Hegemonic Frames and International News Reporting: A Comparative Study of the
New York Times Coverage of the 1996 Indian and Israeli Elections
Markham Competition ( student papers)
of the International Division ,
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Conference
Chicago, July 30 - August 2, 1997
Ritu K. Jayakar
School of Journalism,
Ernie Pyle Hall, Indiana University.
Bloomington, IN 47405
email: [log in to unmask]
Hegemonic Frames and International News Reporting: A Comparative Study of the
New York Times Coverage of the 1996 Indian and Israeli Elections
The 1996 elections in Israel and India were considered to be crucial for
important national objectives in both countries. The determinants of
international news coverage in the U.S. press lead us to expect that there will
be important quantitative and qualitative differences to the coverage accorded
to the two events. This paper looks for these differences in the News York
Times' coverage of the Indian and Israeli elections. It uses the framing theory
to abstract the major themes and narrative streams in the election coverage. In
brief, the Indian election coverage was cast in the frame of the "exotic east,"
while that of Israel was covered in the framework of the Arab-Israeli peace
Hegemonic Frames and International News Reporting: A Comparative Study of the
New York Times Coverage of the 1996 Indian and Israeli Elections
In 1996 two Asian democracies, India and Israel went to the elections to choose
a new parliament. The polls were regarded as crucial turning points in both
countries. In Israel, it was generally perceived that the future of the
Israel-Palestinian negotiations and the West Asian peace process depended on the
outcome of the elections. In India too, the fortunes of the historic Congress
Party and the continuation of the economic liberalization program initiated by
the Rao government hinged on the election results. It was therefore natural that
the elections in these two countries attracted a lot of international media
Historically, the media in the United States has not given much importance to
the coverage of foreign news (Hess, 1996). A study of sixty newspapers in nine
different Western countries showed that U.S. newspapers ranked last in the
coverage of international news and current affairs (Gerbner & Marvanyi, 1977).
There have been periodic changes in the attitude of U.S. print media towards
international news. Till the second World War, the U.S. print media's attitude
towards the rest of the world was one of indifference. Once the U.S. became a
world power after the war, the U.S. media came to view the world through the
cold-war prism. International news developments were depicted as episodes in an
ongoing east-west struggle. Countries as small as Cuba and Nicaragua got the
prominent coverage in the U.S. media because of their perceived associations
with world communism. After the disintegration of the USSR in 1989, the focus
shifted to issue-based stories and emerging economic competition (Dennis, 1993).
Hegemonic Frames and International News Coverage page.
In spite of the general indifference of the U.S. print media to international
news, larger national newspapers like the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times,
the Washington Post, and the Chicago Tribune have established a reputation for
quality international reporting. The 1996 elections in India and Israel too
received coverage in these national newspapers. However, the available
literature on the determinants on international coverage in the U.S. print media
leads us to expect that the quality and quantity of the coverage on these two
elections would be substantially different. This difference is the subject
matter of this paper.
Even compared to metropolitan newspapers like the Washington Post, Chicago
Tribune, and Los Angeles Times, the New York Times was found to be most
attentive to foreign news and cosmopolitan in its coverage of international news
(Semmel, 1976). The New York Times has also devoted a larger proportion of its
space to international coverage. In New York Times, international stories
represent 44 percent of all stories on the front page (Haque, 1983). Since the
New York Times is the exemplar for international reporting which all other
newspapers seek to emulate, both in this country and abroad, we chose to study
the coverage of the two elections in this newspaper.
In this paper, we study the quantitative and qualitative differences between
the New York Times coverage of the 1996 elections in India and Israel. These two
countries are poles apart in geographical area, population, economic development
and socio-cultural background. Some differences in news coverage would be
natural, arising out of these differences. But the main argument in this paper
is that the differences in news coverage do not arise out of these factors
alone, but are also colored by the political preferences and strategic
perceptions of the United States. In the following sections, I seek to
demonstrate the influence of these factors on the New York Times' coverage of
the two elections.
Differences in election coverage are expected be on both the quantitative and
qualitative dimensions. On the quantitative level, I employ several measures
like the duration of coverage, the total number of articles, total column length
of all the stories published, placement of the article and others to assess the
difference in coverage. These terms and the way they are employed in the study
are explained in the methodology section. While the quantitative measures
indicate the relative importance placed by the New York Times on the coverage of
the two elections, it is the qualitative analysis that most effectively supports
the central thesis of this study. To analyze the qualitative aspects of the
coverage, we employ framing theory. We study the major themes and motifs running
through the coverage of the two elections, and arrange them within a narrative
framework that communicates not just factual information about the elections,
but also a set of attitudes and evaluative approaches towards the two events.
