In the age of information, the perception of the acute problems relies on media coverage to a considerable degree. While shaping the public discourse, the delivered information can contribute towards the lopsided interpretation and comprehension. Various studies of media bias have distinct concepts.
According to Baron (2004), the news media play an essential role in society by providing information to the society, however, it is widely viewed as biased. The definition of this term includes three crucial meanings: distortion, content and decision-making bias. News can purportedly cause distortion or falsification of reality. Content bias is based on wrong treatment of the problem while one of the sides receives considerably disparate favour. In addition, the production of the biased content can entirely depend on journalists' decisions based on their motivations or mindsets. The combination of these three meanings forms a precisely delineated definition of media bias (Entman, 2007).
The American Society of Newspaper Editors (as cited in Baron, 2004) has conducted a survey which states that the majority is convinced of the presence of bias in the news media, although there is little consensus on the nature and direction of the perceived bias. Entman (2007) emphasizes that media may assist various entities in shaping a preferred behaviour in others or distributing a consistent one-sided framing on a continuous basis. Therefore, the definition of content bias expands due to the promotion of the influence of one side in conflict through the emergence of coherent patterns in the framing of mediated communications. According to Entman (2007), communication research demonstrates that indisputable facts play only a partial role in shaping the framing words and images that flow into an audience's consciousness, because almost any delivered information will be controversial and susceptible to two or more framings.
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Another concept of media bias lies within attitude of news workers towards the problem which results in the inevitable influence on the text they produce. Each information processing person or organization employs the decision-making biases, otherwise neutrally called heuristics in order to cope with rationality and information overload. It operates within the minds of individual journalists and within the processes of journalistic institutions, embodied in (generally unstated) rules and norms that guide their processing of information and influence the framing of media texts. Entman (2007) also denotes that the event context and other erratic variables that can considerably influence the framing.
Media bias can be caused by a variety of sources. For instance, it can represent the reflection of the preferences or world view of the owner of the news organization. It is significant that media bias can even have demand-side explanations. The audience can approach towards news as entertainment, therefore, a demand for delivering information in accordance with the political or social viewpoints of those who devours may appear. Therefore, it provides an incentive for a news organization to create biased content in order to satisfy particular clientele. Nonetheless, media bias has a considerable effect. On the whole, it contributes towards creating a sceptical attitude of a critical thinking audience, which reduces the demand for news and raises the question whether bias should be tolerated within the media industry (Baron, 2004).
However, the primordial reasons for media bias are the political or commercial interest, ideology or prejudgment of a journalist. Bias is an instrument to support particular world views through a distorted coverage, otherwise lack of any. The essence of media bias lies within the absence of balance resulting in lopsided and unwarranted focus of attention. It also can result in case of incomplete coverage, concealment of significant information or even fabrication of facts. Thus, bias can take a variety of forms (Baron, 2004).
In order to detect the presence of bias, it is essential to distinguish diverse types of media bias. One of them is conducted due to omission which means that a certain amount of information was ignored while the news was delivered. Although the facts were not fabricated, the entire coverage results in being distorted as it involves the unequal perception and comprehension. Certainty bias concerns the availability of weighty evidence. Selection of sources also plays a significant role as it may lead to the use of unreliable sources or those that support one view over another point that would not be supportable in case the entire spectrum of available information will be used. It also involves a selective use of data or timeframe, along with the implementation of a pattern of highlighting news stories that coincide with the agenda of one side while ignoring the other side. In this context, placement is highly significant as it represents a measure of whether the story is considered crucial. Bias by spin occurs when the story has only one interpretation of an event or policy, to the exclusion of the other. A wide range of instruments is implemented to enhance the bias effect. Selective use of qualifiers can push the reader in preferred direction, while use of imagery contributes towards emotional associations with the data. The overall presentation of certain situations may shift between static and dynamic, moreover change to a larger or longer perspective can influence the entire perception of the event and lead to a distinct interpretation of the information. Another method to create a trusted connection with the audience is appealing to the authority or to the masses. The citation of an expert even from another field creates an undisputed evidence for the presented concept, while invocation of a large numbers of people contributes towards its validity. Unjustified conclusions that are improperly drawn from available or non-existent data can cause the emergence of media bias as well (Sloan, 2007).
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In recent decades, international communication focuses on media coverage of diverse significant events, although it tends to cover war and violence rather than peace. Since the warfare involves certain conflict, there is always a risk of biased media coverage.
A Brief Overview of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one of the longest in the modern era. Two centuries ago, the land of Palestine was inhabited by a multicultural population who lived in peace. In the late 1880s a movement designed to create a homeland for Jewish people began. It is called Zionism. The representatives of this movement, Zionists, considered several locations for this purpose and eventually chose Palestine. The desire to seize the whole territory was gradually increasing, therefore, the escalating waves of conflict with the indigenous population resulted in intensive struggle. After World War I, the British administered Palestine until after World War II. During this period, there was massive Jewish emigration to the region because people sought to escape persecution and death under the Nazis. While the British administration encouraged this process, the Arabs resisted the new order, thus the conflict grew.
