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Halifax Chronicle Herald's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war

IN THIS PAPER I chose to study the Halifax Chronicle Herald's coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war. I read and analyzed ten articles on this matter published in July 2006. I found out that these articles showed a pro-Israeli bias with regards to the conflict. Studies of bias on this topic have been made, especially concerning American media bias. I think it is worthwhile quoting in length Remi Kanazi (March, 2006), a Palestinian-American freelancer specializing in Middle-East politics, about US media coverage:

Since the uprising in September of 2000, more than 3,800 Palestinians have been killed in the Occupied Territories as a result of the conflict. Most Americans are unaware of the toll because it is not properly reported. In 2004, If Americans Knew - an American organization that exposes and examines the facts of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict - conducted a study and reported 808 Palestinian conflict deaths and 107 Israelis conflict deaths. The study, however, found that The Times covered Israeli deaths in the headline or the first paragraph in 159 articles - meaning in some cases they covered the same death numerous times. In contrast,The Times only covered about 40 per cent of Palestinian deaths - 334 of 808 - in the headline or in the first paragraph of the articles. [...]

When Palestinian deaths occur, especially militant deaths, the Israeli government's version of the story is taken as fact in the mainstream US media. In most cases, articles covering Palestinian deaths only include Israeli quotes, without citing Palestinian witnesses and other credible non-governmental organization sources ( 3-4).

Kanazi's view on the US coverage of the war is interesting since one can find comparable bias in the Halifax Chronicle Herald. I will discuss this bias on three levels: the choice of words, the quotations and the ordering of information.

Bias in use of words: Different vocabulary based on political opinion.

The choice of words one uses to describe a situation provides insight to one's political opinions. In the Halifax Chronicle Herald, the vocabulary chosen to report the Israeli-Palestinian war shows a bias because the words differ depending on to whom they refer.

Many articles from the Chronicle Herald (e.g., July 3 and 10), report on an Israeli soldier who was, to use the word from the articles, abducted. According to Thesaurus.com (Roget's New Millennium Thesaurus, 2006), abduct is a synonym for kidnap, the definition of which is to seize or detain unlawfully. Therefore, the Chronicle Herald, by choosing the phrase abducted soldier, shows bias: Palestinians are performing an illegal act by detaining this Israeli soldier.

In the context of a war, as I consider the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, any soldier detained by one of the belligerents is a prisoner of war. This status is a legal one, regulated by the Geneva Convention, giving prisoners and those who hold them specific rights and duties. The Chronicle Herald shows its bias by using an expression which implies wrongdoing, while the use of the expression prisoner of war would be fair to both sides.

On the other hand, when referring to Israelis seizing or detaining Palestinians, the articles most frequently use the verb to arrest which means somebody is held under the authority of law. It is then obvious that the Chronicle Herald has double standards when dealing with reports of the seizure of belligerents, as the choice of words leads the reader to think that one is justifiable and the other is not. Another common example of bias in the Chronicle Herald articles is the terminology referring to the Palestinian combatants. I carefully chose this last word as belligerents who are labeled as combatants could be considered prisoners of war, as those Palestinians should. In several articles (July 6th, 10th, 15th and 23rd) the word used by the journalists was militant. This word is commonly understood as someone fighting outside an established military. However, it also is a synonym for terrorist in the popular usage. The Chronicle Herald's bias is, therefore, obvious. Referring to Palestinians as militants and to Israelis as soldiers or forces (July 3rd, July 15th and July 16th) states that the first is fighting unlawfully and the second has the law on its side.

In conclusion, the media's choice of words when referring to a politically charged matter can be bias. For the Chronicle Herald, in many of its articles published in July 2006, the use of words like abducted and militant is a clear stance on the Israeli-Palestinian war: Israelis are acting legitimately and Palestinians are criminals.

Citation: Who is quoted gives a certain perspective on the matter.

A very common bias throughout the ten articles I read is related to quotations. In seven out of ten articles, an Israeli official is quoted directly by the journalist; on the other hand, Palestinian officials are only quoted twice in those same ten articles. Furthermore, as in the citations that will follow, the reported words of Israelis aim at describing the suffering of their people; the suffering of Palestinians is rarely reported.

