, the greater concern about the news is - does it reflect the world as journalists and news reporters often claim they do?
Linguist researchers such as Gialdino (2007) and Economist researchers such as Xang and Sarvary (2007) have researched and concluded that news often do not mirror the world. More importantly, Xang and Sarvary (2007: 1) explained in clear terms that news reporters and journalists know that “consumers want to read (watch) news that is consistent with their tastes or prior beliefs rather than the truth.” So in order to suit their taste, the truth must be modified.
For this essay, I will examine three different news paper reports of a shelling of a Palestinian home that resulted to the death of four girls in Gaza, Israel. The news reports include the Jerusalem Post- written in Israel, The Guardian newspaper- written in Britain and Aljazeera television- broadcasted in Quatar. The reports were published on 4th and 5th February 2009 respectively.
Dijk, in his paper, Structure in the news press said that there is a “systematic relationship between news text and context.” My plan therefore is to critically examine how ‘same’ events and participants in different contexts are represented in the news reports above. Furthermore, I will examine the report paying particular attention to the contents and structures of the new reports and equally the audience interpretation of the texts.
In addition, my plan for this essay is to critically examine the reports with the use of a media discourse analysis approach developed by Bell (1998)
THE FRAMEWORK AND THE STRUCTURE OF THE NEWS.
Based on Labov’s frame work of Personal Narratives, Bell (1998) proposes a framework for analysing new stories.
The structure of news stories, he said, consist of three key components. These are attribution, abstract and the story Proper. The attribution consists of the name of an agency or a journalist. It basically has to do with the source of any news stories which is not very often explicit in texts. The abstract consists of the headline and the lead sentences. The headline has described by Dijk in his paper ‘New structures of the press’ says it has a specific thematic function and that is “it usually expresses the most important topic of the news item.” On the other hand the lead summarizes the main points of what happened. The story proper includes major events that are narrated in the news. It shed more light or expatiates on the headline and the lead. The story proper is subdivided into episodes and events. In the events, there are the attribution, settings (time and place), actors, actions, back ground, commentary and follow up (consequences and reaction). The background includes the previous episodes or histories. It refers to the past events that occurred before the current action in the news. Commentary is the journalist or the new report’s assessments, evaluation and expectations on a particular event. It thus provides a contextual knowledge to help a reader understand the story. Follow-up consists of consequences and reactions by other parties after the main action of an event. Bell (1998) calls this component ‘event in future time’.
Bell also writes on two topics which are the “discourse structure of the news” and the “event structure of the news.” The former examines chronologically how events are ordered in the news. This will be discussed in the latter part of this essay. The latter examines the temporal sequence and the place structure of a text. This is however a problem factor in comprehending any news story.
News stories, generally, do not follow a chronological time sequence “instead they are organized in terms of the perceived news value, recency and negativity” Kong (2006:7). MacDougall quoted by Thomas et al (2008: 27) summarises the whole typical structure of the news saying: “the climax or end of the story comes first. Given a schedule of facts to arrange in the form of a newspaper article, the writer selects the most important fact or climax of the story and puts it at the beginning. The second most important fact comes second, the third most important fact third and soon.” This quote by MacDougall gives salience to the “inverted-pyramid structure” or the “top-down principle structure” that organizes events in term of importance and not of time.
The Palestinian-Israel conflict has been a major dispute in the world today. The disagreement between these two countries over the issue of security, control of land, water rights, boarders have lead to several wars being fought that led to the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis. The conflict still continues today without a resolution with the Jewish state occupying almost 78% of the land and Palestine holding on to 22%. Peace makers such as Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish are trying to work together to steer peace among the countries
In February 2009, an unfortunate event was reported in the news. The story is about Dr Izzeldin Abuelaish whose house was bombed by the Israeli military force. The shell, as reported, left three of his daughters dead and his niece.
In this essay, I will examine how the event was represented in three newspapers across cultures. The first newspaper is Jerusalem Post, an Israeli newspaper, the second is the Guardian a British newspaper and the third is Aljazeera, a TV network in Qatar.
