Tale of Two Stories

star-ibverted-pyramid-150orwellbbcHow the BBC inverts the news

In the latest BBC ‘Palestinian’ story, the headline leads the reader to believe that this is  mainly about his demise. Yet out of 466 words only 49, including the headline and the bold type lead paragraph, have anything directly to do with the death.

It’s a classic case of semantic manipulation, Media Studies 101, if you will. Compare how the BBC reports Palestinian deaths with the way it reports Israeli deaths.
Palestinian ‘shot dead by Israeli army’ in Hebron
Israeli woman and soldier killed in two knife attacks

In the interest of full disclosure, so-called Communication and Cultural Studies was my B.A. major at the University of Wollongong. The BBC is full of similar graduates of media and communication courses.

One of the first things a Media student learns is how way a news article is structured.  In the so-called inverted triangle structure the main points of the story , the five W’s – who, what, when, why and how should be right at the top while less essential elements can be relegated further down – and cut without losing the story’s essential meaning.

As readers, even if we don’t have the benefit of university training, we learn to recognise the structure. The closer information is to the top of the page the more important it is.

Only in the fourth paragraph, if one was to read the whole story, we learn that On Monday, an Israeli soldier and an Israeli woman were killed in separate knife attacks. Many readers don’t reach that far but even if they do the hook is strongly that the story is of a Palestinian graphically shot dead by Israeli army. It’s what they do, isn’t it?

The Israelis, on the other hand, die by the knife with the general or specific details of the attacker obscured. Perhaps a Jewish serial killer is running amok?

The way the two sets of ‘victims’ are covered is instructive. Imad Jawabreh is 22 years old – the BBC has humanised him by his name. The two Israelis are anonymous although the BBC reported on their deaths three days ago and named them then as Almog Shiloni and Dalia Lamkus.

In the inverted triangle structure that information must be less essential because it is the further down. Lamkus’s name was only mentioned 11 lines down and Shiloni’s 18 lines down in the story of their deaths.

Perhaps there must have been some doubt because the BBC covers itself. Lamkus and Shiloni were named by Israeli media. Could there be mistaken identity here? There is no such issue with Jawabreh. His name is simply supplied although presumably the BBC acquired his name from the Palestinian media or health authorities.

Then there is the issue about what the three were doing at their last moments. While it is true that the Israeli soldier was in uniform he was not on duty at the time. He was waiting for a train. The woman was waiting for a bus.

For many Palestinians their deaths are resistance to the general occupation whatever they were specifically involved with. We are left to speculate on whether the BBC regards being identifiable as a soldier  or simply being on the wrong side of the Green Line as reasonable justification for killing someone.

By contrast the BBC is coy about the Palestinian’s activities. Reading between the lines suggests strongly that he was engaged in deadly assaults throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at passing vehicles and Israeli soldiers when shot.

Reading further and further into the report we see a complicated and violent situation with deaths on both sides. How inconvenient for the BBC supporting only one of them.

Report like these would fail any self-respecting journalism class but competent journalism may not have been the result the BBC was looking for.

Inverted Pyramid structure

Extra credit

About David Guy

B.A./B.C.A. (Communication and Media Arts) University of Wollongong, AUSTRALIA M.A. in Government (Diplomacy and Conflict Studies) Inter Disciplinary Center, Herzliya, ISRAEL Twitter @5MFI
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