press? It would seem that even when the subject matter is scientific or religious–about mice or monsignors–the press is inclined to remind its readers of the
hopeless that even its despairing mice are driven to take their lives.
that coverage has had on the shaping of Canadian foreign policy.
Hypotheses and Methodology
international affairs generally led us to advance five hypotheses to test in our study of press coverage of the Middle East:
(1) It was anticipated that treatment of the region would be relatively substantial, given the prominence of Middle East events in the context of East-West relations
Canada, prompted attention to the region (Cumming, 1981; Keenleyside, Soderlund, & Burton, 1985; Kirton, Barei, & Smockum, 1985; Schroeder, 1977).
1989; Inyang, 1985; Onu, 1979; Schroeder, 1977; Sinclair, 1983).
coverage of the Middle East would be found to have some policy relevance.
developments related to hostage-takings in Lebanon. The latter period is from December 1987 to September 1988 and is one dominated by the Palestinian uprising
the principal protagonists in the Middle East during periods in which each party stood before the court of world opinion as a perpetrator of violent acts, making it
is during times of crisis, when dramatic, turbulent events offer graphic and emotive material to present to the public, that the media is most likely to have the capacity
Given the differing lengths of time involved in our two study periods, the data base for each is rather different. For the last quarter of 1985, we content-analyzed five
randomly selected date within the first three days of October (October 2), we sampled each of these papers every third day until December 31. Each of these issues
was examined in its entirety for material dealing with the Middle East and all items identified were coded under several categories of analysis. All coding was done by
the authors, with intercoder reliability calculated at 86%. Further, for purposes of exploring press bias, in order to enlarge our data base, we examined all editorials
on the Middle East in the five newspapers from October 1 to December 31, 1985.
Since a longer period was deemed necessary to analyze the character of Middle East press coverage at the time of emergence of the intifadah and since we were
operating under constraints of time and budget, a different data base was employed for the second phase of this study. For the period December 1987 to September
1988, the Canadian News Index, which provides the headlines of stories, was used for the purpose of counting and coding Middle East items into various
different countries and subjects thus do not represent the totals for stories in the seven newspapers and direct comparisons with the 1985 data are not possible.
(1) Frequency and Focus of Middle East Coverage
Over the three-month sample period of 1985, altogether, 542 items appeared on the Middle East in the five newspapers examined, an average of 3.5 stories per
newspaper issue, with the Globe and Mail at the top end averaging 4.6 items per issue and the Vancouver Sun at the bottom only 2.3.
While overall for the five newspapers the coverage could be described as reasonably extensive, measured in terms of quantity alone, it must be pointed out that 96
or 17.7% of the items comprised stories that were only three paragraphs or less in length. Further, on average for the five newspapers, 76.4 per cent of the cases
developments, accounted together for just 5.4% of the total number of items.
When the Middle East actors featured in the Canadian press coverage in 1985 were analyzed, it was discovered that the press did, in fact, concentrate on the
so-called “core” of the Middle East. Israel dominated the coverage with 256 items (47.2% of cases) dealing wholly or in part with that country. The Palestine
Liberation Organization (coded in 143 stories), other Palestinian actors (141), Egypt (123), and Lebanon (86) followed as the most significant foci of attention. The
In the 1987-88 period, the Middle East continued to be the subject of considerable attention, substantially in excess of that accorded all other third world regions.
Once again, too, the emphasis was heavily on factual news rather than evaluative pieces and on the “core” of the area. However, during this period, that core was
much more specifically Israel itself. Over the four-month span, December 1987 to March 1988, for instance, the Canadian News Index listed 621 stories related to
Israel. On the basis of their headlines, 500 of these, or 81%, dealt principally with the intifadah and more specifically Israeli repression in dealing with this problem,
making this the unquestioned focus of Middle East coverage. Other actors trailed far behind the attention devoted to Israel and this particular aspect of Israeli affairs
over this four-month period. Through the late spring and summer of 1988, the intensity of the coverage of Israel declined somewhat and the Canadian press devoted
markedly increased attention to the Iran-Iraq war, then in its concluding stages, and to the Persian Gulf region generally. By the autumn of 1988, however, the
continuing unrest in Gaza and the West Bank and the Israeli election shifted the press focus back to Israel again.
simply in terms of the number of items. However, in both 1985 and 1987-88 the press relied very heavily on straight news treatment, with little attention being given
to providing the reader with the background and analysis necessary to understand the complex unfolding of events within the region. Moreover, coverage was largely
significance of events occurring within their jurisdictions–largely excluded from serious treatment.
(2) Canada’s Relations with the Middle East
A striking feature of the press coverage in 1985 was the lack of Middle East stories related to Canada. Only 48 items or 8.9% of the total made any reference to
Canada. Further, many of the Canadian items had only a tangential connection with this country. Of them 32 pertained to the various violent incidents in or related to
In 1987-88, the Canadian press certainly devoted much greater attention to Canadian relations with the Middle East than in 1985. However, in our view, the
coverage remained episodic in nature and did not reflect a new concern to inform readers about a range of Canadian relations with the countries of the region and
Canadian policy with respect to the central issue of an Arab-Israeli reconciliation.
of State for External Affairs Joe Clark regarding Israel that set off a debate in Canada which the press reported on with some frequency, especially between
December 1987 and May 1988. On December 22, 1987, the Prime Minister remarked that, in his view, Israel was showing restraint in its handling of the unrest in
systematically abusing the human rights of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank and the following day he met with the ambassadors of the Arab countries in
both positive and negative reactions in Canada to Mr. Clark’s apparently tougher position.
