Iran in The New York Times and The Times, 1968-78: A Comparative Study of the Relations of Press and National Interest

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


Vernone Sparkes


United States, Great Britain, Foreign Policy

Subject Categories

Mass Communication


This study analysed the performance of the New York Times and the Times (London) in covering Iran from 1968 to 1978. The hypotheses were derived from assumptions of media dependence on government "information subsidies" as well as the relevance of foreign news in terms of "national interests" of the base country. Using content analysis, the selection, emphasis, treatment and sources of coverage were comparatively examined against a background of the United States and Great Britain's policies and interests in Iran and the Persian Gulf.

Results of content analysis showed that Iran's international relations received more coverage than her internal affairs, and more specifically that this coverage focused on topics and issues related to the interests of newspapers' respective base countries. Also, both newspapers relied heavily on official sources of information in their coverage. When trade data, as extra-media measures of national interest, were correlated with coverage data, strong and positive results were obtained. Correlation of r = 0.94, p. < 0.001 showed an almost perfect association between U.S.-Iran trade and the New York Times' coverage. U.K.-Iran trade and Times coverage with correlation of r = 0.63, p. < 0.06 was approaching the level of significance.

Analysis of treatment for the combined coverage of newspapers found a change from favorable to a highly unfavorable treatment after the oil crisis of 1973-74. In case of each newspaper, the shift was statistically significant for the New York Times, but not so for the Times, though the direction of trend was similar. The U.S. shift, however, showed an apparent divergence from the stated policies and posture at the time.

The study makes a case for the application of systems approached to international news coverage: In serving their system maintenance function, the media may involve in "distribution-control" or "feedback-control" processes, depending on the level and complexity of relations. Thus, divergence in press-government positions vis-a-vis Iran could be attributed to an increased level of interdependence in U.S.-Iran relations and the loss of consensus in U.S. policy, and hence, the assumption of an independent watchdog role by the New York Times after the crisis of 1973-74.


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