The first example of this kind of bias can be found in an article published on July 3rd, in which the Associated Press quotes Israel's Prime Minister Olmert talking about the captive soldier in Palestine:

"These are difficult days for Israel, but we have no intention of giving in to any form of blackmailing,

" Olmert said Sunday. "Everyone understands that giving in to terror today means an invitation to the next act of terrorism, and we will not act that way." (2006, World section, p. A2) The second example comes from Ravi Nessman, journalist for The Associated Press, (2006), who, on July 10th, quotes an official of the Israeli government, concerning Israel's response to the soldier imprisoned by Palestinian combatants, as follow:

"Anybody who calls this operation disproportionate has no clue about the facts on the ground," cabinet minister Yitzhak Herzog said. " With all due respect to all those who criticize us, if anything of this nature would have happened in their homeland, they would have acted much worse." (2006, World section, p. A4.)

Quoting these officials is interesting as Israel's stance on the matter is news. However, there is bias concerning these quotations because nowhere in the articles does one find a citation of Palestinian officials or the combatants who hold the Israeli soldier prisoner. Consequently, the reader is under the impression that the Israeli's statement is legitimate and that any Palestinian position is irrelevant.

To emphasize certain facts: theme and rheme discourse analysis.

If choices of reported information show bias, so does the ordering of this information. Usually, the emphasis will be on the last bit of information given in a paragraph, as it is the likely one to be remembered by the reader. This is in accordance with the theme and rheme discourse analysis. The theme is the framework or the point of departure of the message. The rheme is what the addresser wants to convey about the theme. In the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war by the Chronicle Herald, I have noticed two examples of this kind of bias, both dealing with statistics.

The first comes from the Associated Press article "Gaza militants deny they agreed to ceasefire" published in the Chronicle Herald on July 23rd. Mention of the casualties and destruction in Palestine is followed immediately by a report of the wrong-doing of Palestinian combatants:

More than 100 Palestinians have been killed since in daily attacks by Israeli planes, tanks and artillery and Israeli aircraft have destroyed the main power station and attacked key government office buildings.

At the same time, the militants have fired many homemade rockets at southern Israel. (2006, World section, 5-6.)

The second was reported by an Associated Press journalist in the July 15th Chronicle Herald publication (2006):

Since the offensive began in Gaza, 86 Palestinians have been killed, many of them gunmen. The civilian victims included a 10-year-old Palestinian who died in a hospital Friday, four days after being wounded in Beit Lahiya, officials said. (2006, World section, 16-17.)

An Israeli soldier also was killed during the offensive by friendly fire.

In this particular case, the emphasis is made even stronger as the report of the Israeli casualty is the last sentence of the article. The theme is the war going on between Palestinians and Israelis and the rheme, the part that the author wants the reader to remember, is that Israeli soldiers died because of the fighting. It is interesting to note that, the death of child, considered less important than the killing of an Israeli soldier, is buried in the middle of the stance.

To sum up, the choice of quotations in the Chronicle Herald's articles, as well as the display of the information, shows this newspaper's bias on the issue of Israeli-Palestinian war. The quotations put the emphasis on the suffering of the Israelis while, using the theme and rheme of discourse, the placement of information.

The words chosen by the Halifax Chronicle Herald in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war is biased. As I have shown, labeling Palestinian combatants as militants while referring to Israelis as soldiers or forces leads the reader toward a particular interpretation of the conflict where the latter is legitimate and the first is not. The same comment can be made when journalists use the word abducted to report an Israeli soldier being held prisoner. In the meantime, those journalists will report that Palestinians have been arrested by Israelis. This shows bias in the information since it implies that one has the law on its side and the other does not.

More evidence of bias is seen in the Chronicle Herald's choice of quotations. Indeed, most articles quoted at least one official from Israel talking about the suffering in his country. However, I found no direct quotation of any Palestinian officials. Only a few indirect references to speeches from them were made. Again, this is bias because only Israeli's version of the conflict is made public while the Palestinian's version is completely ignored.

The last form of bias discussed is the Chronicle Herald's tendency to emphasize certain information more than others. Using theme and rheme of discourse analysis in the article's construction, emphasis is put on the information placed last in a sentence, serving a favorable perception of Israel and disfavoring the Palestinians.

As I have demonstrated, the Halifax Chronicle Herald shows bias in its July, 2006 coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian war. One can extrapolate that this bias was present before and will continue in the future. Therefore, this newspaper is leading readers towards a politically-charged interpretation of the actual crisis.

While this paper is a reflection of my personal bias, as a private citizen, I am allowed. This is an opinion paper, not a news report which should be impartial.

*The author is completing her Phd at Dalhousie University, Halifax

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