Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Stunning academic study: Reuters engages in anti-Israel propaganda

From PRWeb:

Roosevelt University academic study documents systematic use of propaganda by world's largest news agency.

A study published in the November/December issue of the Journal of Applied Business Research finds that Reuters coverage of the Middle East conflict is systematically tainted by propaganda and influences readers to side with the Palestinians and Arab states against the Israelis.

Researcher Henry Silverman of Roosevelt University analyzed a sample of fifty news-oriented articles published on the Reuters.com websites for the use of classic propaganda techniques, logical fallacies and violations of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, a manual of guiding ethical principles for the company’s journalists.

Across the articles, over 1,100 occurrences of propaganda, fallacies and handbook violations in 41 categories were identified and classified.

In the second part of the study, a group of thirty-three university students were surveyed, before and after reading the articles, to assess their attitudes and motivation to support one or the other belligerent parties in the Middle East conflict, i.e., the Palestinians/Arabs or the Israelis. The study found that on average, subject sentiment shifted significantly following the readings in favor of the Arabs and that this shift was associated with particular propaganda techniques and logical fallacies appearing in the stories.

“Governments have long used propaganda to whip up public support during wartime and to demonize enemies”, says Silverman. “Reuters is adopting these same techniques to covertly shape audience perceptions and opinion in violation of its corporate governance charter.” Silverman points out that this is particularly troubling since “the news agency promotes itself as a paragon of accurate and impartial reporting and its stories are read by millions of people who are led to believe they are being provided objective facts”.
The entire study is most interesting. It uses previously established, fairly rigorous criteria as to what constitutes "propaganda." It chose 50 articles about the conflict published by Reuters between May 31 and August 31, 2010 (during and after the Mavi Marmara incident.)

Here is how the study describes its analysis methods of the articles, with a detailed example:

Across the fifty articles in the data sample, ECA reveals 1,104 occurrences of reporting/ethical failures, i.e., propaganda devices, logical fallacies, and violations of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, with a mean of 22.08 reporting/ethical failures per article. The propaganda device of asymmetrical definition occurs most frequently with a total of 129 instances followed by the propaganda device of card stacking with 94 occurrences. The logical fallacy occurring most frequently is appeal to pity and the Handbook violation occurring with the greatest frequency is that of a failure to uphold social responsibility.

An asymmetrical definition is a type of suggestion where the audience is misled via the propagandist‘s use of a word or phrase bearing a meaning different than that the audience would normally attribute to it (Smith, 1989). Reuters repetitive use of this technique can be seen in 16 of the sample articles published in June which focus on the story of a Turkish-led flotilla apprehended at sea while attempting to break the Israeli weapons blockade of the Gaza Strip. The flotilla consisted of six vessels, three of which were carrying construction materials and humanitarian aid for Palestinian Arabs (Palestinians) in Gaza. Five of the ships were boarded and subsequently impounded by the Israeli navy without loss of life or serious injury but the sixth ship, the Mavi Marmara, was the scene of violent clashes between passengers armed with cold weapons, e.g., knives and iron bars, and Israeli forces, armed with paintball guns and pistols.12 Although it went unreported by Reuters, inspection of the Mavi Marmara cargo hold immediately following the incident revealed no humanitarian aid on board the ship.13 Yet, in over a dozen stories in the data sample, Reuters conflates the Mavi Marmara with the other vessels, repeatedly using the word "aid" to describe the ship, its cargo, and its purported mission, i.e., to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians in Gaza.

In a story published on June 4, 2010 for example, Reuters correspondent Tom Perry and then-Jerusalem Bureau Chief Alastair Macdonald write:

Israel is unlikely to heed calls to lift the blockade of the Gaza Strip but is bloody seizure of a Turkish aid ship has caused international anger and American dismay that is forcing it to seek conciliatory moves.

Israel’s leaders have been unrepentant. Prime Minister Netanyahu accused Europeans of hypocrisy over efforts to stop Iranian arms reaching Gaza‘s Hamas Islamist rulers.

But even with vital ally the United States criticizing the harm the blockade is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza, and President Barack Obama calling the killing of nine men, including an American, a tragedy, Netanyahu is seeking points where concessions can soak up some of the pressure.

Perry and Macdonald‘s de facto editorial piece, which is identified in the headline as "Analysis" rather than with the more traditional and transparent term "Op-Ed" adopted by most media firms for stories where subjective content appears, is laden with propaganda devices and violations of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism.

First, by mischaracterizing the Mavi Marmara as an "aid ship", asymmetrical definition is being deployed to suggest a role for the ship distinctly different from the role it actually undertook and ultimately played in the incident. Although it is remotely possible Perry and Macdonald are utilizing the word "aid" to mean assistance in a socio-political sense, i.e., calling attention to the circumstances of Palestinians living in Gaza, readers are clearly and overtly being given the false impression that the Mavi Marmara carried humanitarian aid when it did not.