To set the context for the study, in the following section (Section I) we
discuss some important studies dealing with the determinants of international
news coverage in the U.S. In Section II, we introduce the main ideas of framing
theory. The next section (Section III) deals with methodological issues.
Quantitative results are presented in Section IV, after which we discuss the
qualitative aspects of the election coverage in Section V. The final section
summarizes the discussion, and presents the major conclusions of the study.
Section I: Determinants of International News Coverage in U.S. print media
It is a truism in journalism research that not all events receive similar
coverage. Events and individuals have to compete for scarce space in the media,
and the events that do get covered are filtered through the gate-keeping
function of journalists and editors. International news coverage is no
different. Several studies have tried to determine the characteristics of
international media events that get coverage in the U.S. press. Most of these
studies agree that there are distinct differences in coverage depending on the
national origin of the media event.
Chang et al. (1987) mentioned seven determinants of the news-worthiness for
international news: normative deviance of the event (defined as oddity or
uniqueness of the event which if occurred in US would break the norm), relevance
to the U.S., potential for social change, geographical distance (with closer
countries preferred in news coverage), language affinity, level of press freedom
and similarity in economic systems. Hester (1973) found that the news coverage
of a country overseas is dependent upon its geographical size, population,
economic development, and the duration for which it has been a sovereign nation.
On these measures, Hester arranged the countries of the world on a hierarchy.
Along with this hierarchy, he mentioned that cultural affinity and economic
association between nations as important determinants of news coverage. Culture
affinity here includes the social-historical connection between the two
countries like a common language, travel, migration of population and mother
country-colony status. Economic association was measured in terms of trade,
investment, and financial aid between countries.
However, the single major determinant of the coverage a foreign country gets is
the involvement of U.S. itself in the affairs of that country (Chang et al.
1987, Gerbner & Marvanyi, 1977). This ethnocentric attitude is also shaped by
the foreign policy priorities of the U.S. and its economic interests. For
example, Chang et al. (1987) studied the coverage of international news and
current affairs on network television and in the New York Times and concluded
that relevance to the United States and the normative deviance of the event were
equally important as determinants of coverage for both the New York Times and
network television. Events with greater potential for social change got more
attention from the New York Times, whereas geographical nearness drew the
attention of television news. Any event in which U.S. was involved
diplomatically or was related to U.S. got much better coverage than an event of
comparable importance that did not involve the U.S.
Many studies have also been done on the coverage accorded to Third World events
in the U.S. press. These studies concluded that there was imbalance in the
volume, direction and content in the global flows of news and information
(Masmoudi, 1979; Smith, 1980; Varis, 1984). Not all countries from the five
continents get proportionate coverage in U.S. (Gerbner & Marvanyi, 1977). These
authors observe that third world countries do not receive as much coverage in
the media of the developed world as the developed countries do in the media of
the third world. They also point out the excessive emphasis on "bad news" from
the Third World. The focus of U.S. media had been on crisis-oriented news from
the Third World, like famine, civil war, political and economic instability and
disease (Riffe & Shaw, 1982). Smith (1980) says that a reason for this imbalance
might be that the ownership of communicative resources, like news agencies,
audiovisual production companies, telecommunications companies and so on, is
concentrated in the West.
Based on the above arguments, it is reasonable to expect that there will be
quantitative and qualitative differences between the news coverage of events in
India and Israel in the U.S. press. Historically, Israel has enjoyed a close
relationship with the U.S. The creation of Israel itself in 1948 owed a lot to
the influence of the United States. The U.S. protected the new nation
diplomatically, exercising its veto power in the United Nations Security Council
numerous times on behalf of that country. The strong Jewish lobby in the U. S.
too has influenced the foreign policy of this country towards Israel. On its
part, Israel has been a key ally of the U.S. in West Asia, whose rich oil
deposits make the region economically and strategically important for the United
States. America today has multiple foreign policy stakes and economic
commitments in Israel.
India on the other hand, has not been historically allied with the political or
economic agenda of the United States. As a non-aligned state, India has
championed the cause of the developing nations in world fora, which often placed
it in opposite camps with the United States. There was also a widespread
impression that India leaned towards the former Soviet Union, in spite of its
non-aligned ideology. Also, India's socialist industrial and economic policies
proved to be a barrier to U.S. investment and trade with that country. In India
too, there was prevalent disappointment and anger with U.S. arms sales and
support for a succession of military dictatorships in neighboring Pakistan.
William Safire (1996), in a column in the New York Times, discusses some of the
reasons for the mutual mistrust of India and the United States.