After my findings, I will attempt to answer the questions below:
Are there salient differences in the representation of events and participants?
What effects might these differences have upon audience interpretations?
How might such differences be explained?
FINDINGS AND DISCUSSIONS/ ANALYSIS OF THE REPORTS.
In this section, I will analyse the three news reports in order to examine how events and participants are represented and presented to the audience for consumption. Firstly, I will examine the ‘Headline’ and the ‘Lead statement’ before analysing the background, follow-up and commentary.
REPRESENTATION OF EVENTS.
HEADLINES AND LEADS
Headlines as written by Develotte and Rechniewski in their paper “Discourse analysis of newspaper headlines: a methodological framework for research into national representations: “reach an audience considerably wider that those who read the articles”. This is because they are the most salient and their impact is stronger that those who buy the newspaper. They are glanced at shops, train stations without reading the contents. This mere glimpse, in effect, can make a casual observer draw wrong conclusions on a particular subject.
The below headlines and leads are extracted from the newspapers.
Tank shells killed doctor’s daughters
The IDF concluded Wednesday that Israeli tank shells caused the deaths of four Palestinian girls, including three daughters of Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, when his house was accidentally attacked on January 16, during Operation Cast Lead. – Jerusalem Post
Israeli army says shelling of house where girls died was 'reasonable'
Israel's military last night admitted that one of its tanks killed three girls at their home in Gaza during last month's war in a case that shocked the Israeli public, but said the shelling was "reasonable." – The Guardian
Israel: Girls' killing ‘reasonable'
The Israeli military has admitted shelling the home of a Palestinian doctor during its Gaza offensive and killing three of his daughters, but said its soldiers' actions were “reasonable" considering the circumstances. – Aljazeera news.
What event in the lead are included/excluded in the headline and is the headline a valid representation of the lead?
The Jerusalem Post’s headline narrates one event and that is the killing of a ‘doctor’s daughters.’ If we examine the headline closely, it writes ‘Tank Shells killed...’ but does not state who shot the tank shell. This is called agent deletion. Because the headline reaches the audience first, the newspaper purposely avoids making salience that it was an Israeli’s tank shell. Its goal, I believe, was to save the reputation of the government. Despite this, the lead story expatiates on the report and it is made clear to the audience that it was an Israeli tank and not, probably, a Palestine’s tank.
Following this disclosure of information, the report then states that it was not a deliberate act but rather an ‘accident.’ The verb ‘killed’ in the headline is replaced with the phrase ‘caused the deaths’. Therefore, it detaches Israel from the heinous act of killing.
Unlike the Jerusalem Post, the Guardian’s headline gives salience to ‘Israeli army’. It does not attempt to conceal their crime. Also, the headline is an indirect speech which may show a degree of authentication but as Fairclough (1995) puts it, it may just be the reporter’s voice that has been transformed to suit his/her own aim or point of view. Furthermore, the guardian’s lead offers no form of ‘causality’ and the sentence could be likened to a confession statement with the verb ‘admitted’. The lead here did not state that it was ‘accidental’ therefore might represent the shelling as a ‘purposeful act’. There is no reference to the Palestinian doctor which gives more importance to the girls. Interestingly, the report also tells us that the ‘shelling’ was reasonable and not the soldiers’ actions. This oxymoron may create a mental picture of bloodshed, explosion and violence in the audiences’ mind and having to state that such hideous cruelty is ‘reasonable’ is purely unpleasant and would stir negative reactions in the audience.
Aljazeera’s headline is apparently vague. It presents a generalization. The word ‘Israel’ brings to mind the government of Israel and it presents the government as agreeing to the murder o f some girls or sees the killing of some girls as a sensible decision to take.
The lead story is similar to the Guardian report as they both used the verb “admitted”. The verb is in deep contrast with the verb ‘concluded’ that was written in Jerusalem post. This will be discussed shortly.