In 1947, being under the pressure of Zionist leaders, the United Nations and the Western powers decided to intervene and devised a partition plan. More than a half of the Palestinian land was given to Jewish community despite the fact that it constituted the minority. While representing the majority of population, the Palestinian state received only 47 percent of the historic territory. Therefore, the plan was rejected by the indigenous inhabitants of the region and the neighbouring Arab countries. The war broke out; the Zionists, relying on the support of Britain and the U.S., invaded the areas of Palestine intended for the Palestinians and gained the control of 77 percent of historic lands. Once indigenous, the majority of Palestinians became refugees and had to seek shelter in the neighbouring countries, while Jordan annexed the West Bank, and the Egypt annexed the Gaza strip (Philo & Berry, 2004).
In 1967, war broke out again, and the entire situation repeated. Israel occupied the areas intended for the Palestinian population, as well as Gaza and the West Bank. The Israeli actions were highly condemned by the UN Security Council. According to international law, it is inadmissible to acquire territory by war, therefore, the occupied territories do not belong to Israel. Nevertheless, the conqueror state ignored all the international condemnation (Caplan, 2010).
There are two primary issues at the core of this continuing conflict. The formerly indigenous population, now refugees, is prohibited from returning to their homes, thus being subject to discrimination. Another issue lies within the continued and extremely oppressive military occupation and confiscation of privately owned land in the West Bank and control over Gaza. The steadily worsening of the conditions caused the uprising of the Palestinian population. Over the years, thousands of people on both sides have suffered from the horrors of war and became victims of this protracted conflict, regardless of their age, sex or ethnicity. Recently, the peace process has been initiated although it requires mutual commitment towards resolution of the enduring dispute.
Western Media Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict
The main weapon of political warfare is shaping the perception and preferred version of comprehension of the problem through media, thereby provoking an incitement to hatred and violence. According to Fishman (2011), it cannot be perceived as the result of a misunderstanding, moreover, it does not happen randomly. Incitement is related to propaganda and agitation. In order to advance the unstable position, states and rebellious movements use it while waging war openly. The essential elements of national policy are reflected due to the use of this weapon. In addition, its implementation contributes towards identification of the way a government truly views its purpose.
The depiction of the Middle East in western media truly reflects the abovementioned notion. Analyzing the space intended to cover various international issues, it is obvious that the one allocated to the Middle East is considerably short and limited in comparison with the other regions of the world. The primordial explanation lies within the complexity of the situation, therefore it presumptively creates hardships during the media coverage of the situation. In most cases, it is rarely mentioned that the population of the Middle East consists of Muslims and Christians. Meanwhile, Christian and Jewish fundamentalism or Zionism is almost ignored. The media focus predominately on wars, crisis and poverty.
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After the 9/11 attack, terrorism became the main concern of the media. However, the ongoing debates tend to omit the establishment and funding of the fundamentalist's terrorist groups by certain governments that encourage their activity in order to achieve political aims. The media coverage rarely includes information about Muslims being attacked by Al-Qaida. Moreover, Muslims undergo through narrow-minded linking of terrorism to Islam by ignorant people.
While covering the conflict between Palestine and Israel, Western media are biased in favour of the last one. The reason for this benevolence can be traced in the formation of the U.S. foreign policy as it is being under the impact of the active Israeli Lobby. U.S. support for Israel is based on vehement opposition to terrorist groups originating in the Arab or Muslim world. After the events of 9/11 and the attack on the U.S., Israel had stressed its role as part of the 'war against terror', which affected the contemporary development of Israeli public relations immensely (Philo & Berry, 2004). Thus, both countries share the same enemies, which makes Israel a pivotal ally in the war against terrorism and a significant part of the Western Alliance. Nonetheless, the U.S. position is being weakened on the international arena due to its unquestioned support and tolerance of Israeli repression in the seized territories resulting in being a counterbalance in this war on terrorism (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006).
The Israel Lobby plays a significant role in shaping U.S. foreign policy and manipulating the American political system. There is a group of individuals and organizations who guide the state policy in a pro-Israel direction. The core is comprised of American Jews who make a considerable effort in advancing Israel's interests. Their activities include voting for pro-Israel candidates, financial contributions, shaping of public opinion, supporting pro-Israel organizations. Nevertheless, the Lobby does not consist of each Jewishâ€American, because for many of them Israel is not a salient issue.
In order to promote U.S. support for Israel, the Israel Lobby pursues two grand strategies. Effectiveness is what sets its activities apart. First strategy involves pressuring the Executive branch along with Congress to shape the national policy which contributes towards the solid support of Israel. Meanwhile, the second strategy focuses on creation of a positive portrayal of the country and its actions. The public discourse is being enhanced in the direction of Israel's position on essential matters. The primary purpose is to avoid the critical commentary and control the debates since a candid discussion may result in changing the U.S. foreign policy.