Relations between the world's largest democracy and its most powerful democracy
were never cordial, but recent years have witnessed a transition. In 1991, India
initiated an ambitions liberalization program that welcomed foreign investments
into vital technology sectors, and removed many of the restrictions on trade and
manufacturing put in place by years of socialism. American investors and
businessmen have responded enthusiastically to the liberalization. A breath of
fresh air has recently energized Indo-U.S. relations, which were languishing for
years in the doldrums.
To summarize this section, important factors that influences the coverage that
a foreign country receives in the U.S. media are the perceived economic,
political and diplomatic relevance of that country for the United States. Based
on this, the historically close ties that Israel has enjoyed with the U.S. and
the on-again-off-again nature of the Indo-U.S. relationship suggest that the
elections in Israel would receive better coverage than the Indian elections.
Section II: Hegemonic Frames
The preceding section discussed the major determinants of the coverage that
different nations receive in the U.S. media. But there may also be differences
in the narrative tone of the news coverage, like the major themes and trends
isolated for presentation. The editorial function of the media permit not just
the selective communication of information, but the transmission of particular
ideological or cultural approaches for the analysis of that information. The
theory of hegemonic frames permits the closer examination of these narratives.
Gamson (1989) defined the concept of frames as a "central organizing idea or
story-line that provides meaning to events related to an issue." Entman (1991,
1993) highlighted two different aspects of frames: they constitute both the
sense-making processes and textual attributes of the news story. They arise in
the normal process of news writing as both a lingusitic and sense-making device
that enables communication from journalist to reader. According to Entman, the
"cold war" provided a frame to make sense of international events in the
post-war years, just as the "horse race" provided a popular frame for electoral
campaigns. Gitlin (1980), in his analysis of the students' movement of the
1960s, explained framing as the "persistent selection, emphasis and exclusion"
of events and issues by media. Through the suppression of unnecessary detail,
and the elaboration of elements that can communicate ideas to the reading public
in terms of their own culture, the journalist constructs news as a narrative
within the frame. "The media frame is largely unspoken and unacknowledged,
organizes the world both for journalists who report it, and in some important
degree, for us who rely on their reports" (Gitlin, 1980, p.7).
While media frames are applicable in all forms of news reporting, they are
especially so when the readers have no direct experience of or contextual
information about the subject matter of the news reports. Under these
circumstances, the readers make sense of the event based only on the news frame.
For most of international reporting, this is indeed the case not just for the
readers, but for the journalists as well. In international news reporting, most
journalists have neither the experience nor the background information necessary
to comment intelligently on events in a foreign country. In many cases,
international news reporters cover large territorial zones, for example, a
journalist based in New Delhi may cover the entire South Asian region, or even
South East Asia as well. They seldom have the time to develop expertise in any
one nation's internal affairs. Under these circumstances, international news
reporters come to rely on the "digested wisdom" of their national foreign policy
establishments (Berry, 1990). Some scholars argue that reporters often rely
excessively on their national foreign policy because they lack political
wisdom/prudence. Berry (1990) states that reporters are not analytical scholars
but accept the assumptions and consensus of the foreign policy establishments in
their news coverage.
Another way in which national foreign policy exerts its influence on
international news reporting is through the hegemonic affiliations of the
journalists. Being the part of the elite group in their national societies,
journalists too share in the hegemonic ideology. Both Gitlin (1980) and Rachlin
(1988) believe that journalists absorb the hegemonic assumptions which provide
the frames for the selection and presentation of news by media. The result is
that the media "do not let the 'counter-hegemonic' realities penetrate the
press" (Rachlin, 1988). In other words, journalists come to accept the frames
provided by national foreign policy establishments as the appropriate lenses
through which to view developments in a foreign country. The narrative tone of
the news remains tied to country's ideology (Rachlin, 1988).
The discussion so far seems to indicate that hegemonic frames, once
internalized by the journalist and reader, are so effectively camouflaged in our
thought processes, that they become impossible to uncover. "(F)rames are
difficult to detect fully and reliably, because many of the framing devices can
appear as 'natural', unremarkable choice of words or images" (Entman, 1991, p.
6). These effects are not achieved through the one-time usage of a metaphor or
visual image. They are created, sustained and reinforced through repeated usage,
until the way of thinking advocated by the frame has been effectively
internalized. "Through repetition, placement, and reinforcing association with
each other, the words and images that comprise the frame render the one basic
interpretation more readily discernable, comprehensible, and memorable than
others" (Entman, 1991, p. 7).
