Saturday, January 21, 2012


Framing is the process by which the factual record is packaged and presented in such a way so as to emphasize and focus audience attention on certain information while filtering and de-emphasizing or concealing other information.  An audience subjected to framing is compelled to come away with an interpretation of events the framer wishes to see adopted.

When applied systematically, framing is a form of propaganda.

In this Reuters story, written by Arshad Mohammed, Ramin Mostafavi, and Alastair Macdonald, note how framing is used to direct and manipulate audience perception:
(Reuters) - Major powers signaled on Friday their willingness to reopen talks about curbing Iran's suspected pursuit of nuclear weapons but said Tehran must show it is serious about any negotiations.
The focus on diplomacy follows weeks of rising tensions between the West, which is seeking to cut Iran's oil sales, and Tehran, which has threatened to close the Strait of Hormuz through which almost one-fifth of oil traded worldwide flows.
Alarmed Arab neighbors made a plea to avoid escalating the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, while an ally of Iran's supreme leader called for Israel to be "punished" for allegedly killing an Iranian nuclear scientist.
The West suspects Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic weapons and has pursued a two-track approach of sanctions and diplomacy to try to rein it in. Iran says its nuclear program is solely to produce electricity.
Reuters asserts that "alarmed Arab neighbors" have "made a plea to avoid escalating the dispute over Iran's nuclear program", so as to suggest the Arab states are opposed to additional sanctions or military action intended to prevent Iran from consummating its nuclear weapons program.

With no relevant quotations within the story to support Reuters' assertion, it's impossible to know from where the agency is obtaining this hearsay.  Perhaps Reuters is referring to a strikingly similar statement by Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal who, in response to Iranian threats to target the Gulf Arab states and close the Strait of Hormuz, said that "the increasing escalation and tension may lead to a misadventure or a military confrontation."

If this is the comment to which Reuters is referring, note how the agency takes a cold statement of fact directed primarily at Iran and distorts it into a "plea" not to escalate tensions, presumably directed to western powers.  Further, Reuters fails to mention that al-Faisal also stated that to defend its interests, Saudi Arabia "will use all options against Iran".  A very different message than that framed and suggested by Reuters.

Next, Reuters cites "an ally of Iran's supreme leader" who reportedly called for Israel to be punished for allegedly killing an Iranian scientist (note also the story photo of an Iranian stepping on an Israeli flag).  Yet, there is no mention that the Iranian government has blamed primarily the United States and Britain for the killing, even going so far as to present alleged evidence supporting the claim.

Finally, there is use of the ubiquitous "the West suspects Iran" (of developing nuclear weapons) to frame the conflict as merely a contention between Iran and the amorphous "West", with presumably no evidence, no scientific analysis, and no one other than western nations holding the same view.

What a narrow, distorted, and short-sighted frame is that provided to its audience by Reuters.

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