Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The media coverage of the official line in Gaza

"The messages, which governing bodies want the media to convey, are necessarily those that will reach the public," wrote Blondheim and Shifman (2009, p. 207).

The researchers identify three main arenas of war news: homefront media, opponent's media, and media of the rest of the world.  Three types of scripts exist: power, vulnerability, and disaster.  Leadership has greater influence over its domestic media, dependinng on the nature of the regime and the relationship with the media.

Four fundamental political attributes of parties to a conflict are important: the nature of the entity, whether sovereign or nonstate; cohesiveness determining the extent of consensus or political variety; the degree of openness regarding information flow; and the extent of authority exercised whether authoritarian or limited/democratic governments.

In the fighting in Gaza between Israel and Hamas in December 2008 and January 2009, Blondheim and Shifman (2009) determined that a high degree of collusion existed between the the government goals and the homefront media's coverage.  "Local media followed the government line."  Hamas control in Gaza is authoritarian.  They don't allow dissent.  The local media in Gaza portrayed Hamas as powerful.

Most reporters in Israel personally support the government position.  They adopted the power and vulnerability scripts put forth by the government in describing Israel.  Israeli reporters depicted Gaza as vulnerable in terms of weakness. Gaza reporters presented Israel as vulnerable, rejecting the Israel's power script.  Israel wanted the outside world to see its vulnerability, but the international media depicted Israel as powerful and the Palestinians as underdogs in a "David and Goliath" struggle.

Hamas promoted a disaster and power script, showing injured babies and destroyed houses on one hand and bragged about victories on the other hand.  The international press adopted the disaster script to describe the Palestinian situation.

Their coverage was related less to reality and more to the need of the international press to compete in the news market. Disasters make "good" news stories.  First, disaster coverage is unambiguous. the disaster message is clear in contrasts to the vulnerability script.  Second, humanitarian disaster coverage is meaningful and relevant. Third, disaster coverage is about real people.  Finally, disaster news is negative; news can't get much worse.

Blondhem, Menahem and Limor Shifman. (2009). What officials say, what media show, and what publics get: Gaza, January 2009.  The Communication Review, 12:205-214.  DOI: 10.1080/10714420903124036.

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