Introduction In December 1985, the Canadian press reported the death by suicide of hundreds of field mice in the Middle East.
In an apparently instinctive reaction to a problemof over-population, the mice wilfully plunged to their doom off the cliffs of the Golan Heights. This bizarre story was the subject not only of straight news coverage inthe Canadian press, but also of an editorial in the Globe and Mail on December 20. On November 1, 1985, the Globe and Mail also ran a photograph of a visitingRoman Catholic priest from Brazil, saying prayers on the banks of the Jordan River at the site where Christ is said to have been baptized. Standing alertly near thepriest was an Israeli soldier with a rifle slung over his shoulder, his eyes carefully scanning Jordanian territory across the river. For the analyst of the media and media image-making, these rather unusual press items raise an interesting question about news selection and presentation by theeditorial departments of the daily press. Had the mice toppled off Mount Kilimanjaro would this essentially scientific story about animal behaviour have found its wayso prominently into the Canadian press? Had the priest been peacefully saying mass on the Mattawa would this religious item have been deemed worthy ofcoverage? Or was it the newspapers’ sense of the irony of these events, of their news value as symbols depicting the pervasive conflict and violence we have cometo associate with the Middle East that led to their selection for publication from the reams of teletype endlessly flowing into the editorial departments of the Canadianpress? It would seem that even when the subject matter is scientific or religious–about mice or monsignors–the press is inclined to remind its readers of theinherently violent nature of the Middle East, and a fundamentally negative image is developed or reinforced.
It is, Canadians are told in effect, a region so bleak andhopeless that even its despairing mice are driven to take their lives. The purpose of this study is to examine in an empirical fashion Canadian daily press coverage of the Middle East to establish, inter alia, what type of image of theregion and of its principal actors (Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states) is, in fact, presented to the Canadian reader and what impact, if any, the character ofthat coverage has had on the shaping of Canadian foreign policy. Hypotheses and Methodology A review of the existing, limited literature on Canadian media coverage of the Middle East together with the more extensive literature on the Canadian media andinternational affairs generally led us to advance five hypotheses to test in our study of press coverage of the Middle East: (1) It was anticipated that treatment of the region would be relatively substantial, given the prominence of Middle East events in the context of East-West relationsand issues of global peace and security, and that the predominant coverage would be of Israel, the Palestinians, Egypt and Lebanon because of their central role inMiddle East conflict (Hackett, 1989; Keenleyside, Soderlund, & Burton, 1985; Kirton, Barei, & Smockum, 1985; Sinclair, 1983). (2) It was expected that there would be relatively limited coverage of Canadian relations with the Middle East unless some specific development, most likely withinCanada, prompted attention to the region (Cumming, 1981; Keenleyside, Soderlund, & Burton, 1985; Kirton, Barei, & Smockum, 1985; Schroeder, 1977).
(3) Conflict rather than cooperation, it was hypothesized, would be the dominant orientation of the press with articles focusing on political divisions, disasters,violence and war rather than on softer news related to such subjects as culture, education and development (Cuthbert, 1980; Dewitt & Kirton, 1989; Hackett,1989; Inyang, 1985; Onu, 1979; Schroeder, 1977; Sinclair, 1983). (4) On the perennial subject of bias towards Israel or the Arab states and the Palestinians, it was expected that, while the press would be critical of the party deemedresponsible for any specific violent acts, it was likely to show reasonable balance even at such times on the central issue of a resolution of the Palestinian question. (5) Finally, many authors have noted the potential relevance of media coverage to the making of foreign policy, particularly in terms of setting the policy agenda andshaping public opinion which, in turn, establishes the