If frames are so inaccessibly buried in our thought processes, their use as
analytical devices is sharply constrained. Entman (1991) suggests that frames
can be revealed through a comparison of the coverage for news events that could
have been covered similarly. By juxtaposing contrasting textual choices, the
similarities and differences in the news frames are revealed and the frame
exposed as an artifact of our sense-making processes. "Comparison reveals that
such choices are not inevitable or unproblematic, but rather are central to the
way the news frame helps establish the literally "common-sense" (ie.,
widespread) interpretation of events" (Entman, 1991, p. 6). This paper follows
Entman's suggestion in comparing the New York Times coverage of the Israeli and
Indian elections of 1996.
Section III: Methodological Issues.
In this study, our attempt is to see if framing conditioned the relative
amounts and qualitative aspects of the news coverage given to the 1996 Indian
and Israeli parliamentary elections by the New York Times. We selected this
paper because it has a reputation for good international coverage, which a
majority of American newspapers lack. All the stories covered in New York Times
about the Indian and Israeli election till the final declaration of results were
included in the analysis. We excluded the post election coverage because the
immediate aftermath of elections saw a series of dramatic developments in both
countries, like a short-lived minority government in India and the revival of
Israel-Palestine tensions in Israel. All these developments contributed to
increased coverage beyond normal post-election levels. Stories not related to
the elections but published during the pre-election period have also been
To obtain a list of articles, we searched two on-line databases, the Expanded
Academic Index and the National Newspaper Index and consulted the hard copy New
York Times Index. We analyzed all the articles on a number of quantitative and
qualitative variables. Though it is difficult to measure qualitative attributes
of stories, qualitative analysis was included because it is potentially far more
revealing than considering the quantitative data alone (Shoemaker et al., 1991).
Quantitative variables included the duration of coverage (defined as the total
elapsed period from the appearance of the first pre-election article to the
last, which in both cases was election day), the total number of articles, total
column length of all the stories published, placement of the article (on front
page, back page, editorial page, international section, letter to the editor,
special supplement or other, and whether a related story highlighting the facts
discussed in the main story is placed alongside), size of head-line in columns
(like placement and length of article, the size of the headline measures in
number of columns also might be an indicator of the importance the editor gives
to the news item), source of coverage (whether article has a correspondent
byline, or is an agency report), and the presence of illustrations (like
accompanying photos, maps, text-boxes and charts/graphs) These elements together
will highlight an association of word-image-narratives in the stories.
For the qualitative analysis in this study, we gave particular attention to the
salience and the choice of news contexts in which stories about the Indian and
Israeli elections were placed. It is our argument that the news reports
collectively tell a story, which is reduced to its most elementary form in order
to make them understandable to the general public.
For a comparative analysis of election coverage for both the countries, we
have considered the five month period preceding the declaration of results,
divided into five 30-day measurement units. For Israel, election results were
not declared till May 31, so the 30-day measurement periods for Israeli election
were counted backward from May 30. The Indian election results came on May 9,
therefore the 30-day measurement periods for it starts backward from May 8. This
way, we have five measurement points for both cases, at which the frequency of
coverage can be measured.
Section IV: Quantitative Findings
In summary, the major quantitative findings were as follows: the Israeli
elections had 37 stories with a total column length of 729 inches (average
length per story, 19.7 inches). The total headline columns were 104 (average
length of headline, 2.7 columns) and 13 stories had accompanying illustrations
(35% of total number of stories). The first story appeared on January 19, 1996,
thereby indicating a duration of coverage of 131 days. The number of stories in
the subsequent months were 5, 2, 3, and 26 respectively (See Table 1 in the
The Indian election had a total of 20 stories with total column length of 458
inches (average length per story, 22.9 inches). About 50% less lengthy than that
of Israel. The total headline columns were 56 (average length of headline, 2.8
columns) and 13 stories had illustrations along (65% of total number of
stories). The first story appeared on February 25, 1996, indicating a duration
of coverage of 72 days. The number of stories in the subsequent months were 1,
2, and 17 respectively (See Table 2 in the Appendix).
Stories about the Israeli election started appearing in the newspaper five
months before the election, whereas the Indian elections began to receive
coverage only about three months before the election. The most prominent
difference in the number of the stories come in the month of election itself.
Against 26 stories on the Israeli elections, only 17 stories of the Indian
election appeared in the month immediately preceding the elections in the two
countries. The use of photographs, illustration and maps was the same for both
India and Israel, but since India had fewer stories, the use of graphic elements
was more intensive in the case of India, when measured as the number of stories
with accompanying illustrations.
