Nations embroiled in nationalist conflicts tend to adopt narratives that support
the righteousness of their struggle and which accentuate the negative traits and
intentions of the other side, as well as its responsibility for the ongoing suffering and
for the absence of a solution. This is how the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is covered
by media outlets on both sides, often in mirror images, with each side presenting
an opposite story. For example, the Palestinian media narrative emphasizes the
occupationówhose victims are the Palestiniansóand paints the government of
Israel as aggressive, opposed to peace and responsible for violent events in the
region. On the other side, Israeli media outlets emphasize the violent and terrorist
foundations of the Palestiniansí conduct and their unwillingness or inability to
reach a solution. The Israelis, in this telling, are the victims of a conflict in which
they are not to blame. Beyond these different perceptions and interpretations of
reality, essentially similar patterns of coverage can be found on both sides, which
de-legitimize and dehumanize the other. These patterns of coverage heighten
mutual suspicions in both nations, fan the flames of the conflict and make it
harder to find a solution.
Recognition of the mediaís profound influence on the conflict has led the Israeli
organization Keshev and the Palestinian organization MIFTAH to work together
from both sides of the conflict in order to try to change how the conflict is
depicted in the media discourse in both nations. This is done in the hope that
such cooperation may lead to more balanced, fair and comprehensive coverage
and, perhaps, as a result, a better reality.
This practical guide to teaching critical reading of news materials arises from a
unique cooperative project that has been carried out continuously since 2004. In
this joint project Keshev and MIFTAH each analyze news coverage in the major
media outlets on their ďown sideĒ and attempt to influence journalists and editors
to change patterns of coverage that are problematic and biased.
Two parallel goals have guided the creation of this guide. First, it is designed to
instill skills for critical reading, in general. A second goal is to promote critical media
consumption in the specific context of the Israeli-Arab conflict. As mentioned
above, over the years media on both sides have played a complicated and not
always positive role in the conflictís development. The media has had a central
role in defining the conflict and its significance for the Israeli and Palestinian
public. Critically reading the messages contained in news coverage can neutralize to some extent the media's ability to shape consumers' perspectives according to
short-term media interests and can also neutralize the influence of those elements
that exert pressure on the media. It is our hope that this guide will enable media
professionals to develop new means of self-criticism that will allow them, in time,
to create news coverage that does not perpetuate the conflict, but which might
actually contribute to its resolution.
The methodology1 that underlies this guide makes it possible to clearly present
the systematic failings in news coverage on both sides. It is based on a distinction
between two principal stages in the news-making process Ė writing and editing.
At the first stage reporters and columnists compose their texts and send them
to their news editors. The editors receive other texts as well, from press agencies,
public relations firms, and so on.
At the second stage, the editors produce the final product: They determine
which texts will appear in the newspaper or broadcast. The editors determine
the placement of the text (on the front page or on page 17, at the beginning of
the broadcast or after a commercial break); they select the photographs that go
with each item; they design the layout of the pages and determine the sequence
of items in the broadcast; and they compose headlines (including sub-headlines
and photo captions in newspapers, the headlines of television news broadcasts
and the words spoken by the anchor).
In the view of most news producers and news consumers the second stage, the
editing stage, is mainly technical. According to popular perceptions, the truly
important work is done in gathering and writing news material. Editors merely
"prepare" this material for print or broadcast. This perception is wrong, for two
complementary reasons: First, editorial work determines news messages no
less than the work of the reporters, and in some ways even more so. Second, in
reading the news media consumers rely on material produced by editors much
more than on material produced by reporters. The fact that an article appears on
the front page and not on page 17; the specific phrasing of a particular headline;
the appearance of a photo beside an article; the words spoken by a news anchor
before an item is broadcast Ė all of these factors have a decisive influence on
consumers' understanding of the news. Furthermore, many studies show that
media consumers often limit themselves to reading headlines (or viewing the headlines of a news broadcast) and in many cases they do not even get to the
texts of the news items (or the rest of the broadcast edition). In such cases, the
perception of the news is determined almost exclusively by the work of the editors.
This fact has far-reaching significance, since a meticulous review of news material
at both stages of the process, writing and editing, reveals that the materials
produced at each stage are not parallel. The headlines of newspapers and news
broadcasts are not merely short neutral summaries of the news. In most cases, the
headlines tell a very different story than that which is told by the reporters. Along
with the placement of an item, its graphic saliency, the accompanying visuals, and
so on, the headlines tell a story of their own and this significantly influences news
To be clear Ė the problem is not limited to the fact that once in a while the results
of editorial work do not reflect the contents of the articles themselves. The point is
that the discrepancies between headlines and texts are systematic. A meticulous
review of newspapers and television news broadcasts reveals that certain
components of reality, which appear in the articles themselves, are systematically
marginalized by editors, while others are systematically highlighted.
The techniques that appear in this guide reveal these systematic discrepancies
through attention to a series of key criteria.
Further in this guide each criterion will be explained through the use of examples
culled from actual media coverage in Israel and in the Palestinian Authority. It
is important to note that becoming familiar with these criteria is just a first
step toward learning to read media items more critically. The research method
employed here is based on attention to a combination of criteria in ways that
reveal recurring editing patterns that bias the coverage.
This guide aims to help users identify the tell-tale signs of these patterns, to
understand their significance and to learn from them how to read the news in a
more profound way; in other words, how to "read between the lines".
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