WASHINGTON (KUNA) — A study of newspaper reporting of the Iranian nuclear issue, released on Monday, found that coverage focused on the “he said/she said” aspects of the policy debate without adequately explaining the fundamental issues that should have been informing assessments — such as Iran’s nuclear capabilities and intentions; the influence of US, European, Iranian and Israeli security strategies; and the impact of the nuclear nonproliferation regime.
The study, done by the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland, is entitled, “Media coverage of Iran’s nuclear program — An analysis of US and UK coverage, 2009-2012.” In the executive summary of the study, the report said that the manner in which news media frame their coverage of Iran’s nuclear program is critically important to public understanding and to policy decisions that will determine whether the dispute can be resolved without war.
The study concluded that when newspaper coverage did address Iranian nuclear intentions and capabilities, it did so in a manner that lacked precision, was inconsistent over time, and failed to provide adequate sourcing and context for claims. “This led to an inaccurate picture of the choices facing policy makers,” the report said.
Government officials, particularly US government officials, were the most frequently quoted or relied-on sources in coverage of Iran’s nuclear programs, the study found. This tendency focused attention on a narrow set of policy options and de-emphasized other potential approaches to the dispute, it found.
Newspaper coverage generally adopted the tendency of US, European and Israeli officials to place on Iran the burden to resolve the dispute over its nuclear program, failing to acknowledge the roles of other countries in the dispute, the study found.
A plurality of newspaper articles took the approach of examining the domestic political and international diplomatic angles of the larger story, contributing to the heavy reliance on official sources and a focus on official policy prescriptions, the study concluded. Commentary and opinion articles relating to Iran’s nuclear program made up a larger than typical share of the coverage, demonstrating the intense interest focused on the topic and opening the public debate to a range of conflicting viewpoints, it said.
Newspaper coverage paid insufficient attention to the broader context — particularly the security concerns of the United States, Iran, Israel and European states, and the effect of domestic politics within these same countries — that influences what specific actors say or do about Iran’s nuclear program at different times, the study concluded.
This obscured the substantial confusion about national motivations and made it difficult to conceive of and debate consensual solutions to the dispute, it said.
Coverage of Iran’s nuclear program reflected and reinforced the negative sentiments about Iran that are broadly shared by US, European and Israeli publics, the study found. This contributed to misunderstandings about the interests involved and narrowed the range of acceptable outcomes, it found.
The study analyzed samples of newspaper coverage from three newspapers in the United States and three in Britain — the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, the Financial Times, the Guardian and the Independent. The stories were published from September 2009 to October 2012, with a focus on four, three-week time periods. There were 1,232 articles sampled for the study.
The study was presented by Jonas Siegel, project manager at the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland; and Saranaz Barforoush, a doctoral candidate at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
Panelists who participated in the study presentation on Monday were John Steinbruner, director of the Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland; Susan Moeller, director of the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda at the University of Maryland; Reza Marashi, research director of the National Iranian American Council; and Walter Pincus, national security journalist at the Washington Post.
The Iran Project is not responsible for the content of quoted articles.