Aljazeera’s lead tells the audience that the Israeli military admitted to shelling the home of ‘a Palestinian doctor’. This statement does not reflect the headline. Firstly, the lead gives more salience to the Palestinian doctor but the headline gives salience to Israel and the girls. Secondly, as we examine from the lead, the ‘killing’ of the three girls is joined by a conjunction: ‘and’. This conjunction therefore presents the event as an additional event but not the main event. The lead also stated why the soldiers’ actions were considered reasonable unlike the guardian that did not. Here, the headline (Aljazeera) does not reflect the lead in whole.
What events in the story are included and excluded in the lead and is the lead a valid representation of the whole story?
The guardian’s lead wrote that the ‘shelling’ was ‘reasonable’ but it did not explain why the Israeli military said it was. It gives no extra detail for the Israeli military to justify their actions. It is not when we get to the second half of the report do we understand the main reason for their statement. This reason was excluded from the lead. This is because the writer solely wants to represent them as the criminals to the audience.
In addition, Aljazeera’s lead, I believe, is slightly a good representation of the story. It made reference to the three girls, the Palestinian doctor and explained the military’s reason for stating it was ‘reasonable.’ These events were fairly accounted in the story.
The Jerusalem post’s story proper did not represent the whole story in its lead and headline. This exclusion may be because they want to justify the military’s action, and the inclusion of implicating details may damage the country. So, in the Jerusalem post report, all implicating sentences were backgrounded, for example, the statement about the death of innocent civilians as ‘reasonable’, which is highly unacceptable, is therefore seen at the last part of the report. This suggests its level of importance. In contrast, the Guardian and Aljazeera reports place it on top which suggests its significance and weight.
BACKGROUND AND FOLLOW UP.
In appendices 1& 3, background is shown closely in the Jerusalem Post, and slightly in the Aljazeera report. The background of the Jerusalem post is very interesting to consider. Here, it was reported that Abuelaish was warned by an authority to leave the war-zone area but, from the text, the Doctor refused to heed to this warning. The report, therefore, attributes faults to the doctor for not heeding to authority. It also, I believe, wants to share the blame between the Israeli military and the Doctor, or it wants the audience to see him as an unwise person. Such backgrounding is not seen in Aljazeera and the Guardian.
‘Mistakes can happen’ and ‘I was always sure my case was just’
The first phrase written above is in the Jerusalem Post. The sentence s12, I believe, represents Abuelaish as one who has accepted his fate and as forgotten about the issue. However, this is not the case in the second phrase (guardian report s7) that represented him as a man in search of justice and as found it. In my opinion, I believe this is a ‘strategy’ used by the writer of the Jerusalem Post to allow the audience not to dwell on the issue any longer after all the victim has forgotten about it.
DISCOURSE REPRESENTATION OF PARTICIPANTS.
The table below shows the News actors, Speech verb/ verbs and the type of process used in all three texts.
Speech Verbs/ verbs
Said (Framing) 4x
IDF Spokesman Unit
Gaza coordination and Liaison Administaration
The Jerusalem Post and the Guardian reports attribute journalists as the writer of the text. These are Yaakov Katz and Rory McCarthy. Aljazeera’s report makes no reference to a journalist but to an agency as provided. ‘Source:Agencies’
Voices seem to cover news reports because of their high frequency of reported speeches. The question therefore is whose voice was prominent and whose voice was marginalized. From the table above, the Jerusalem post’s text seemed to give more prominence to the IDF. This therefore allows the military to give their account of the incident to the audience. The audience that reads this report are likely to be swayed in favour of IDF. Interestingly, Abuelaish is equally not seen to be ‘saying’. He is either active (material process) or located in a particular location (existential process). The only time we hear his voice was when he ‘thanked’ and ‘says’: ‘mistakes can happen’.
The Israeli military also dominates the text in the Guardian but not as frequent as the Jerusalem post. Abueliash’s voice is only heard when he seeks for justice. In Ajazeera report, much prominence is given to an ‘unidentified’ voice. The source attribution is unclear. For example, we see the phrase ‘the report says’ and not the actual people who says them. This unidentified voice could be likened to ‘hearsay’ and audience might likely judge the truth of the report.
