Titled “The Cost of Exclusion”, the study exposes the lack of balance and the severe effects of the exclusion of Arab citizens from the media coverage during the October 2015 political escalation
A year since the October surge in violence, a new study by Sikkuy titled The Cost of Exclusion, examines how the main media outlets covered Israel’s Arab citizens during the wave of knife attacks in October 2015.
The political and security escalation, which began exactly a year ago, continued for a full month and included an epidemic of stabbings all over the country, accompanied by extensive protests in Arab localities about the situation on the Temple Mount, calls to boycott or fire Arabs, and an upsurge in Jewish-Arab tensions.
The new study, based on the collection and analysis of some 1100 articles and items (television, radio, print media, and internet) that dealt with Arab citizens of Israel during October 2015, shows the extent to which the reporting on this sector was biased, and how the exclusion of Arab interviewees had a harmful impact on the coverage and made it particularly negative – with a damaging and dramatic effect on the relations between Jews and Arabs in what was in any case a sensitive period.
The research, conducted for Sikkuy by “Ifat Media Analysis”, examined the performance of the main media outlets during the weeks of crisis and escalation during October. It found that 69% of the media coverage of the Arab citizens of Israel did not include a single Arab interviewee or spokesperson. This figure correlates with the tone and sentiment of the coverage of Arab citizens, of which 49% was distinctly negative, while only 24% was positive. This is a particularly unfavorable pattern of coverage, even when compared to other groups that are subjected to withering criticism, such as the big labor unions.
The strong and clear link between the exclusion of Arabs and the negativity of the media coverage comes out most harshly when one compares the tone of the reports with and without Arab interviewees. Whereas 64% of the items that did not include a single Arab speaker were negative, only 30% of those that did include Arabs were. Correspondingly, the positive tone of the reporting was much more pronounced when an Arab was interviewed: 35% of such coverage was positive, as against only 15% of the items with no Arab representatives.
In a period of extraordinary tension between Jews and Arabs, media coverage has a significant effect on the positions of the public at large and the level of the tension and antagonism that prevail in the public arena. The study findings demonstrate that the media opted for coverage that was biased and was not based on direct contact with the country’s Arab citizens, an omission that undoubtedly exacerbated the tensions.
The study also looked at the nature of the coverage of various groups within Arab society and the media’s treatment of the Arab protests, which consumed a large segment of the media space during October. The Arab Knesset members received extremely unfavorable coverage: 65% of the items about them were blatantly negative, while only 12% were positive. The Arab local authority heads, by contrast, enjoyed relatively positive press – 62% of the items about them were positive; but this had only a slight effect on the overall picture, because only 10% of the reporting on the Arab sector dealt with them, as against 40% that related to the Arab parliamentarians – who, as noted, were savaged by the media.
The study paid particular attention to the media’s treatment of the protests and demonstrations by Arab citizens throughout the country during October, triggered by their fears of a change in the status quo on the Temple Mount. Even though the protest had many different voices and manifestations – some of them perfectly legitimate, such as the countrywide protest strike and peaceful demonstrations – 54% of the coverage was negative and only 10% was positive. Around 80% of the items dealt with the demonstrations, chiefly their violent aspects, and only 20% with the strike, which enjoyed almost unprecedented success. The result was a distorted picture of a violent and hostile protest that quickly spilled over to the social networks and led to many calls by Jews to boycott Arab businesses and fire Arab employees of public institutions on the false grounds that they supported the wave of knife attacks.
The coverage of the Arabs’ protest is a classic example how unbalanced reporting that does not actively include those directly involved in the events creates a biased picture that can have a toxic effect on the general public’s perceptions and positions with regard to a minority group.
The study was written and edited by Edan Ring, the director of public affairs and head of the Equal Media Project at Sikkuy. After the publication of the report he said: “The mass media play a decisive role in shaping public opinion and the public discourse; but in a time of tension and crisis they also have a special responsibility that they must address with utmost seriousness. The study we released demonstrates the extent to which the unbalanced and unfair coverage and exclusion of the country’s Arab citizens had a harmful impact on public opinion, fanning the flames and heightening the tension between the groups. To our distress, precisely in an extremely sensitive period of escalating tension, the media failed to provide a fair and true picture of the diversity of opinions and position held by citizens on both sides. Decision and policy makers in the media should be mindful of this when and if, unfortunately, similar situations arise in the future.”
Read the full study (in Hebrew): https://sikkuy-aufoq.org.il/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/mehir_hahadara.pdf