In war, truth is the first casualty.
Aeschylus – Greek tragic dramatist (525 BC – 456 BC)
The Israel-Palestine conflict is one of the most decisive subjects in the 21st century. There are territories, religions, identities, nationalities, and resources in dispute. Those responsible for shaping the public opinion about the conflict are news outlets around the world. However, the way the news outlets present this information depends on their country of origin, how they are financed, and who they support, thus enriching the discourse. Therefore, an understanding of this conflict, its roots, and possible solutions, will greatly depends on the origin of the material that is being researched. Hence, the greater the variety of the sources and perspectives that are available to the public, the richer the quality of discussion and the greater the chances of achieving peace.
Until a few decades ago, one of the only 24 hour news outlets with had a global reach was CNN from The United States. Therefore, most people’s understanding of the world only came from the American perspective (though BBC from Great Britain also had an impact, as well). Even local news agencies would get some of their international news from places such as CNN. This exclusive position gave CNN the power to literally influence foreign policies, through the so called CNN effect (Carruthers, 2000:199). However, since then things have changed. CNN is no longer alone in the English 24 hour news cycle as there has been an explosion of international channels from different countries with content in English that can be accessed through the television or online. Some examples of these channels include Al Jazeera from Qatar, the Russian RT, Al Arabiya from Saudi Arabia, the French France 24, and CCTV from China. Plus, there has also been in surge in American news channels covering international news such as Fox News and MSNBC.
All of these channels are competing for the same English speaking public and want to give their point of view of international events. One event that often receives a lot of coverage is the Israel-Palestine conflict. However, with channels from so many different parts of the world, all with different foreign policies and different ideologies, the diversity of information and points of view during the last war in Gaza, last July, was astonishing. The opinions varied from the extreme pro-Israel of America’s Fox News, to the local Middle East insight view of Al Jazeera, to the completely anti-West and anti-Israel of Russian RT. With so many different news outlets covering the same war, the conflict became extensive mediatized, transforming into a diffuse war, where its justification, conduction, and remembrance are changing noticeably, especially when analyzed from some many different perspectives (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010:3). Unfortunately, many cable news networks only focus on the conflict as an event, with attractive headlines, in order to increase their number of viewers. Few journalistic pieces are done to truly try to understand the process, thus losing the cause and relation between action and effect and creating an even more diffuse war (Hoskins and O’Loughlin, 2010:3).
One such an example on how an event was analyzed during the conflict was the disappearance of three Israeli teenagers. While most western media headlines were something along the lines of “Three Israelis Teenagers Abducted, Possibly by Hamas,” Al Jazeera headlines were closer to “Three Missing Settlers in Occupied Territory.” Instead of saying “Israelis,” Al Jazeera used the word “settlers.” “Abducted” was swapped out by “missing” and “Hamas” was not mentioned. In this way, the western headlines imply Palestinian guilt while Al Jazeera headlines, by making mention of the occupation, imply Israel’s guilt. On the other hand, Russian RT does a headline connecting the attack on Gaza to the finding of the missing boys, clearly insinuating that Israel was acting in revenge, a very different message from what was implied in the other headlines.
The choice of words by journalists, which stories they will report, and how they report them is really important for the public understanding of a certain conflict. Using words such as “kidnapping” before knowing for sure what happened does not show fairness and accuracy and puts the blame on one side prematurely. Furthermore, implying one action causes another (as the RT headline does) only exacerbates the negative sentiments and possibly more violence, which is contrary to peace journalism, or the idea that stories ought to presented to society in a way that creates non-violent responses (Lynch and McGoldrick, 2005:5). However, though the headlines presented above tend inflame the discussion, having access to these various points of views will allow an intelligent spectator to make a decision for themselves and realize that conflicts like this are not black and white, but shades of gray.
Regardless if someone agrees with one media or the other, this proliferation of sources with different political agendas has reduced the power of traditional channels such as CNN and BBC to control the public agenda and act as gatekeepers of information (Thussu and Freedman, 2003:179). Consequently, by having access to different sides of the same story, the public can create a more informed opinion about the conflict, reducing extremist misinformed views and actions such as anti-Semitism and “Islamophobia” which in John Galtung’s theory, are clear examples of cultural violence that could eventually lead to direct violence (Galtung, 1990:291), plus making the entire situation worst. Therefore, in order to achieve final peace in a complex situation such as the one in the Middle East, more diverse opinions, sources, and points of view are necessary. The continuous arrival of different news outlets from around the globe is fulfilling this task.
Carruthers, S. (2000). The media at war. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan.
Galtung, J. (1990). Cultural Violence. Journal of Peace Research, 27(3), pp.291-305.
Hoskins, A. and O’Loughlin, B. (2010). War and media. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.
Lynch, J. and McGoldrick, A. (2005). Peace journalism. Stroud, [England]: Hawthorn Press.
Thussu, D. and Freedman, D. (2003). War and the media. London: Sage.