The construction of "the Palestinian" in the Sydney Morning Herald, 1917-2002

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This thesis follows a study conducted in 2003 by the author on how two of Sydney’s daily newspapers depicted Arabs and Muslims in the year before and after September 11, 2001. A central finding of the study was the key role played by how ‘the Palestinians’ were represented by journalists in affecting strongly prejudicial attitudes to Arabs and Muslims in general. Effectively, all Palestinians were portrayed as violent, inhuman ‘terrorists’. A historical approach is taken in this thesis to use similar keywords used in the 2000-2002 study and apply them to two earlier peak periods of newspaper coverage involving Palestine and Palestinians. The biggest and longest such ‘peaks’ over the last century were the First World War (when Australian troops fought in Palestine, 1917-1918) and the partition of Palestine in 1947 and the creation of the state of Israel in mid-1948. The thesis takes one newspaper – Sydney ‘quality’ daily, The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) – and examines the text of the journalism, the surrounding institutional politics and the context of the times in Palestine. In doing so, its methodology mirrors that in the 2000-2002 study: usage of both statistical content analysis based on keywords but also by qualitative analysis based on the author’s 30 or more years as a media practitioner in print, radio and television in Australia. The research question at stake was whether the delineation of ‘the Palestinian’ found in 2000-2002 was a simple repetition of earlier coverage by the SMH or whether the representations of Palestinians had changed with different circumstances. It finds both important continuities and discontinuities with contemporary coverage. The discontinuities are contained in the different descriptions of the local people in these two eras and the part they played in the ‘land of Palestine’. At a deeper level, however, the continuities continue in a series of myths about ‘the Holy Land’, ‘the Empire’, the Jewish ‘return’, ‘the excitable Arab’ and the more ‘civilized’ and ‘modern’ values of the West. In both earlier periods, the Palestinians as a people are barely seen at all. As a result, major stories are missed and the SMH arrives too late to report key events.
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