Study: Reuters Headlines

 

Dear HonestReporting Subscriber,

Headlines are powerful elements of any news story, for a headline is the first (and oftentimes the only) item seen by the reader.

Recognizing this, HonestReporting monitored headlines of Reuters news agency reports on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict during the one-month period June 10 – July 10, 2003. This critical period commenced with the Israeli strike against Hamas leader Abdel Aziz Rantisi, and ended with the relative calm of the Palestinian hudna.

During this time frame, Reuters issued headlines describing six acts of violence by Palestinians against Israelis, and twelve acts of violence by Israel against Palestinians. Among these, HonestReporting found the following patterns of bias:

1) Named subject

In violent acts against Israelis, the Palestinian agent is named in 33% of the headlines.

In violent acts against Palestinians, the Israeli agent is named in 100% of the headlines. Moreover, Israel is always emphasized by appearing as the first word in the headline.

2) Named object

In violent acts against Israelis, casualties are labeled “Israeli” in 11% of the headlines.

In violent acts against Palestinians, casualties are labeled “Palestinian” or “Hamas” in 50% of the headlines. Considering “militant” as a Palestinian-specific term raises this figure to 71% of headlines.

3) Verb selection

Violent acts by Palestinians are described with “active voice” verbs in 33% of the headlines.

Violent acts by Israelis are described with “active voice” verbs in 100% of the headlines.

A few examples of Reuters headlining Israel in ferocious terms:

“Sharon Vows More Attacks on Militants Despite Talks” (June 15)

“Israel Threatens New Raids After Anti-Hamas Strike” (June 22)

“Israeli Army Swoops in Nablus After Security Talks” (June 23)

Here are three side-by-side comparisons of how Reuters headlines similar violent events involving Israelis and Palestinians:

Example 1:

“Israeli Troops Shoot Dead Palestinian in W.Bank” (July 3)

Israel named as perpetrator; Palestinian named as victim; described in active voice.

&nbsp vs.

“New West Bank Shooting Mars Truce” (July 1)

Palestinian not named as perpetrator; Israeli not named as victim; shooting described in passive voice.

Example 2:

“Israel Kills Three Militants; Gaza Deal Seen Close” (June 27)

Israel named as perpetrator; Palestinians (“Militants”) named as victims; described in active voice.

&nbsp vs.

“Bus Blows Up in Central Jerusalem” (June 11)

Palestinian not named as perpetrator; Israelis not named as victims; described in passive voice.

Example 3:

“Israeli Tank Kills 3 Militants in Gaza – Witnesses” (June 22)

Israel named as perpetrator; Palestinians (“Militants”) named as victims; described in active voice.

&nbsp vs.

“Israeli Girl Killed, Fueling Cycle of Violence” (June 18)

Palestinian not named as perpetrator; killing described in passive voice.

Not only acts of violence during this period generated biased Reuters headlines. To describe diplomatic events, Reuters consistently grants Palestinian statements neutral or pleading language, while Israeli positions are described in uncompromising, aggressive terms. Compare:

Example 1 — Palestinians are peaceful, while Israel is belligerent:

“Palestinian Islamic Militants Declare Truce” (June 29)

&nbsp vs.

“Israel Pours Scorn on Cease-fire with Militants” (June 23)

Example 2 — Palestinians are peaceful, while Israel is belligerent:

“Palestinians Urge Israel to Free Prisoners” (July 4)

&nbsp vs.

“Israel Sets Tough Terms for Prisoner Release” (July 6)

SUMMARY:

In the world of Reuters headlines, when Israel acts, Israel is always perpetrating an active assault, and the Palestinian victim is consistently identified. But when Palestinian terrorists act, their Israeli victims are faceless, and the Palestinian perpetrators are rarely named nor described in active terms. Moreover, Palestinian diplomats pursue peace, but are frustrated by their obstinate Israeli counterparts.

Reuters’ obvious message? Israel is the aggressor, and Palestinians are the victims.

For the past three years, HonestReporting readers have intuitively sensed that Reuters is taking sides in this conflict. HonestReporting’s one-month analysis of Reuters’ headlines demonstrates that the claim of Reuters’ bias is indeed grounded in fact.

In professional journalism, lack of objectivity is the cardinal sin. As one of the world’s most broadly syndicated news agencies, Reuters has tremendous influence on Western perception of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — thereby making its biased stance all the more reprehensible.

Comments to: editor@reuters.com

Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.

HonestReporting.com

Notes:

– The June 26 murder of an Israeli telephone worker was not included in any Reuters headline.

– The June 30 killing of a foreign worker by Palestinian terrorists was not included in the statistics above.

– Reuters typically issues many versions of a report on a particular event. Headlines were counted just once per event, except when a headline change affected one of the three elements addressed in the study: subject named, object named, active/passive verb. In such cases, both the original and adjusted headlines were counted. (In effect, such changes occurred in two cases of violence against Palestinians, and in three cases of violence against Israelis.)

 

 

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