Shifted focus: newspaper coverage of female military personnel as casualties of war

Mercy Ette

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


March 23, 2007, a team of British sailors and marines were captured by Iranian Revolutionary guards in a disputed waterway that separates Iran and Iraq. The 15 service personnel were on a UN-authorised anti-smuggling patrol when they were seized and accused of incursion into Iranian territorial water. The incident quickly became front page news and sparked off a diplomatic conflict between the UK and Iran. Initial accounts of the incident in the media followed conventional journalistic news frames but these changed when one of those captured was identified as a woman. From then onward, Faye Turney, a 26 year old sailor, became the reference point and the human face of the story. However, subsequent reports, far from reflecting the reality of Iran's seizure of the personnel, were strategically framed in gendered terms with Turney's experience serving as the focus of an international conflict. The emerging rhetoric underscored not only the difference between Iran and the UK, but decontextualised the crisis, moving it away from a military stand-off to victimisation of women as notions of masculinity usually associated with war gave way to the feminisation of the captured. The focus on Turney emphasized her identity as a woman and not a sailor and reflected male-naming strategies as she was represented mainly as a mother, a wife, a daughter and not as Leading Seaman Faye Turney.
This article examines the coverage of the incident in British newspapers using media representation of Faye Turney as a case study. It argues that the newspaper discursive practice used was based on the notion of gendered mediation. The media, as Zotto (2002: 142) has noted, `give meaning to events by selectively choosing the words and images that describe the events.' By concentrating on certain issues, and conversely ignoring others, the media can be quite influential in constructing prominent images in the audience's mind and understanding of an event (McCombs and Estrada, 1997). The media generate what Stuart Hall (1997) calls `a circuit of culture' through artificially constructed imagery that emerges as `truth' over time. As a result, the narrative frames used to tell stories define and shape public understanding of issues on the media's agenda. Crucially, the `media help to establish the parameters which structure public thinking about the social world' (Sreberny-Mohammadi and Ross, 1996: 112).
By focusing on media representation of Leading Seaman Faye Turney in British newspapers, this article attempts to illustrate how conventional news frames used to report military conflict, and which are stereotypical masculine, tend to shift when women are subjects and focus of stories. It will show how gendered mediation helps to conflate issues of gender and social roles in public discourse.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-214
Number of pages19
JournalStudies in Communication
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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