Daily Archives: December 4, 2011

News Frames and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

If you drew a map of the world and you drew the size of each country proportionate to how much news attention it receives, Israel would be the size of the old Soviet Union. There are a variety of reasons for this, namely, that Israel is a democratic country in which it is possible to walk around and file a story. It is also true that the international appeal of the conflict as well as the prevalence of English make newsgathering easier.

But there is another slightly more insidious reason. Media coverage of Israel is often simply framed in an extreme way or in a regularly consistent manner such that the frame takes on “reality” or a strong sense of “truth.” News stories of Israel are almost always framed around “conflict.” A conflict frame includes “violence”, images of Israel as Goliath and the Palestinians as David, along with accusations about “apartheid,” settlements,” and “occupation.” These violence and conflict frames overwhelm the rest of Israel. In fact, it is frame incompatibility that defines the conflict. An act of violence will be framed as a “security” issue by the Israelis and an “aggression” or “occupation” frame by the Palestinians. Frame management is one important route to conflict resolution.

Arguments can be cast or “framed” in such a way as to direct attention toward a specific type of information or cognitive processing. Framing, wherein the frame casts the same information in either positive or negative terms, has been the focus of substantial research activity in the past three decades.The issue is whether framing an alternative in either a positive or negative manner influences the response. Frames are an alternative to classical rationality. Subjective issues form the cornerstone of framing theory. For instance, as Kahneman and Tversky first pointed out, gaining a hundred dollars by going from $100 to $200 is more significant than gaining hundred dollars by going from $1100 to $1200. The absolute gain in both cases is the same; however the gain in the first example is psychologically greater. The framing perspective for ethnopolitical conflicts is heavily influenced by the presence or absence of various psychological factors. That is, it is an alternative to classical rationality and the effectiveness of the argument is dependent on the qualities associated with accepting or rejecting a particular frame.

A framing effect occurs when, during an argument, relevant considerations of how the argument is framed causes individuals to focus on these considerations when constructing their opinions. The arguments of others are an important window on our own reality; that is, people are influenced by the opinions and arguments of others. Such informational influences demonstrate the value of argumentative exchange; arguments have an informational influence and can direct the development of attitudes about an issue.

For example, the blame frame and the cooperative frame are two typical ways to frame messages, especially between Palestinians and Israelis. Blame is based on the perception that someone is responsible for a failure to achieve a goal or a particular social condition. Blame is also associated with a sense of injustice that can be very motivating and even used to justify aggression. The act of blaming another person or group serves to exonerate one’s own actions. I can ignore my own problematic behaviors because by blaming someone else, attention is directed away from my own behavior, and I can even justify my behavior as a result of someone else’s actions. The attribution of blame serves as moral justification for my own behaviors. The attribution of blame toward a competing party creates a particularly intense reaction because of the negativity bias: the tendency to be more sensitive to potential losses or negative information than to gains or positive information. Negativity is an informational cue that carries a strong negative valence and may have a more powerful effect on attitudes and evaluations. We would expect, then, an argument between Israelis and Palestinians that is framed by “blame” to elicit a defensive tension reducing response that prevents attitude change in the desired direction. Moreover, a “blame” frame acts as a “loss” frame in the Kahneman and Tversky sense of the term. In other words, potential outcomes fall below a reference point, because accepting an argument means accepting responsibility for inappropriate and even immoral behavior. A blame frame is negative stimuli and attracts more attention; it induces more cognitive activity and increases the analytical tension an individual brings to a decision. We would expect, then, that when Israelis and Palestinians argue their respective positions, that couching the argument in blame would be counterproductive and weaken the conflict resolution process.

Message framing is usually a highly intentional activity and used mostly by communication professionals who are crafting messages designed to elicit a particular effect. In the flow of normal deliberative conversation participants are usually, though not necessarily, less conscious of the arguments they are making. Message frames have been described as either forward or backward looking, which are somewhat related to cooperation and blame frames. Backward-looking statements prefer compromises and emphasize the past, including the symptoms of the conflict and implying that the other party is responsible. Forward-looking message frames, in contrast, are characterized by an effort to create a new framework and build a constructive future. The focus is more on similarities and mutual responsibility. Message framing is a powerful component of argument because how a message is perceived is equally as important as the quality of the presumptive relationship. Deliberation relies on quality argument and message framing can be used for good or ill. Deployed deceptively, a message framed in a particular way can detract from proper consideration of issues. On the other hand, framing can elucidate an issue and help provide perspective and clarity.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains fiercely entangled and frame management is one way out of the morass.

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