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Title: Framing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict : a case-study analysis of the Irish national 'opinion leader' press - July 2000 to July 2004
Author(s): O'Regan, Mary
Issue Date: 2006
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: This case study analyses how four Irish "opinion leader" newspapers - The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Sunday Tribune - constructed the issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the four-year period from July 2000 to July 2004. A primary objective of this case study is to overcome some of the more prominent theoretical inadequacies that have characterised existing research in this area to date. Principally, because existing research has been mostly limited to analysing the American media context and to a lesser extent, the British and other core European contexts, very few analyses have been undertaken on the framing of foreign conflicts by media outlets that operate within entirely different national environments, such as the Irish media environment. Chapter I argues that already existing research has mostly been confined to "testing" propaganda, indexing, hegemonic and political control hypotheses regarding media roles in covering foreign conflicts. These hypotheses are based on assumptions that foreign conflict coverage is mostly influenced by extrinsic structural factors and that, therefore, the media's role is largely restricted to that of acting as conduits for government propaganda and elite perspectives. Consequently, research guided by these hypotheses neglects to investigate fully the influences exerted by the surrounding politico-cultural and media contexts on the various roles adopted by the media when reporting on different types of foreign conflicts. William A. Gamson and his colleagues' model of social constructivist media analysis was chosen as the most appropriate model for fulfilling the objectives of this research. This model analyses media coverage trends as outcomes of contested news construction processes that are potentially influenced by a range of different extrinsic environmental factors and intrinsic media, or news factors. This case study consisted of four different, yet interrelated, stages of research. The first stage consisted of a literature-based contextual analysis of the historical and political environments characterising the arena of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict, as well as the arenas of Irish-Israeli and Irish-Palestinian relations. The second research stage involved a longitudinal and descriptive analysis of a representative sampling of coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Sunday Tribune during the period from July 2000 to July 2004. The third stage consisted of qualitative frame analysis of news discourses. The fourth and final stage of research involved the undertaking of a series of exploratory, qualitative interviews with key media, political/diplomatic and NGO actors. Chapter 3 briefly outlines how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been historically manifested as a highly unequal, contested and multi-dimensional conflict. Chapter 4 analyses the potential contextual influences exerted by Irish political culture and foreign policy-makin(I-1t1ra ditions on the roles adopted by Irish media. It concludes that Ireland's "small state" and post-colonial status, its consequent lack of "hard power", or "vital" foreign policy interests in the Middle East, as well as its official dependency on UN and EU foreign policy perspectives, are likely to have exerted significant contextual influences on the ways in which the sampled newspapers covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Chapter 5 explores the ways in which the changed political environment surrounding Israeli-Palestinian relations during the period of July 2000 to July 2004 had significant constructivist implications for how international media, including the Irish media, covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This case study's descriptive analysis of randomly sampled coverage by The Irish Times, the Irish Independent, the Sunday Independent and the Sunday Tribune during the period of July 2000 to July 2004 generated a number of significant findings. Firstly, it was concluded that the regular patterns of attention that the sampled newspapers devoted to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict were reflective of the dynamics and politics of that conflict itself, as well as its ongoing international resonance. However, this coverage was frequently of a semi- or non-prominent nature, while the sampled newspapers accorded only miniscule amounts of frontpage, analytical and editorial attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was concluded that Ireland's "small state" status and its lack of appreciable national or foreign policy interests in Israel and the Palestinian territories influenced these latter trends. However, in addition to the formative influences exerted by the national politico-cultural context, media contextual factors and intrinsic news factors also had discernible constructivist implications for news outcomes. For instance, the finding that the majority of news items were sourced from foreign-based jourrialists and news agencies was related to the operation of news factors, such as editorial judgements and criteria, as well as reporting norms and values. Most significantly, the intense competition characterising the Irish media market overall, as well as the lack of historical grounding of Irish media within a "tradition" of foreign news analysis, exerted substantial influence on these news-sourcing patterns by constraining the sampled newspapers' commitment to foreign news coverage. In relation to the findings generated by this case study's topical analysis, it was also concluded that the operation of news factors, in relation to the wider politico-cultural context, influenced the ways in which the sampled newspapers topicalised the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Thus, while news values tilted editorial decisions towards covering "conflict"/"political violence" topics, these values also served to reduce newspaper coverage of "peace" and other topics. Additionally, politico-cultural factors, such as the relative isolationist and dependent nature of Irish foreign policy worldviews, supplied an important context within which the sampled newspapers neglected to appreciably cover the international diplomaticsecurity context surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, the low levels of coverage devoted to domestic Israeli and Palestinian topics reflected Ireland's lack of any "vital" interests in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its relatively weak politico-cultural and personal ties with Israel and the Palestinians. Finally, in relation to source access and representation trends, it was found that the sampled newspapers tended to be more or less contested sites (albeit unequal sites). variously featuring the assertions of competing Israeli and Palestinian politicaU"official" sources, rather than exclusively transmitting so-called consensual, hegemonic and elitist constructions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This emerged as a key finding of this research, as it challenges one of the primary theoretical assumptions of the propaganda, indexing, hegemonic and political control hypotheses - namely, that politically-powerful and economically resourceful conflict protagonists consistently have greater levels of media access than politically weaker protagonists, simply by virtue of the power disparities that pertain between them. Instead, this thesis argues that, within highly contested foreign conflict arenas, the protagonist sources' degree of access to international media attention is best viewed as a constructed and achieved outcome, which changes in line with developments in the wider political and media environments and changes in the operation of news factors. Thus, this case-study's descriptive content analysis concluded that, overall, the sampled newspapers' sourcing trends, as well as their patterns of issue-attention and issue-topicalisation, are best analysed not as the pre-determined outcomes of structural power relations and resources, but as the socially constructed outcomes of interactions between relevant politico-cultural contexts, the wider media environment and a range of news factors (such as journalistic conventions, values and norms). This case study's qualitative frame analysis of newspaper discourses also adopted this social constructivist focus. The key finding of this analysis was that divergent rates of access and representation were achieved by partisan Israeli law and order/terrorism frames and partisan Palestinian injustice/defiance frames across the sampled newspapers. Jewish injustice/national homeland frames were virtually excluded from the sampled newspapers. The Irish Times and the Sunday Independent tended to be more favourable towards including law and order/terrorism frames, while the Sunday Tribune and the Irish Independent featured Palestinian injustice/defiance frames more frequently than law and order/terrorism frames. In contrast, Palestinian injustice/defiance frames were entirely absent from the Sunday Independent sample. Another significant trend that emerged from this frame analysis was that non-partisan frames; namely, reconciliation/dual rights frames, nihilistic violence/warring tribes frames and regional stability/international security frames - were relatively under-represented within each sampled newspaper. Taken together, therefore, these frame analytic findings confirm this thesis' theoretical critique of propaganda, indexing, hegemonic and political control perspectives. These latter perspectives hypothesise that external political and structural factors, such as state propaganda, elite hegemony and/or political information controls, determine foreign news coverage in ways that reduce the media's role to that of monolithically framing foreign coverage within the confines of hegemonic and elitist ideologies. In contrast, this case study's primary theoretical argument is that a social constructivist and multi-variable perspective is inherently more appropriate for undertaking analyses of media foreign coverage roles. Principally, rather than assuming, a priori, that extrinsic factors wholly determine news, this perspective enables the researcher to explore the varying media influences exerted over time by different contexts and intrinsic news factors.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation
Affiliation: School of Arts and Humanities
Department of Film and Media Studies

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