In terms of source of coverage, Israel had only one agency report and rest were
correspondent bylines. For India, there were three agency news items in the
world news section, as well as two op-ed pieces and one editorial. The same
correspondent, John F. Burns, covered all the stories. Apart from the number of
stories, it is the placement that shows how much importance the editor attaches
to a news event. There were six front page stories for Israel, 16% of all
stories on the Israeli elections. In contrast, only two stories on the Indian
election figured on the front page (10% of total stories). The average length of
a story on Indian elections (22.9 column inches) was more than that for Israel
(19.7 column inches). This is partly explained by the fact that a larger
proportion of Indian news stories had an accompanying graphic which typically
occupies more space.
A comparison between the duration of India and Israel coverage appears in the
Figure 1. We have taken the five month period preceding the Indian and Israeli
elections, counting backward from the day the first results were announced in
the two countries. The y-axis shows the number of stories that appeared in each
one-month period. The initial coverage of the Indian election was delayed and in
the last month there was a large difference in the number of stories that
(Figure 1 here)
Section V: Qualitative Findings.
As we saw in Section II, news frames are a form of communicative short-hand
employed by journalists to communicate simplified and easily understood versions
of complex events. They are especially useful in international news reporting
because most newspaper readers do not have experience or contextual information
about foreign countries to aid in the sense-making process. Also, frames are
most effective when they are in conformity with the readers' existing belief
structures and prior knowledge. Frames that contradict the little snippets of
information readers have about foreign countries are thus studiously avoided in
international news reporting. This is most clearly revealed in the news frames
used in the New York Times reports on the Indian elections.
In the past, India had often been regarded as the exotic and mysterious east,
differentiated from the west in every possible way. In Rudyard Kipling's famous
words "West is west, and East is east, And Never the Twain Shall Meet." In
modern times too, the same impressions persist, reinforced partly by India's own
tourism promotion literature. Witness the famous Indian "Maharaja" the mascot of
the Indian state-run airline. These stereotypes are evident in the New York
Times coverage of the Indian elections too. In the next few paragraphs, I
discuss the following themes of the news frame employed in the Indian election
coverage: royalty, caste, superstition, and corruption. All these themes work
together in a news frame to confirm and reinforce India's traditional image as a
backward and mysterious region. This news frame presents no surprises to the
average newspaper reader in the U.S., and helps make sense of a society and
nation that is as vast, diverse and complex as any continental landmass.
An example of the action of this news frame is a report on a prominent Indian
politician, who also happened to belong to a former royal family. The New York
Times (4/25) headlined the article "Maharaja on hustings in India's
elections," in spite of the fact that India abolished royal privileges a half
century ago, almost at the time the said politician was born. The lead of the
article talks about the politician's grandfather (who happened to share the same
name) to reconstruct the splendor of the bygone era of kingship in India, when
democratic elections were not even the way of civic life! The lead sentence
reads: "Among Indian maharajahs, Madhavrao Scindia's name is legendary.
Seventy-five years ago, he led the Prince of Wales later King Edward VIII on a
tiger hunt so elaborate that it entered Indian folklore. At a banquet, liquors
and cigar were served from a solid silver electric train that circled the table,
pausing by each guest" (4/25). The ambience evoked by this article and the
associations it seeks to establish have hardly any relevance to the current
political situation. But in terms news frames, this coverage is indeed
appropriate because of the seamless continuity of the stereotypes of India as an
exotic country of maharajahs and tiger hunts. In a pointless exercise, the
article goes on to list all candidates in the election with ties to former royal
families, some of them candidates of minor political parties or eccentrics with
no chance of winning at the hustings.
The West has also shared a fascination for the Indian system of caste, probably
because there are no parallels to that form of social organization anywhere else
in the world. In the New York Times coverage of the 1996 elections, this factor
was definitely overplayed. "The key to the politics of (. . .), a hamlet of
mud-faced homes about 50 miles from the capital city of Uttar Pradesh state, is
that all 25 families who live there, clustered about a single well, share the
surname Yadav (. .) a cow-herding clan" (4/10). Though the caste system still
exists in India, it is no longer the oppressive social institution it once was,
and the rigid association of profession with caste membership is fast
disappearing. In spite of this caste does play a part in Indian elections and
the New York Times cannot be faulted for reporting on it, had not several other
articles too referred to the practice. During the period of coverage, three
other headlines had a reference to caste: "Lower Castes Hold the Key As India
Gets Ready to Vote" (4/10), "Caste Loyalties, Democratic Promises" (4/7),
"India's 'Avenging Angel': Candidate of Low Caste" (5/6). All these stories are
accompanied with the photographs, in fact, one (4/7) shows the caricature of a
poor man shabbily dressed, being led by a portly, prosperous-looking man dressed
in traditional attire towards a carpeted polling booth. There are many other
stories that referred to the institution of caste in the text of the articles.