In addition to the direct influence on government policy, the Lobby uses media as a significant part of the manipulating process. The goal is to shape public perception about the Middle East and especially Israel. Therefore, the media, think tanks along with academia are being exposed to the considerable impact as these institutions are pivotal in affecting the society and its opinion. According to Mearsheimer and Walt (2006), the media coverage is predominately pro-Israel, while the number of those who criticize its policy is extremely small. Thus, the balance of opinions is clearly shifted. For instance, among the newspapers that are biased there are most prominent periodicals like the Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, The Chicago Sunâ€Times, along with magazines like the Weekly Standard, Commentary, the New Republic. The New York Times seldom questions the policymaking process of Israel, while covering the Palestinians' issues; nevertheless, it is hardly impartial (Mearsheimer & Walt, 2006).
The American media are not the only one that is biased. According to Philo and Berry (2004), the British media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is distorted to a considerable degree, which leads to misinterpreting the Middle East issue by the society. The Israeli propaganda mobilizes all its powers to intimidate the dissenting journalists and prevent them from taking a more objective stance (Shaoul, 2004). The biased coverage of the entire situation results in people's ignorance and confusion as most media prefer to avoid the revealing of conflict's origin. The absence of key elements of Palestinian history makes it challenging to comprehend their perspective. Their actions could appear without context; consequently they may be seen as 'initiating' the trouble.
Philo and Berry (2004) highlight that the Israeli views are being quoted more frequently than Palestinians. The main reason for this disparity lies within the efficient public relations strategy. Journalists are being supplied with information from Israel, while obtaining information about current events from the Palestinian side created a problem.
In order to limit unfavourable media coverage, the Palestinian authorities attempted to control what is being filmed (Philo & Berry, 2004). Tired of coverage that blamed the conflict on Palestinian terrorism, activists formed Palestine Media Watch (PMW) in order to challenge the Western media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The goal of PMW is persistent monitoring news coverage, meeting with journalists and supplying news organizations with complaints in an attempt to root the conflict's cause in Israel's illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories (Handley, 2010).
The media coverage of the conflict was concentrated to a significant extent on Israel's right to exist and its security, while omitting the same rights of Palestine almost entirely. The images of military occupation and its consequences were absent. People suffered from brutal treatment and lack of comfort and even water while the new settlers enjoyed neatly lawns and swimming pools. The impoverished and humiliating conditions faced by the Palestinians were ignored. According Shaoul (2004), BBC1 and ITN devoted more than three thousand lines of text to the rebellion of the Palestinians in 2000, but only seventeen explained the history of the conflict. The primordial reason for uprising was to dispose of the military occupation, to obtain civil rights and settle the territories initially intended for the indigenous population. Meanwhile, most of the respondents to survey misinterpret the real occupier of the historic Palestine. (Shaoul, 2004).
The bias resulted in the emergence of linking between the Palestinians and terrorism while the Israelis were perceived by the public as sufferers. The coverage of losses of both sides was unequal as well. Although there were journalists sympathetic towards the Palestinians, the Israeli interpretation of the events was mentioned more frequently. Thus, the Israeli public relations and information transfer channels are considerably more sophisticated and well resourced. In addition, there are also powerful lobbies which support them in the U.S. and to some extent in Britain (Philo & Berry, 2004).
According to Philo and Berry (2011), nowadays the broadcast media give a clear account of the Israeli perspective on this conflict, while many journalists and especially in the BBC still find considerable difficulty in doing the same for the Palestinians. The debate on the influence of Israel and pro-Israeli groups on media coverage raises a crucial question for public broadcasting concerning whether the BBC satisfies the demand representing the public interest. In accordance with the study of public opinion conducted by YouGov, most respondents advocated for equal media coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, the downgrading of Palestinian views is hardly supported or desired by the public, although the confusion about the origins and causes of the conflict is still widely spread.
However, some elements of audience understanding have considerably altered over the last decade which results in ongoing media coverage changes. Nevertheless, it is Western media who is responsible for people not knowing who was occupying the seized territories of historic Palestine. There is little understanding of how such an occupation actually affected the lives of the indigenous population. When Gaza was attacked in December 2008, the actions of Palestinians in firing rockets were criticized while little knew that it was the Israelis that had broken the ceasefire. The media coverage included the images of the suffering of Palestinians but the Israeli interpretation of the events resulted in the emergence of belief that the Palestinians had brought the suffering on themselves (Philo & Berry, 2011). Therefore, it is essential for the population to have a news service that presents both sides in a balanced manner.
The reason for the media bias also lies within the absent of the Palestinian view, and this has clear impacts on audience belief. Not only journalists should seek for information, but the interested party should contribute towards the shaping its portrayal as well. Observing strict silence on the point of the conflict results in a significant misinterpretation by the public. Therefore, it is essential to present and defend the point of view properly in the international media. In addition, there are areas of the media that encourage debates among the opposite sides of the conflict. Such discussions not only contribute towards the development of confident assertions but also allow journalists to present the information from various perspectives. The increasing public understanding of the current state of affairs and the origins of the conflict causes the subsequent step in the direction towards peace.