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Media and Political Conflict: News from the Middle East
Reviewed by Taly Lind

In this volume, Gadi Wolfsfeld of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem examines the role of the media in political conflicts in the Middle East. He sets the framework for his analysis by proving a theoretical model and then employing this approach to investigate the media's role in three recent events: the Gulf War, the Intifada and attempts by the Israeli right to dissolve the Oslo Accords.
Wolfsfeld explains that the media is a vital arena in the contest for political control and concentrates on its role in conflicts where the antagonists are not equal, which he believes are where the media can have the most influence. The structural level of his analysis focuses on the antagonists' influence on the media when political power can be translated into power over the media. Such instances bring competition over the meaning of a conflict as each side attempts to define the situation according to its own interpretation.
Using the case study of Israeli right-wing protests against the Oslo Accords, Wolfsfeld applies his model to outline how social movements attempt to use the news media to influence government policies, to explain competition over access to the media and to describe the struggle over the meaning of the peace process. In other case studies, Wolfsfeld discusses the role of the media in insurrections and wars, using the Intifada and the Gulf War as examples. In the Gulf War, the author concludes that the media played the role of "a faithful servant dutifully providing services to their Allied master." The media served the opposite purpose in the case of the Intifada: "[T]hey were advocates of the underdog who played a critical role in focusing international attention on Palestinian claims of injustice."
Finally, the news media's role in the opposition to Oslo "fell somewhere between these two extremes... the media played the part of semi-honest broker who, despite the many advantages given to the Rabin government, offered a significant forum for public debate." The author concludes by explaining that questions regarding the role of the news media must be understood within a more general context of a contest for political control.
This study presents a useful model in the ongoing debate over the role of the media in Middle East conflicts.

Courtesy of Bulletin of Regional Cooperation in the Middle East, published by Search for Common Ground in the Middle East.

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