This over-emphasis on a medieval practice which Indians themselves are rejecting
helps to confirm prevailing stereotypes of India, especially when redeeming
counter-examples of the country's modernization and progress are unavailable.
The third element of the news frame on the Indian election coverage was
superstition. One news story (5/8) mentioned that India's prime minister was
turning to prayer as the votes were being counted. Another was on a religious
leader who had been indicted on fraud charges, whose alleged connections to the
prime minister had appeared in some Indian newspapers in the run-up to the
elections (5/4). The article had a photograph of the holy man too, in long
flowing beard and hair. The caption read: "The Hindu holy-man Chandraswamy, a
confidant of Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao, was held yesterday on fraud
The last news item mentioned above segues neatly into the next dominant theme
of the news frame: corruption and criminalization of politics. One article (5/6)
focussed exclusively on Phoolan Devi, a reformed criminal who was running for
parliament. It mentioned that the candidacy of Phoolan Devi in the parliamentary
elections was an example of the ever-growing number of politicians with criminal
records. Another set of articles referred to a corruption scandal that had led
to the resignation of several ministers from the Rao government just months
before elections were announced.
It was mentioned in the quantitative results that a larger proportion of Indian
news stories had an accompanying graphic, typically a photograph though other
graphic elements such as locator maps, portraits of politicians and cartoons
were also used. Of these, locator maps aid the reader to process the information
in the text, and do not present much scope for semantic manipulation. Curiously
there were two photographs of Prime Minister Rao's cut-outs. Cut-outs are huge
portraits of national leaders fashioned out of canvas and bamboo scaffolding,
which are erected on street corners during elections in India. One front page
photograph in the New York Times (3/26) showed a cut-out of Prime Minister Rao
being carried to a election rally at New Delhi. The captions read that "the
promise Mahatma Gandhi held out to millions of poor is a distant dream and the
capital city is 'rife with slums.'" The author seems to be associating the
poverty of the people, the "larger-than-life" leaders who hold sway over them,
and the failure of the state to deliver on promises made decades ago. A more
devastating critique of India's efforts to maintain its democratic traditions
cannot possibly be found.
Prime Minister Rao and his election campaigns and statements receive luke-warm
coverage. He is referred to as an "unimpressive campaigner" and compared
unfavorably to charismatic predecessors like Rajiv Gandhi and Indira Gandhi
(3/5). "Apologetically, Rao tells voters that his name is not Gandhi" (3/5). The
reporter's subjective perception seeps through his description of Rao: "Aged 74,
with a rambling monotone, a countenance that seems frozen in a frown and a
stature that leaves him virtually hidden behind banks of microphones at election
rallies, Mr Rao has become a cartoonist's dream" (3/5). The focus remains on the
corruption scandal that rocked the Rao Government early during the election
year. The mood of the election was portrayed as one of general despondency and
exhaustion. The incumbent government was described as "bracing for setback" and
opposition parties were in "disarray" (3/5). The world's largest electoral
exercise involving more than 500 million voters was described as "boring",
"desultory", "dull", and strangest of all "sanitized" (5/7). These statements
convey a general mood of hopelessness about India's democratic future.
Framing works not only through the presentation of information, but through the
suppression of contradictory ideas and images. For example, there was very
little mention of the economic liberalization program initiated in 1991, which
had helped avert a grave foreign exchange crisis and boosted growth rates from
barely 2% in 1991 to 7% in 1996. Where the reforms were mentioned, the
reporting emphasized a negative angle: an early report (3/5) said that economic
reforms could 'accrue benefit only to 150 million middle class city dwellers
bypassing 600 million mostly poor villager." Another example is from an
editorial (3/30): "Like others around the post-cold-war world, Indians are not
yet convinced that capitalism and the creation of wealth will do more than
socialism to ease economic disparities and violent ethnic and religious
conflicts." The reforms are portrayed as a general opening-up of the economy,
but as last-ditch efforts to avoid the effects of "creaky socialism" (5/8).
There were other serious omissions too. Most of the coverage was on the
politics of north India, with the south and the economically important west
being almost totally neglected. International coverage is often based on
idiosyncratic criteria like the home-base of foreign correspondents. In the case
of India, most foreign correspondents prefer to stay on in the capital New
Delhi, which is in the north. One amusing example (3/26) is a story datelined
from the south of India but the accompanying photograph was undoubtedly taken in
northern India. Any reader familiar with India would have realized that south
Indian women do not veil themselves the way the women in the photograph do. Key
issues like employment, economic growth and the historic elections in the
terrorism-affected northern province of Kashmir received practically no
coverage. The issues to get repeated attention were of corruption, poverty,
caste, violence, downfall of Congress party and rise of lower caste leaders.
