Media Bias

Journalistic work, influenced by the journalists’ own cultural and ethnocentric values, is given a soul and a heart so that it could breathe, bleed, whisper, and implement the perfect milieu in audience members’ minds in order to construct its own ideology and its own reality. We rely on media outlets to quench our thirst of knowledge, but do we question the statements we listen to or read that we regard as facts? Few do so.
Maysa Shawwa – Sawt el Shabab

A recent study by the Stanford University psychologists Lee Ross, Mark Lepper, and Robert Vallone “Biased Perceptions and Perceptions of Bias” involved media coverage of the Beirut massacre in 1982 and it found out that pro-Arab partisans perceived the objective  content of a news bulletins differently and this is also what happened with pro-Israeli followers. Then, does news perception depend on the audience’s backgrounds or the angle from which the media outlet tackle the issue? Bias in printed news media content isn't quite obvious especially when it comes to breaking news, that's why I compared three newspapers’ approaches (Annahar, Assafir, and the Daily Star) in reporting on the same story. The story I chose is a very significant one because the news itself constitutes a very critical issue that is subjected to different interpretations where certain parties may be indirectly convicted. It is the story of the discovered rockets few hours before being launched at Israel at the North of Lebanon (December 27, 2008).

The differences between the three newspapers’ policies are reflected in the way their reporters are dealing with the news they report and write.

Every newspaper approached the story from a certain perspective. Annahar spotted the light on the consequences of the incident and tied it up to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The terms used in Annahar’s story served the criticism of the Iranian policy and the role it plays in supporting terrorist groups to initiate a new war in the region; for example, the phrase: “ While Bashar Assad was annunciating to start the negotiations between Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine with Israel, Iran is preparing for them on its own.” The phrase: “ the secret and announced calls…” also prompted a multitude of speculations in the heads of  the readers and enticed a revolution against the other countries’ interferences in Lebanon and their usage of terrorist groups as means to pursue their goals. Basically Annahar used this story to send an indirect message. What caught my attention in the Daily Star’s story is the clarity and accuracy of the terms used where they can’t be interpreted in a way or another that the Daily Star is accusing a certain party or a military group, as is done in Assafir’s and Annahar’s stories.

Both Assafir and Annahar somewhat exaggerated in the level of impact they built where for example, Annahar related this incident to the last war on Lebanon leaving a horrifying effect on the readers' expectations. Assafir’s background constituted the Fath al Islam’s preparation of a dangerous war whereas Annahar’s emphasized on the relation between the rockets issue and what is happening in the Middle Eastern region. The Daily Star’s referred to the cease-fire agreement ending the 2006 war indicating the possibility of its breach in case the rockets were fired and also focused on the tension between Israel and Lebanon after two farmers were captured by Israeli troops near the border a week before

Assafir conducted an investigation and reached a conclusion where it condemned Fath al Islam. However, Annahar connected it to the Iran’s policy, its relation with Hezbollah, and the Middle Eastern conflict but also presented the viewpoints of different parties objectively; for example, it stated Hezbollah’s and Gaega’s comments on the incident without any modification that could be understood as taking a certain position. The Daily Star was like a mirror reflecting neutrally what happened so the main focus here was on the story itself and the detective work without accusing certain parties. Although the Daily Star’s seemed to defend Hezbollah and prove that it has nothing with setting up the rockets, it dealt logically with the issue providing enough evidence stating that experts say the rockets were too old to be one of Hezbollah’s rockets.

Visual elements are very crucial elements where readers are most attracted to pictures and images then to headlines and last to the whole story. The pictures may explain, prove a point, dramatize, or add certain information one may not be able to depict via reading. Because a number of the Lebanese news is collected together in the case of the Assafir and Annahar on the front pages, the choice of the images may become very critical. In Assafir, the picture of the Syrian embassy was placed in relation to another story. In Annahar, a more appropriate picture was placed where it showed a Lebanese commander defusing the rockets. In the Daily Star, a picture of two militants defusing the rockets went in harmony with the headline. The picture’s length in the Daily Star was very significant because it almost constituted three quarters of the space available to the story on its front page. Giving more space to pictures than to words is intrinsic where pictures may replace the power of words for reported stories; the viewer needs a visual proof of the story. Assafir’s picture made up about one third of the space available for the story on its front page.

Assafir, Annahar, and the Daily Star complemented our understanding of the story as a whole providing us with different views about it so that we can create our own “synopsis”.

This article is part of the Sawt el Shabab project