July 9, 2007

Being Framed

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:28 pm by yisraelmedad

Being Framed
by
Yisrael Medad

This was submitted for publication to the Jerusalem Post, September 1998.

Did you know that as media consumers, you are being “framed”.  Who will protect you?  Who will stand up for your media consumer rights?

News stories, in the academic jargon are framed.  These “frames” – whether you read a newspaper, listen to the radio or watch television –  select, present and emphasize for you what a reporter and his editor presume, in a very subjective way, to be natural.  Frames are the filter than organize reality.  And as such, they can restrict.  In the rush to get the news out, impressions, more than facts, are what are transmitted.

While the media may not tell us what to believe and think, they surely do
tell us about what and how to think about a subject.   We may not be able
to avoid the accepted truth is that “all news is inherently biased”,
nevertheless, the fact is that the majority of media consumers believe much
of what is seen and heard.

In the past two months, news media have impressed upon their consumers the
existence of two different “undergrounds”.  In early July, two residents of
the Golan Heights were investigated by the police.  The charges, we were
informed, concerned the stealing of weapons and other military materiel.
The frame of the story, however, was the additional information that these
two were suspected of forming an “underground” which would act against a
possible withdrawal from the Golan as part of a negotiated arrangement with
Syria.

Late in July and continuing into August, another “underground” made its way
into the news.  This time, we were informed, it consisted of at least four
youngsters, all under the age of 16, residents of Kiryat Arba and nearby
Hebron Hills communities.  They were being investigated in connection with
property damage crimes caused to Arab stores and fields.  This story
followed a previous case, just
two weeks earlier, in which two other local Jewish youngsters and a
Jerusalem resident, 20 years old, were held for several days on suspicion
of beating Arabs on the Sabbath during a horse ride on the outskirts of
Kiryat Arba.

As of now, all suspects, in all three cases, have been released by the
police.  In the Golan instance, the police denied any responsibility for a
charge of illegal conspiracy to promote violent actions, that is, an
“underground”.  At the end of the day, however, the public, as media
consumers, had been fed both by the press and electronic media with
stories, sometimes daily and even hourly, about an “underground”.

During the past fortnight, another media frame frenzy has been the threat
of Jewish “right-wing extemeists” who present an immediate
danger to the life of Defense Minister Mordechai.  This time, however,
alternative media voices related that many presumed that this time, the GSS
was behind the news, less for operational needs than for shoring up its own
publicity needs or even the advancing of political agendas of some of its
present and past employees.

While beyond the scope of this article to investigate who decided that
these stories would be framed in such a fashion, media consumers should
always ask themselves: was it an official police spokesperson speaking
off-the-record, for background?  Was it an unofficial source or some police
“expert”?  Or was it the reporter’s imagination or that of his editor?  Or
just something someone thought would sell?

The fairly simple fact of media life in Israel is that the press cannot
relate to any story concerning “settlers” or other persons living beyond
the Green Line except in frames such as “underground”?

For example, as it turned out, the real story of the detention and
questioning of the four youth from Kiryat Arba, from an objective news
standard, was the fact that the investigation was being handled by the
General Security Services, quite possibly in violation of their rights.  It
took several days for the media to shake off the original “underground”
frame and begin to deal with its real news value – the trampling of civil
rights.

Even so, the story petered out immediately upon the release, in drips and
drabs, of the four suspects.  Despite complaints by MKs, the director of
the Children’s Protection Council and law groups, none of the media
published follow-up investigative stories into the issue.  They could not,
even after printing and broadcasting factual news items on the matter, free
themselves from the frame of onceptualizing Kiryat Arba citizens foremost,
at least, as anything but potential underground activists.

There is a pattern here.  Similar instances of skewered frames include the
scarcity of water in Arab populated areas in Judea and Samaria portrayed on
the backdrop of Jews swimming in pools when the real story is a 40% Arab
theft rate of their own water as well as the PA’s administrative inability.
Or the frame regarding the charges of bribe-taking and worse against
Shimon Sheves, the former Director-General of Yitzhak Rabin’s Office of the
Prime Minister, which downplays any link with Rabin.  This compared to
persons whose links with the current Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu
have been highlighted.

If “framing” is an f-word to be careful of, we media consumers should
demand another f-word, “fairness”, from those who seek to inform us and
keep us abreast of the news.  In any case, it’s the law and part of their
own journalist ethics code.

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