Akeed – Rasha Salameh, Aya Khawaldeh, Tamara Ma’abreh – A survey of 20 Arab, regional, and international Arabic language media outlets showed that 47.63% of coverage of teachers’ strike was slanted towards the Jordanian Teachers Syndicate (JTS) against 3.19% that sided with the government. According to the study, conducted by Jordan Media Monitor, Akeed, between September 5th and 12th, 2019, 49% of total coverage was balanced. The analysis covered 120 news stories that were posted by news channels and print media and online. Bias came in different forms; coverage bias, where certain issues or actors were more or less visible in the story and bias by placement; where the order or placement of information was manipulated. Bias in the language choice was also marked in the reports and was used to support one view over another.
The study covered 7 Arab media outlets: Raialyoum, Al-Quds Al-Arabi, Al-Arabiya, Al-Jazeera, Asharq Al-Awsat, The New Arab, Arabi 21. This is in addition to four international Arabic language stations: BBC Arabic, Al-Hurra, Sky News Arabia and The Independent Arabia. Nine regional media outlets (Turkish and Iranian that offer Arabic programs) were also surveyed. These are Anadolu Agency, TRT, Daily Sabah Arabic, Zaman Arabic, Hurriyet News - from Turkey, and Fars News Agency, Tehran Times, Juan and Jadeh from Iran.
Arab Media accounted for 80.2% of total coverage. The share of regional and international media outlets which offer Arabic service stood at 10.3% and 9.5% respectively.
“Raialyoum” showed the highest interest in reporting and following up on the teachers’ strike, with a share of 20% of the total sample, followed by Al-Quds Al-Arabi; with a share of 16%. The Independent, TRT, and the Turkish Zaman Arabic were the least interested, featuring only one story each about the strike.
Al-Jazeera, the Independent, and Zaman Arabic were completely biased towards the teachers’ syndicate. Of the total sample, Al-Arabiya coverage was the most biased towards the government.
The syndicate and the government were the dominant actors in the overall media coverage, followed by the security forces and the community - among other actors.
Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya News Channels
Al-Jazeera featured thirteen news reports that were aired and posted on its news channel and website. In part of its coverage, the Qatar-based channel tried to produce balanced stories where both sides are given equal voice and to track the roots of the problem. Yet, it breached several professional rules including the use of loaded terms that supported the reporter’s views instead of selecting less judgmental language. In one instance, the reporter said that education was “crippled” in the country to describe the situation. Minors were also shown in one of the pictures used in the report, with no attempt to blur their faces. It is worth noting that minors should not be photographed without parent consent.
Other reports, which did not identify the name of the author, tried to give a fair presentation of all sides involved and to follow up on the crisis right from the start using bullet points. They also provided relevant statistics. Yet, these reports quoted anonymous “analysts” and “observers”, and failed to mention whether or not these sources gave exclusive interviews to Al-Jazeera. In some cases, the reporter looked for expert quotes that fit into his/her favorite argument.
Correspondents were also selective in their choice of words; expressions the like of “security barrack” and “clashes”, “the capital has been disconnected, and “blockaded” were used in some reports. Images, which showed teachers being beaten were also cherry-picked, Akeed noted. Likewise, excerpts from statements made by State Minister for Legal Affairs, Mubarak Abu Yamin - in which he warned any side against threatening the state – were carefully selected to emphasize a specific point of view.
Unlike other exaggerated reporting, Al-Arabiya featured 9 articles and newscasts that used a calmer tone and avoided any attempt at mobilization – despite bias towards presenting the teachers’ side of the argument extensively in the body. The way children’s photos was used was professional, noted Akeed. The main focus of the channel’s coverage was not to create a balanced story when compared to Al-Jazeera. However, the language used was calmer and more objective; the term “Protest” was used to describe the incidents. Other reports used expressions like “demonstration” and “preventing the demonstration.” “Reaction against a reaction and statement against a statement” was also used in one of Al-Arabiya’s reports, which allowed both sides to react with more space given to teachers.