Israel in Gaza and the West Bank as “totally unacceptable and in many cases illegal under international law.” His speech created a furore at the meeting and
precipitated a plethora of “reaction” stories in the Canadian press in the weeks and, indeed, months that followed.
Altogether, over the period December 1987 to September 1988, the Canadian News Index listed 100 stories examining Israel’s policies in the occupied territories
from a Canadian perspective (almost all of them related to the two leaders’ controversial statements), compared to 19 stories pertaining to other aspects of Canada’s
relations with the Middle East. Thus, the coverage in the two periods supports the view that only when there are special developments within Canada do Canadian
newspapers, to any significant degree, inform their readers about aspects of Canada’s relations with the Middle East.
(3) Orientation of Middle East Coverage
In the last quarter of 1985, all sample stories were assessed in terms of whether or not they were conflictual or non-conflictual in character. Items were coded as
conflictual if they dealt with violent events in the Middle East (e.g., fighting, bombings, assassinations, hostage-takings, etc.) or with non-violent conflict that extended
non-conflictual. Of these, 340 or 72.3% dealt with violence in or related to the region.
Canadian press coverage from December 1987 to September 1988 was also very heavily conflictual in character. As indicated, Israel was the dominant focus and
the majority of stories dealt with its actions in the occupied territories. It is clear from the headlines that almost all of these reported on the use of violent means to
repress the Palestinian uprising. The results for both periods thus bear out the third hypothesis that press coverage of the Middle East is, not surprisingly, essentially
negative in nature.
(4) The Tilt of Canadian Middle East Coverage
On the recurring question of the bias of Canadian press coverage, Table 1 reports on the perspective of all editorials on the Middle East in the five newspapers
examined from October 1 to December 31, 1985.
Perspectives of Editorials on Middle East Issues, 1985
Favourable to Arab
Unfavourable to Arab
Note: There were 45 editorials during the study period; some covered more than one issue.
The table indicates that while there was virtually no favourable editorial treatment of either Israel or the Arab states, unfavourable comment was directed primarily at
the Arabs. The whole series of Palestinian violent incidents, starting with the seizure of the Achille Lauro in early October and culminating in the Rome and Vienna
Israel was largely confined to reaction to an Israeli Air Force raid on the PLO headquarters in Tunis which occurred at the very beginning of the coding period.
Despite the strong condemnation of some Arab governments and organizations in the wake of the hostage-takings and killings, there was generally even-handed
treatment of Israel and the Arabs in discussion of the overall Middle East peace process. All five newspapers ran editorials that were coded as neutral in their
Chronicle-Herald’s editorial of December 14 was representative: “It would seem to be axiomatic that no significant agreement in the Middle East can be reached
without the PLO.”
In contrast with 1985, it was Israel rather than the Arabs and Palestinians that was subjected to unfavourable coverage in 1987- 88. The news stories dealing with
unfavourable to Israel, the tendency was clearly towards the latter, although we did not undertake a precise count as in 1985. Most opinion pieces centred
the death toll mounts and world opinion grows increasingly impatient with Israel, “the lack of protest from the Canadian government becomes more and more
inexplicable.” Mr. Clark’s March address to the Canada-Israel Committee prompted a substantial outpouring of press support with the Chronicle-Herald, for
1985 we noted that the negative coverage of Palestinian violence did not affect the Canadian press’s recognition of the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian
Israel’s existence and legitimacy.” Thus, like that of 1985, the coverage of 1987-88 indicates that the Canadian press inclines towards negative treatment of that side
and the Arabs.
(5) Implications for Canadian Foreign Policy
Finally, there are grounds for arguing that the character of the Canadian press coverage of the Middle East during our two periods of study had relevance for the
making of policy in at least two respects. First, regarding the agenda-setting role of the media, the heavy coverage of hostages, hijackings, assassinations and
bombings in the Middle East during the last quarter of 1985 clearly elevated the issue of terrorism on the agenda for public debate and thereby helped to determine
1985 incidents, within Canada, the government stepped up security measures at airports, while at the external level it combined with other states within the fora of
NATO and the UN to consider ways of dealing with the spectre of terrorism. Similarly, in 1987-88, the extensive, graphic coverage of the protests in Gaza and the
Second, the nature of the media’s coverage of the Middle East arguably had an impact on public opinion and the public mood, in turn, had some effect on policy. For
example, it seems likely that the late 1985 portrayal of radical Palestinians and their allies as perpetrators or sponsors of violent actions influenced the public’s
January 1986 as well as its rather oblique support of the subsequent U.S. naval and air attacks on that country. The responses to a Gallup Poll conducted across
the Achille Lauro and the American interception of the Egyptian plane carrying the supposed hijackers of the ship, a finding which indicates the extent to which
Canadians are exposed to crises in the Middle East by the media. In addition, 80% of those respondents who expressed awareness of the episode (compared to
16 1985). Doubtless, in deciding to support U.S. measures against Libya, the Mulroney government was aware of the impact that media coverage of the Achille
Lauro incident and of other violent acts by radical Palestinian groups over the preceding months had had upon Canadian public opinion.
Similarly, there seems little question that the Canadian press’s generally negative treatment of Israeli actions in the occupied territories from December 1987 on
the late 1970s, with the number of respondents showing that sentiment reaching a low of 12% in February 1988. Further, a Globe-Environics poll, published on
approved. The same poll revealed that those whose sympathies were strongly or somewhat pro-Arab had increased since October 1987 from 8 to 14% (Globe
and Mail, March 30, 1988, pp. 1-2). While the latter poll results were published subsequent to both of Mr. Clark’s critical public statements regarding Israeli policy,
the government was clearly aware throughout the first quarter of 1988 of the anguish Israeli actions, as reported in the media, were causing for Canadians, and this