The framing is equally important to examine. In the Jerusalem post’s text (S1), IDF is framed to have ‘concluded’ while in the Guardian and Aljazeera’s texts (S1), IDF is framed to have ‘admitted.’ The verb ‘conclude’ means to reach a final opinion about a matter after much deliberation’. The verb ‘admitted’ means to ‘confess’. It has a negative connotation associated with it, for example one can admit to a fault, a crime or a misdeed. The word ‘Concluded’ has no negative connotations. The reports (Aljazeera and The Guardian) presented the IDF has confessing to a crime (as stated in the beginning) and the Jerusalem post’s report presented the IDF as if they were judging the problem or evaluating the problem.
In the Jerusalem post text, IDF is written to ‘believed’ (s4), ‘confirmed’ (s2), and ‘realised’ (s6). Also another actor- IDF spokesman unit- is said to have ‘stressed’ (s8). These words are all mental processes that “embrace matters of the mind” Morley (2000:96). From this processes, one could conclude that the sentences are the journalist’s own contribution to the source or his/her point of view. In sum, he/she is very subjective and not objective. In contrast to the Guardian and Aljazeera reports, the Israeli military are framed as either ‘says’ or ‘expressed’ which is typical of any news report. These words are verbal processes that show either something existed or something happened. It is more of a neutral structuring. It could be said that they are given a fair account of what really happened.
“QUOTING” AND “REPORTING”
In the Guardian and Aljazeera reports, quotation is used as intertexuality because it is reporting an already mentioned statement. However, the general problem is S8 of Aljazeera, S7 of the Guardian and S11 of Jerusalem Post that quoted the exact words of IDF or not? These sentences have to do with speech representation. Observing closely at the three sentences, we observe that guardian and Aljazeera’s reports are quoted while Jerusalem post is not. Although, we cannot check the accuracy of the words with the actual original words, but the question thus is - was this the military’s actual words? The guardian and Aljazeera reports, quoting the sentences, seem to suggest an originality and authenticity, and moreover, self incriminating the force. The Jerusalem post, not quoting the sentence, seems to suggest that it was a “supposed transcription of what one said in real interactive situation” Caldas Couthard (2010: Unit 7, pg9 web ct). As written earlier on, we cannot be certain until the initial source is provided.
In my own personal view, quotations were not only used to quote the wordings of someone alone. I believe they were also used to lay emphasis on what was said. For example, the writer of the Guardian quoted ‘suspicious figures” and “spotters”. He/she could have used another word for this phrase but decided to use the exact words. This quoted phrase makes the reader absorb the content of what is being quoted and therefore makes one imagine why an army would shell a house based on a flimsy reason as ‘suspicious figures’.
What do the linkages (or their absence) between sentences or events mean for the understanding of the stories?
The Jerusalem post’s report uses cohesion through conjunctions. The salient conjunctions are ‘when’, ‘after’, ‘while’, ‘once’. These are called temporal signals. Inserting such signals into a text is called event ordering. It makes the audience understand what happened, sequentially, during the incident. Moreover, it shows a degree of continuity and also clarity. Because of the stable flow of the text, the cohesion captivates and leads the audience to follow the report. In addition, the report also uses adverbs such as ‘accidentally’, ‘personally’, ‘immediately’. The reason may be to describe the context as concisely as possible for the readers.
In contrast to Aljazeera report, the use of temporal signal is replaced with adversative signal such as ‘but’ (S1) therefore signalling a conflict or a problem. The Aljazeera report is one-sentence paragraphs and uses little connectors. Additionally, the guardian report also has little linkages but its paragraphs flow. Observing the paragraphs closely, most of the sentence starts with the word “Israeli’. It therefore shows a form of continuity.
WHAT ARE THE MOST SALIENT DIFFERENCES IN REPRESENTATION?
In my previous finding, I would say the salience differences in all reports would be: the headlines, leads and the follow-up. All headlines represented the events and participants differently. Jerusalem Post’s ‘headline’ does not explicit state the agent that killed the girls but stated the action. We could assume that it was a soldier because it made reference to an object used in the military. Moreover, the phrase ‘doctor’s daughter’ is given that the audience would know ‘the doctor’ in question. It is presupposed. The reporter, as represented, casts blames on a ‘Tank shell’- giving it a great distance from the actual agent that committed the crime - Israel army.