None of the New York Times stories were factually incorrect. But in the absence
of stories on other aspects of the elections, like the use of a sophisticated
satellite-based computer network to keep track of electoral results, or the
economic issues confronting the electorate, or the sheer logistics of getting
half a billion voters to the polling booths, this coverage perpetuates
stereotypes of India as a tradition-bound, backward, and superstition-ridden
At the same time, the coverage of the Israeli elections was framed almost
exclusively in terms of the Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Three major themes
can be perceived in the New York Times coverage of the Israeli election. At the
most abstract level. the news frame emphasized "Peace in Palestine," a theme
already familiar to readers through well-known religious beliefs and cultural
associations. Secondly, there was support for the position of the U.S. foreign
policy establishment in the coverage of the elections and the peace process in
general. The New York Times was consistently supportive of the U.S. interest in
the reelection of Prime Minister Shimon Peres, who was crucial to the
Israel-Palestinian peace talks. Thirdly, the U.S. constructed a personality
conflict between the main candidates based upon their perceived attitudes
towards the peace negotiations. The construction of the two candidates a polar
opposites, hero-villain or good-bad, was based upon their known positions but
refined and unified through selection and suppression of all conflicting
information. We will discuss these three themes in the following paragraphs.
"Peace in Palestine" was the theme that dominated the New York Times coverage
of the Israeli elections. Headlines read "As Israelis Prepare to vote, the World
Watches Closely" (5/28), signifying the world community's interest in the West
Asia peace. Many headlines proclaimed that fact that the fate of the peace
process depended on the election results: "Key issues among voters will be
debate over peace" said one headline; "Israelis can choose peace or paralysis"
said another (5/12). The New York Times was not inaccurate in portraying the
peace negotiations as the single most important issue confronting Israel and the
West Asian region today. The peace process had received a set-back with the
assassination of Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin in November 1995, and the
violence-weary nation was searching for ways to end the tension with its Arab
citizens and neighbors. Most observers considered the 1996 elections to be
crucial for the peace process, because it would choose Israel's principal
negotiator for a lasting peace in the region.
The U.S. too has very clear interests in a peaceful resolution of the
Arab-Israeli conflict in West Asia for reasons already stated. As Steven
Erlanger wrote in a New York Times article (5/26), the Israeli elections were "a
democratic exercise of vital importanceDnot only for Israelis in the first
place, but also for the rest of the Middle East and thus for American foreign
policy." Early in the electoral process, the U.S. Foreign policy establishment
determined that the peace process would be best served by a reelection of Shimon
Peres in the 1996 elections. Peres was a known quantity for the U.S. and he had
already made his commitment to the peace clear. On the other hand, Benjamin
Netanyahu was untested in power, and his support base included political parties
bitterly opposed to the surrender of land in return for peace. The U.S. decided
to extend as much help as it can to enable Peres to win reelection. This
interest of the U.S. government was clear when President Clinton himself
campaigned for Peres.
A close parallel existed between the objectives of the Clinton administration
and the editorial line of the New York Times. The editorials which voice a news
organization's opinion echoed Clinton's preferences. The last three years of
Labor party rule in Israel were described as "lifetime of change" in which
economy boomed and peace was made with Jordan and PLO (editorial, 5/26) A column
by Thomas L. Freidman (5/12) talked of Israel's economic prosperity under Rabin
and Peres. Peres himself as portrayed as the best bet for peace. One headline
proclaimed: "Peres and Peace in Many Tongues" (5/28), and "Give Shimon Peres and
Peace a Chance." Throughout the closely contested run-up to the election, Peres
was repeatedly reported to be in a slim but consistent lead. One headline said
"Peres maintains a slim lead in Israeli polls as election nears" (5/24).
Columnist Anthony Lewis wrote "why Peres still looks like a winner in Israel"
(5/3). On the other hand, the opposition Likud party was generally portrayed
negatively. One article said that it has not come up with a "realistic platform
that takes the account of the new reality" (5/29).
It is evident that reports of Israel's economic growth under the Rabin-Peres
governments was largely a media creation. Freidman's article (5/12) on Israel's
economic growth under Rabin and Peres was contradicted by a letter to the editor
a few days later (5/19), which pointed out that there had actually been a
decline in Israel's economic growth rate and that the country had been running
up an import-surplus repeatedly. Israel's average national growth rate for
1990-93 was 6.4% and this rate came down marginally to 5.7% in 1993-95. The
inflation rate had declined from 12% in 1992 to 10% in 1995. The import surplus
had mounted from $3.5 billion in 1989 to $11.1 billion just before elections.
This is a mixed bag of economic results, and requires some selective
interpretation before a clear case for economic growth during the Labor
government can be made. Yet, the New York Times was willing to manipulate the
facts to closely reflect the priorities of the U.S. government. Berry's (1990)
observation that reporters are often driven by national foreign policy
objectives instead of providing objective coverage seems to be confirmed in this
The third theme in the New York Times news frame for the coverage of the
Israeli elections was the personality clash between the two principal
candidates. The coverage consistently stressed Peres's experience and wisdom and
the unfitness of Netanyahu for office. "Mr. Netanyahu's image as a smooth
operator and slick talker made him unworthy compared with Mr. Rabin's
old-fashioned decorum and soldierly reserve", reads one front page story.
Another front page headline declared that "Peres is winning the heart of
non-voting students" (5/23). Peres was portrayed as a man of experience, decorum
and vision, "a more serious candidate with real background" and Netanyahu as the
one who is "young, and energetic but driven by fear" (5/27). In the report on a
television debate which Netanyahu clearly won, the New York Times interviewed a
typical Israeli family. The woman of the household was quoted as dismissing the
30-minute debate format as inadequate for articulating something as complicated
as a vision for peace (5/27).
On the other hand, all decisions of Peres, no matter how controversial have
been justified by the U.S. government and the New York Times. An example is
Peres's decision to submit the final pact with the Palestinians to a referendum
in Israel (3/2). The announcement was criticized by the Palestinian authority
as yet another obstacle for peace and dismissed by Netanyahu as an election
gimmick. But the New York Times' editorial (3/3) endorsed it unconditionally. "A
referendum is good policy as well as good politics."
In contrast to the Indian election coverage which stressed caste, regional and
religious differences, the Israeli election coverage only infrequently referred
to the multi-cultural population of Israel (5/22, 5/19). Thought the article
airs the apprehensions of the minority Arab group, it concluded that thought the
Arabs have ample reasons to be displeased with the Peres government, they would
favor it in the elections so that a Likud victory would not slow down the peace
process. Another headline stated that "Israeli candidates vie for 'ethnic vote'"
(5/19). The point of the article was the crucial role that minority groups and
orthodox religious groups play in the electoral outcome. This stands in sharp
contrast to the depiction of India's voters profile, where disadvantaged groups
are portrayed as marginalized and irrelevant.
Summary and Conclusions
At the beginning of this study, I had expressed the expectation based on the
determinants of international news coverage in the U.S. press that the Israeli
elections will receive substantially more coverage in the New York Times than
the Indian elections. This was confirmed from a quantitative analysis of the
news coverage. The pre-election coverage of Israel began at an earlier period,
included a larger number of articles, and were consistently better-placed in the
newspaper than stories on the Indian elections were.
In terms of qualitative variables, both the Israeli and the Indian coverage
display evidence of news frames. In the Indian case, this is the "exotic east",
full of superstition, feudal royalty, impoverished masses and god-men. In
Israel, the general theme of the news frame was "Peace in Palestine." There was
close correspondence between the New York Times' editorial line and the foreign
policy objectives of the United States. The electoral conflict was cast in terms
of the personalities of the two major contenders. Peres symbolized peace, the
stability of experience and the reliability of the old soldier, while Netanyahu
represented the threat of instability, the uncertainty of youth, and
Nevertheless, coverage of the Indian elections were much better than my initial
assumptions would have led me to expect. In the month immediately preceding the
elections, fully 17 stories on the Indian elections appeared in the New York
Times, a frequency of better than once every two days. By any standards, this is
pretty good coverage for an international news event. In spite of the
reservations I express about the qualitative aspects of the coverage, and
support for the general hypothesis that Israel will receive more coverage than
India, the quantitative data indicate that the New York Times did a better job
than expected of covering the Indian elections. An explanation could be that
India has become an important market and destination of investments for U.S.
industries in the post-liberalization period. Consequently, U.S. press and
readers are more interested in developments in that country. Even then, the
qualitative aspects of the coverage continues to be in the mold of well
established stereotypes about the "exotic east."
 . In India, neither the Congress nor the opposition alliances could get a
majority in parliament. The rightist Bharatiya Janata Party was invited to form
the government, but could not establish a parliamentary majority. After two
weeks of uncertainty, the leftist United Front came to power backed from the
outside by the Congress. In Israel too, the ruling party lost to the Likud
Party. Benjamin Netanyahu, the new prime minister soon began to adopt a
hard-line stance towards the peace process, resulting in heightened tension in
the entire region.
 . All references to New York Times articles are available in Table 1 and 2.
To save space and spare the reader periodic interruptions, the articles are
referred to in the text only by the date on which they appeared in the
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