The statement, "Israel‘s leaders have been unrepentant" reflects both the propaganda device of innuendo and the use of loaded words, a violation of Reuters Handbook, as the language implicitly conveys a judgment of wrongdoing and moral condemnation of Israel‘s government officials for the incident which had neither been alleged nor proven by any juridical body.

"The harm the blockade is doing to the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza" reflects 1) an assertion; 2) exaggeration; 3) card stacking; and 4) atrocity propaganda respectively, as the phrase is 1) unproven; 2) inflates the impact of the "blockade" to encompass the entire population in Gaza; 3) omits mention of the fact that Egypt too, had been embargoing the Gaza Strip; and 4) alludes to the "blockade" as a war atrocity by virtue of its alleged deleterious effect on the civilian population, without mentioning that all manner of humanitarian goods had been regularly transiting through the Israeli land border with the Gaza Strip.17

Perry and Macdonald then cite President Barack Obama "calling the killing of nine men, including an American, a tragedy". What Obama actually said in the relevant interview with CNN one day prior to the publication of the Reuters story was the following:

What's important right now is that we break out of the current impasse, use this tragedy as an opportunity so that we figure out how can we meet Israel's security concerns, but, at the same time, start opening up opportunity for Palestinians, work with all parties concerned, the Palestinian Authority, the Israelis, the Egyptians, and others. And I think Turkey can have a positive voice in this whole process, once we've worked through this tragedy, and bring everybody together to figure out, how can we get a two-state solution where Palestinians and the Israelis can live side-by-side in peace and security.18

Note that Obama characterizes as a "tragedy" the incident generally, i.e., the violence and casualties on both sides, not the [Israeli] killing of nine men, including an American as Perry and Macdonald misstate. This reporting failure is, at a minimum, an uncorrected error and improper use/lack of quotes, both violations of the Reuters Handbook. More likely, given the easily accessible record of the President‘s televised comments just a day earlier, the mischaracterization reflects a historical reconstruction, i.e., intentional fabrication, on the part of Perry and Macdonald.
One other of the many examples given to illustrate a specific propaganda technique:

Employing a propaganda device known as symbolic fiction, Sawafta and Hamilton cite a study by an Israeli non-government organization:
A report this week by Israeli human rights group B’Tselem says more than 300,000 Israelis now live on 42 percent of the West Bank, land where Palestinians want to establish their future country in a “two-state solution” with Israel.
The B‘Tselem study does not say this. Rather, the report indicates that Jewish communities reside upon less than 1 percent of this disputed territory. There is an allegation that due to the classification of a portion of the territory as "state land" by Israel, 42 percent of it is controlled by Israeli Jewish councils.47 Even this claim however, has been rejected by the Chairman of the Council of Jewish Communities who puts the figure at 9 percent. Following presentation of this fiction, Sawafta and Hamilton again violate Reuters‘ fairness doctrine by failing to provide space for any Israeli official to respond to the fictionalized claim in their story.

The survey given after the volunteers read the stories asked two very simple questions.

1) After reading this article, I feel more sympathetic or favorable towards:


2) After reading this article, I am more motivated to take some supportive action on behalf of:


The results?

For both survey questions, there is a large and extremely significant difference between the mean subject response prior to undertaking the readings and the mean response following the individual readings. ...Subjects take a largely neutral view of the belligerents going into the study (untransformed mean 3.18) but substantially shift their view in favor of the Arabs/Palestinians over the course of the readings (untransformed mean 2.17). Similarly, prior to the readings subjects are nearly dead neutral on whether they feel motivated to take supportive action on behalf of one or the other belligerent parties (untransformed mean 3.12) but over the course of the readings, subjects feel significantly more motivated to take supportive action on behalf of the Arabs/Palestinians (untransformed mean 2.35).

Consistent with the findings of Likert (1932), Rosenthal (1934), and other researchers employing linear scales to measure the effect of propaganda on audience attitudes and behavior, Reuters‘ stories are clearly influencing reader sentiment, in this case by shifting it favorably toward the Arabs/Palestinians and away from the Israelis.
The paper goes on to note that the higher the "propaganda" rating of the piece, the more the subjects shifted their opinions towards the Palestinian Arab side of the story.

This is stunning. While I can see how it may be possible for the researchers to be less than perfectly objective in categorizing phrases in different subjective buckets, the major result is that Reuters stories  cause readers to act in ways consistent to having been subjected to anti-Israel propaganda.

While there have been a number of attempts to quantify bias in specific media outlets, this is the most objective and scientific study I have seen in for the Middle East conflict. It proves, as much as something like this can be proven, that Reuters is systematically and institutionally biased against Israel.

It would be most enlightening to see a comparison of different news sources using these same techniques over the same time period.