It is worth noting that the JTS was the biggest actor in the coverage of both Arab news channels (represented mostly by the head and deputy head of the syndicate). The official government side (represented by Prime Minister Dr. Omar Razzaz, Minister of Education and Scientific Research, government spokesperson, and security forces) was less visible. A smaller space was allocated to unnamed “Observers” and “analysts” who voiced the reporter’s views. But this, explains Akeed, represents another breach.
The New Arab and Asharq Al-Awsat
Despite attempts to treat opposing views fairly, “The New Arab” allocated a larger space for the syndicate to present its side of the debate. It also manipulated the placement of information in favor of the teachers, with their viewpoints appearing at the top part of the story. ASharq Al-Awsat was more objective and fair. Yet, it contravened journalistic principles by keeping sources anonymous.
Raialyoum, Al-Quds Al-Arabi
The strike was covered intensively by both “Raialyoum,” and “Al-Quds Al-Arabi” newspapers who ran 51 articles around the strike including 22 news stories, 17 features, and 13 articles. Both also shared the same editorial style in many aspects: coverage was skewed in favor of the syndicate and unidentified sources were quoted by both.
The teachers’ syndicate was once again a key player; only 6 stories included the Public Security Department in their coverage and 7 others included the Muslim Brotherhood. Parliament appeared in one report only. Only 22 reports were balanced, while 17 were slanted towards the syndicate. A note to mention is that none of the news stories was biased towards the government.
Many news reports used provocative statements and resorted to exaggeration, especially in headlines such as:
Three other reports included false information, some alleged Police Dogs Were Used during the Teachers’ Strike near the 4th Circle, which was rejected as baseless by the security forces. No police dogs appeared in any footage.
“Arabi 21” correspondent in Amman produced 7 reports since the beginning of the events on September 5th. The first report was titled “Jordan’s Security Forces Crack down on Teachers’ Protests in Front of the Prime Ministry”. The report took the side of teachers leaving the other side – the security forces in this case - out of the story.
The key player in “Arabi 21” coverage was the teachers’ syndicate; the government was not present most the time. Reporting was also skewed and involved some incitement to action. This was evident in one of the articles titled Jordanian Teachers Raise the Bar...The Government Resigns, A Strike on Sunday, and Are some Exploiting the Protests? which was similar to a headline of a report produced by BBC. The reporter also breached professional standards by including his personal views by saying shocking testimonies, No Solution on the Horizon, and Al-Razzaz Government Walking a Tightrope (video).
BBC Arabic posted 3 articles that were based on reports published by Arabic newspapers in general and Jordanian media in particular. It presented various views which varied between those who justified the protests as a solution for improving the economic status of teachers, and others who argued that protests were not appropriate at this critical time.
BBC published an article titled “Are Some Exploiting the Protests?” and mostly used neutral language away from bias. Another report questioned the status of teachers in Arab countries including Jordan.
Sky News produced a number of news reports that attempted to present fair reporting.
Independent Arabia posted one report that was completely slanted towards teachers as reflected in the headline Teachers’ Strike in Jordan Turns Amman into a closed Military Barrack. The subheadlines were also biased: Tear Gas and Batons, General Strike on Sunday, and Violation of the right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly. The government was completely absent from the body.
As for actors, the JTS was given prominence compared with other actors such as the government, the parents, and students whose views were left out in several reports.
Regional Media: Turkish and Iranian Media
Four Turkish media outlets posted a total of 14 reports on teachers’ protests. Anadolu Agency came in first place with 11 reports. TRT, Daily Sabah Arabic, and Zaman Arabic produced one report each.
Some of the Turkish coverage was skewed. Yet other stories included statements made by all sides (including Parliament, JTS, and the Minister of Education and Scientific Research) with sources named.
For its side, TRT published a story carried by another Turkish media outlet. Some stories produced by agencies presented one side of the story only including an article titled “Jordanian Teachers Begin Open Strike”. Daily Sabah newspaper published a report with the same headline, claiming the report for itself. Zaman Arabia posted an article without identifying the sources entitled “Jordanian Teachers Call on the Minister of Interior to Resign after Suppressing their Protest”. No official statements were included in the story.
It is worth noting that the following Iranian media outlets: Fars News Agency, Tehran Times, Juan and Jadeh surveyed by Akeed did not post any article about the strike throughout the survey period.