The Guardian’s headline is an indirect speech that reports the army to the audience. It is straight forward and clear. Additionally, Aljazeera’s headline is an issue of generalization. Given the word ‘Israel’, it is used to refer to the Israeli President or a decision taken by the government. This generalization is a figure of speech called synecdoche in which the whole is use to represent a part. Observing the sentence, it represented the government actually supporting the idea that the killings were reasonable.
The Jerusalem post’s lead introduces the agent (IDF) which is presupposed. They are seen to have committed the crime but the reporter still distant the IDF away from the crime. He/she then used words such as ‘caused’ ‘accidentally’ to tell the audience that it was a mistake. The guardian’s lead stated the heinous acts and represented it as a confession to a crime. The word ‘reasonable’ represents the nation has a lawless country. Aljazeera’s lead did not give salience to the girls’ killings but rather to the Palestinian doctor. It removes any form of audience reaction or emotional attachment from the girls.
The follow-up is also salience. The speech of Ezzeldeen Abu is represented differently in the Guardian and the Jerusalem Post. The Jerusalem post represented him as one that is not easily enraged. The Guardian represented him as one who sought after for justice.
WHAT EFFECTS MIGHT THESE DIFFERENCES HAVE UPON AUDIENCE INTERPRETATION?
DIFFERENCES IN HEADLINES.
In the Jerusalem post, the headline I believe is not captivating. It would probably pass as another terrible event in the Israeli and Palestine war. The fact that the agent is deleted, I believe, does not draw peoples’ attention to the text.
The headline is captivating and the audience of the Guardian newspaper- British- would totally be shocked and appalled at this illogical statement made by someone who is meant to protect civilians
Because there is a generalization, the audience are not deeply involved with the headline. To put more simply, they are not moved or touched by it. In fact, it also passes as another awful event that happens in the ‘world’ generally.
DIFFERENCES IN LEAD
The audience is likely going to be understanding and show a form of empathy towards the Israeli military.
The audience is likely still going to be shocked and to some extent angry.
The audience is not emotionally attached by its lead because of the salience on Palestinian doctor.
DIFFERENCES IN FOLLOW UP
The audience is likely not going to brood on the matter anymore after all Abuelaish has shown mercy on the armies.
The audience is likely going to be glad that justice was served at the end.
HOW MIGHT SUCH DIFFERENCES BE EXPLAINED?
Much of the differences largely have to do with the context. As written in Develotte and Rechniewski’s paper, “discourse analysis of newspaper headlines: a methodological framework for research into national representations”. They say that the ‘[Newspaper] headlines draw at least part of their power and meaning from the pool of shared cultural, political and general knowledge on which they draw.’ There are some sentences that need its context before it could be understood, for example, words such as ‘IDF’ or doctor’s daughter’, Golani Brigade, Hamas gunmen, Gaza coordination and Liaison Administration.
Apart from the context, differences could be because of the newspaper or the T.V network’s stance and/or the writers’ ideological point of view. Because the Jerusalem post is an Israeli newspaper, it would not want to write any defamatory remarks that may damage the country or the government’s reputation. In addition, the Guardian newspaper is a British newspaper that is known to be at the centre-left political stance. This political stance is known to support equal rights, protect human rights and advocate for social justice. As we observe, the report is partly about ‘social justice’ and ‘fairness. So the report is in order with what they stand for. This may be the reason why there are differences between Jerusalem post and the guardian newspaper.
Aljazeera’s report seems to be distant and not emotionally involved. In my opinion, they are extremely careful of what they publish about Israel. This may be because of conflicts the TV station has had with Israel officials in the past. Israeli officials have threatened to boycott them, shut down the station because of what they published at that time. Additionally, the Israeli government termed the station an ‘anti-Israeli bias.’ This may be the reason why they are detached.
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