Award-winning study tracks coverage of Israel’s role in Mavi Marmara crisis

Shahira Fahmy

Britain Eakin

President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Israel played a role in garnering a diplomatic apology from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for its handling of Israel’s 2010 raid on the Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara that was trying to bring aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The incident resulted in the deaths of nine passengers belonging to a human rights group involved in nonviolent action.

However, in a study conducted by Shahira Fahmy, an associate professor in the University of Arizona School of Journalism, and graduate student Britain Eakin, Israel’s intentional approach to quell media coverage on board during the incident was an effective measure in ultimately framing the tone of the story.

The study, presented last summer at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) annual convention, won two prizes: first place in the Robert L. Stevenson competition and it won the Ecquid Novi African Journalism Studies Award for the Best Journalism Research Paper.

Fahmy and Eakin examined the coverage of the 2010 Mavi Marmara event in online international newspapers. Using the revolutionary concept of peace journalism that emerged to promote the idea of a more balanced form of coverage, they examined the coverage in Haaretz, The Guardian, and The New York Times from three time frames during an eight-month period. Each time period represented a significant stage during the Mavi Marmara incident. The start date was two days before the incident. The end date included media coverage of the Human Rights Council Report about the incident. The study also included the investigative report from the Israeli Turkel Commission.

Results of the study revealed online coverage in Haaretz, The Guardian and The New York Times differed significantly in half of the indicators for war and peace journalism frames. War journalism is defined as journalism that waits for violence to occur before reporting and lacks historical context. It is considered to be violence/war, propaganda, elite and victory-oriented, utilizing an “us versus them” framework. Haaretz significantly used more war journalism indicators than The New York Times and The Guardian.

Israel was able to tightly control what information international media could access during and immediately following the incident. Israeli commandos confiscated all video footage and recording equipment from the passengers of the Mavi Marmara, including from international media, once they boarded the ship. Not surprisingly, findings showed that flotilla passengers were largely ignored as sources in the analyzed stories, which could be partly explained by their ongoing detention by the Israeli government for a number of days. Therefore it is likely the passsengers did not have access to the media, particularly in the two days immediately following the incident. However, the authors explain even after the passengers were deported from Israel and had returned to their home countries, their stories and perspectives remained largely absent from subsequent reports about the incident.

“This incident highlights the importance and the necessity for international and local journalists to have access to a full range of sources and information to wade through conflicting narratives,” said Fahmy. “It draws attention to seemingly increasing attempts to cut reporters off from covering events that occur within Israeli/Palestinian related struggles. On a practical level, journalists covering the Middle East would be well served by more empirical research on war versus peace framing in relation to Middle Eastern conflicts, especially the long-lasting Israeli-Palestinian struggle.” Fahmy said.

Published Date: 

03/24/2013 - 8:27am

Key Word(s) of the Page: