UK Media Coverage of Iraq War: A Content Analysis of Tony Blair Position in the Guardian Newspaper 2003-2007
Political Science and British Studies, Faculty
of World Studies, University of Tehran,
- *Corresponding Author:
- Parisa Abbasian
M.A. Researcher in Political Science and
Faculty of World Studies,
University of Tehran
Tel: +98 912 332 8501
E-mail: [email protected]
Received Date: June 14, 2017; Accepted Date: October 30, 2017; Published Date: November 07, 2017
Citation: Abbasian P. UK Media Coverage of
Iraq War: A Content Analysis of Tony Blair
Position in the Guardian Newspaper 2003-
2007. Global Media Journal 2017, 15:29.
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Iraq war was one of the most important armed conflicts in 21st century which led by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom ,caused death of hundreds of thousands civilians and militaries and cost trillion of dollars to the global economy. The present study have focused on the media reflections in war time and aims to examine how Tony Blair, the British prime minister is represented in The Guardian newspaper during Iraq invasion and content analysis is the research method that is used in this regard. The Guardian news stories which examined in this research, were about the role and the policies of Tony Blair in 2003 Iraq invasion from the start of the war until his resignation of UK primer ship in 2007. The findings of the study revealed some facts about the way that the Guardian newspaper represented Blair’s involvement in Iraq; firstly the dominance of the news value of prominence and the news element of who showed that The Guardian news stories have focused on Blair’s role and his policies in Iraq war and also all the remarkable events and individuals that were involved in this war. Secondly, the researcher observed the negative adjectives were dominant in The Guardian news stories about Blair and he has been portrayed negatively to the public opinion by this paper, in fact as a war criminal.
Tony Blair; Iraq war; Content analysis; The Guardian newspaper; News;
After the 11 September terrorist attacks to the twin towers of the
world trade center in the United States which was led by al-Qaida
terrorist group "war against the terrorism" became the main goal
of the this country in the Middle East and the Iraq invasion was
based on this ideology. The Iraq war was led by the United States
with the support of the United Kingdom against Iraqi government
and toppled Saddam Hussein government in 2003. The rational
of the start of this war was the belief that Iraq had weapons of
mass destruction and it was a serious threat to global peace and
The United Kingdom intervention to Iraq was during Tony Blair
premiership. He entered his country to international wars more
than any prime minister in the history. He sent British troops into
battles like Kosovo (1999), sierra Leon (2000) and Afghanistan
(2001) that was led by United States From the start of American
new ideology in foreign policy (war on terror) Blair strongly
supported it and participate in wars on terror beside US. But the
intervention in Iraq was particularly controversial as it attract the
widespread public demonstration and 139 MP oppositions as the
result he faced lots of criticism over his policy and at last losing
his position as the prime minster and the leader of labor party.
In this study we are trying to show how the Guardian newspaper
portrayed Blair policies in the period from 2003 until 2007, which
marks the start of Iraq war to the end of his primer ship. The
reason for the selection of this topic is that although there are
lots of studies about Iraq war but we cannot find many studies
conducted about media coverage of war specially the UK media
coverage of Iraq war. Meanwhile the Iraq invasion was the most
important conflict after Second World War and Tony Blair had a
key role in the war process, he was criticized and lost his power
because of involving Britain in this war. So, study on this topic is
vital and important in both fields of media and politics.
The 2003 Iraqi invasion started in 19 March 2003. The invasion
was named “the operation Iraqi freedom” by the United States.
Before the 19 march 2003 it was called “Operation Enduring
Freedom, a carryover from the War in Afghanistan”. Four
countries participated with troops to this war: the United States
(148,000), the united kingdom (45,000), Australia (2000) and
Poland (194) to depose the Baathist government of Saddam
The British prime minister tony Blair was one of the closest allies
to the George Bush in Iraq war. The Blair’s government decision
for going to war caused the biggest foreign policy and moral
crisis since Suez. Blair government used intelligence sources and
evidences that the Iraqi government had chemical and biological
weapons in order to persuade public opinion about the war
involvement. It seems that the prime minister pursued two wishes
about Iraq: first, he wished to have share in global management
beside the United States. In another level he wished that Blair
wanted to the United Kingdom being in the heart of Europe .
Rodney P. Carlisled and John Stewart Bowman studied on
Blair’s justification of war . They explained his efforts to
maintain public support of Iraq intervention in this way: Since
the Iraqi government had evaded the UN inspections and put
some obstacles to the inspectors, the intelligence information
suggested that Iraq still had the weapons of mass destructions
and way of their production. When Tony Blair presented his
report that called “the Blair’s Dossier” to the British parliament in
2002 He stressed all the evidences that his intelligence agencies
maintained that suggested Iraqi government still had WMD. He
also detailed the Saddam regime operations against the Iraqi
people including the tortures and executions without trial. The
British prime minister reminded his people and the parliament
the Europe situation of 1930 when Adolf Hitler defined the League
of Nations and imposed a ruthless regime to the German people.
He said “from history that diplomacy, not backed by the threat of
force, has never worked with dictators and never will work … the
threat is not imagined. The history of Saddam and WMD is not
American or British propaganda. The history and present threat
are real”. However in Britain, not everyone was sure about this
Williamson Murray and Robert H Scales focused Blair’s
motivations of British intervention to Iraq. They believed that
the British prime minister, tony Blair risked his career, his
international influence and his position in the history to stand
side by side and shoulder to shoulder with United States in Iraq
war . While he was surrounded by the opposition even in his
own party, provided the leadership, drive, foresight and moral
conviction to put the British troops to the war in Iraq.
These researchers believes that the reason of Blair’s intervention
in this war with million oppositions against him, was to make
sure that Britain maintained his position across the Atlantic in
opposition of Jacobs Chirac’s united Europe under the French
banner against the United States hegemony also he recognized
that a stable middle east in the near future is impossible without Saddam Hussein’s removal. He believed that because of
producing and developing the weapons of mass destruction by
the Saddam’s regime, liberal governments had responsibility to
stand against such regime and employ military forces against it.
So during the 2002 Blair followed a consistent line in saying that
he would support the United States in the Iraq war and in January
2003 he sent substantial military forces to the war .
Stephen Dyson In another research described the Blair’s
expectations of Iraq involvement. He believed that the Iraq war
was a huge personal war to Blair by the Bush’s turning attention
toward Iraq; Blair quickly offered the support of United States by
the basic principles. His black and white framing of the world and
his believes on an activist approach, provided sympathy toward
administration arguments about the threat of Saddam regime and
its weapons of mass destruction. Blair recognized that when the
Bush administration determined goes to the war, no one can stop
it. The elements of his policy sounds good but he couldn’t apply
his policies in the proper way. He over estimated to shape the
circumstances under which the war would be fought and ended
without the support of international community and the United
Nations. Moreover his ability to shape the policies of the Bush
administration was less that he supposed. Finally Blair estimated
his ability to shape the domestic picture into the UK and found
himself as the leading of the skeptical nation to the war. Linking
these events reveals that despite Blair’s success in Kosovo and
sierra Leon he failed to gain his aims in Iraq war .
Frank P. Harvey explained the importance of Blair’s policies
and his effects in Iraq war in his book. He believed that, Bush
understood that tony Blair was an essential actor in resolving the
Iraq problem. He was a very popular prime minister, who made
credible the multilateralism policy and provided a complete
defense of this approach. The United States president needed
his alliance withstand the neocons pressure for the pre-emptive
unilateral invasion. Blair forced Bush to reject unilateralism in
order to returning to UN for new resolution. The strong efforts of
Washington to maintain the UN support would make it easier for
Blair to address his own pressures. Tony Blair could predict and
adjust Bush’s policies toward Iraq. So when Bush delivered UN
speech committing country to another round of UN negotiations
on another resolution, Tony Blair understood that is one of his
most important achievements. The multilateral efforts made it
easier to Blair to bring the European powers to sign the coercive
diplomatic strategy. So, British officials understood that they
were not allied to the singularly committed administration that
committed to fighting unilateral war .
Matthew Evangelista is another scholar who studied on Iraq war
and its consequences. He argued about Blair’s failure in Iraq war.
He argued, Blair’s Iraq policy misled British assets from al-Qaida
and war on terror and undermined the international institutions
on which the security of Britain rests. His insistence to the Iraq’s
WMD threat made the Britain the object of scorn and ridicule
in Europe and international community. He lowered the British
position in the world and lost the support of his people. Also
he didn’t find friends in Washington because he couldn’t bring
Germany and France to the coalition against Saddam Hussein and to obtain UN authorization for military action. Since Blair
derived no benefit from his special relationship with George Bush
the allegiance to Washington did not appeared to pay. In the
other hand his policies were not in opposition of French model.
Tony Blair separates himself from his colleges in EU for the Bush
support. This made Britain as much hated as the United States in
the international community .
According to the infamous Project for a New American Century
(PNAC) document endorsed by senior Bush administration
officials as far back as 1997, "While the unresolved conflict with
Iraq provides the immediate justification" for the US "to play a
more permanent role in Gulf regional security," "the need for a
substantial American force presence in the Gulf transcends the
issue of the regime of Saddam Hussein." So Saddam’s weapons of
mass destructions were not the issue.
Shai Feldman studied on the pentagon’s media policy in Persian
Gulf regarding Iraq war. He mentioned in his book that, the media
policy was used in Iraq war in order to win public confidence and
capture the public support for the war. In order to achievement
of this purposes, the pentagon invited the journalists to be close
as possible to the fighting through the process of embedding.
But the organized efforts of the new policy didn’t work for the
positive coverage of war. In the first weeks of war the news
were dominated by failure and presented a distorted picture of
American led campaign but in a few weeks later the media were
reporting the victory. The reports from embedded journalist,
successfully positioned the war as liberating Iraq from the
Saddam’s regime and deflecting attention from the fact that no
weapon of mass destruction were found in Iraq. The main reason
that United States and United Kingdom intervened to Iraq .
Anthony DiMaggio in his book “When Media Goes to War:
Hegemonic Discourse, Public Opinion, and the Limits” explains
the American public position toward Iraq war according to its
media coverage and the power of media in shaping the public
opinion. He believed that the American media coverage of Iraq
war was overwhelmingly nationalistic during 2003 and 2004. The
coverage remained favorable to the war in late 2004, although
many of media outlets argued about the changes in executive
management of the war. During 2005 and 2006 with the increase
violence against Iraqi people dominated media headlines and
turned the public opinion against the war. In response to growing
criticism among public the Bush administration planned a surge
of troops which effectively silenced antiwar critics .
Piers Robinson focused on the governments control on the media
during war time, because the media coverage influence public
perceptions and reinforce the political consensus about the war.
So the government management over the media shape the public
understanding about crisis and make their perception of reality
“elastic”. In 2003 Iraq war the intelligence missioned to persuade
American and British public that Iraq was WMD (weapons of
mass destruction) threat. The UK and U.S press coverage of Iraq
invasion supported the coalition military efforts and the official
justification for war revolving. By the power of media in the
United States the public opinion support for Iraq invasion was
strong and in Britain majority support of war was like the troops
went into the action .
Ilene A. Serine introduced the Iraq war as a postmodern war. He
believed that, this war mixed the role of spectator and participant.
The media coverage of war serve the political purposes and
appeal American values such as the Rumsfeld doctrine that the
speed and efficiency wines the victory over the enemies and
introduces advertising to sell war on terrorism. The embedded
reporting didn’t cover the bloods or death and gave the news
coverage an immediate and sanitized quality. The strategy of
white house at the wartime was minimizing the horrors of war
and using the power of media to gain the public support. By this
coverage of war it entered to the home of Americans every times
and every places .
Marie Hyklová believed that the news coverage of Iraq war was
favorable to the bush administration rather than its opponents
and the administration officials were referenced more than any
sources. Even the TV reports cast the Iraq invasion more positive
than negative way. Just in earliest month of war the opposition
received attention but in the following the oppositions were
completely marginalized. Information management used by
the government as the “propaganda strategy”. The embedded
reporters presented the image of war as clean and bloodless
war with professional soldiers. The Bush administration manages
the media coverage in some way to gain public support of war
and those who opposed to the war were regarded as unpatriotic
both by public and government. The work of media-military
relationship ensured that any unwelcome message about war
would not reach to the public and the media became an effective
strategy to affect public opinion .
The authors of “Understanding American Government” believed
that the American leaders tend to uniform public opinion about
their policies by interpretation of elites. In this manner they
turned to translate their beliefs to their policies by using media.
In the case of Iraq war the effect of the media coverage of war on
public opinion was undeniable. The television, radio and printed
news were overwhelmingly pro war and more than 71 percent
of Americans were agree to the war. The media conveyed that
there was a strong link between Saddam Hussein and 9/11 and
also conveyed that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction,
chemical, biological and nuclear weapons. For the American
people this narration of Iraq became primary justification for the
During the war the networks used special music; graphics and
promotion of dramatize American patriotism. The American was
reluctant to report negative news, the blood and the reality of war.
The media were under the control of president administrations,
reflected the government’s lines in foreign policy and relied on
government officials as the main sources for news .
In this research, the researcher tried to focus on the content of
the guardian newspaper and put them in “agenda setting” as the
theoretical frame work to answer some questions.
Main questions that the researcher will try to answer them in this
Q1: what is reflected about tony Blair and Iraq war in the Guardian
Q2: what news elements have dominated in the Guardian news
coverage of this subject matter?
Q3: what news values have dominated in The Guardian news
Q4: what adjectives had been used in The Guardian news
coverage with regards to tony Blair? Are the dominate adjectives
positive, negative or neutral?
Our study is based on the portrayal of Tony Blair’s position in
The Guardian newspaper and the best way for understanding
this subject is using content analysis as our research method.
Content analysis is the method that provides a variety of tools to
the study of media content. Bibe believes that content analysis
is “particularly well situated to study the communications”.
The content analysis is not limited to the message component
only, the method provide use a situation to understand the
communicators intention and receiver’s interpretation of
the message. The content analysis helps use to be aware of
communicators purpose and receiver’s interpretation. Because
the method separates the messages into the constituent parts
and make a large variety of variables visible and quantifiable .
In order to understand how the Guardian newspaper presented
Tony Blair during Iraq war, we started by searching the relevant
news to Tony Blair during 2003 to 2007 in this newspaper.
Regarding representing the frequency of the research variables in
the Guardian news stories about Tony Blair (the news values like:
impact, prominence, magnitude, conflict, oddity, proximity, and
timeliness, news elements like: who, where, when, why, how,
what and adjectives) we used frequency tables which are a way
for summarizing data. These tables depict the number of times a
data value occurs. The frequency tables in our study are created
by three columns. One of these columns allocated to intervals
and the amount of these intervals is determined by a range in
data values. If the range in data values is great, the intervals will
be larger and if the range in data values is not great, the range
in data intervals will be smaller. It is important that the intervals
are in equal size without overlap. The second column is created
for tallied results. In this column we tally the number of times of
data values from each interval. And in the last column we added
the tally marks to determine the frequency results. And finally
we entered our data to the SPSS software in order to gain the
frequency tables and find out the special relationships between
In this part of our research the results of the study which
conducted by the content analysis are presented.
News elements comparison
The following chart shows the news elements which are found
in the Guardian news stories regarding Tony Blair and Iraq war.
In order to find the results, the news elements were searched in
three parts of each news (headlines, lead and nut par). Then the number of the occurrence of each news element were counted
in this three parts of news and compared to each other in order
to find out which news element is dominant. The next table
demonstrates the number of each news elements examined in
the news stories about Tony Blair and Iraq war in the Guardian
newspaper. As you can see, among the news elements who
(that demonstrates the involved factors and individuals to the
occurrence and appearance of an event) has the most frequency
and it means that the Guardian news stories about Blair are
mostly based on the individual’s representation specially Blair
himself and their role regarding this war (Table 1 and Figure 1).
Table 1 The number of news elements in the Guardian news stories.
Figure 1: The number of news elements in the Guardian news
The following pie chart illustrates the percentage of news
elements in the Guardian news stories that shows the dominance
of whom and what among the other variables (Figure 2).
Figure 2: The percentage of news elements in The Guardian news
The chart shows that the news element of who (the involved
factors and individuals to the occurrence and appearance of an
event) is the most dominant element in the news stories by the
46%. The second dominant element is what (the nature of event
that supposed to be news) by 24%. The next frequent element
is where (the place of an event occurrence) by 17% and after
that is when (the time of an event occurrence) by 10%. The least
frequent elements were why and how that allocated only 3% of
the of whole news elements to themselves.
This report reveals that the Guardian newspaper have focused on
reporting the related news to key individuals who had important
role regarding Iraq invasion and because of the frequency of the
element of what this news were mostly about the occurrence
of the events and accidents that were related to Iraq war. The
low frequency of why in this news shows that those news stories
are more descriptive than analytical and most of the Guardian’s
efforts were to report all the related issues to the war.
News values comparison
The following table represents the frequency of news values in the news stories about Tony Blair in the Guardian newspaper
during Iraq war. Firstly we counted the number of news values
in the three part of each news(impact, prominence, proximity,
timeliness, oddity, magnitude and conflict) and then compared
them to each other in order to find the most important news
value in this regard (Table 2 and Figure 3).
Figure 3: The number of news values in the Guardian news stories.
Table 2 The number of news values in the Guardian news stories.
The next pie chart illustrates the percentage of news values that
examined in the Guardian news stories (Figure 4).
Figure 4: The percentage of news values in The Guardian news stories.
Pie chart 2 shows that the most dominant news value was
prominence (refers to the ‘elite nations’ or ‘elite persons’) by 47%
represented by the color gray. The next frequent value was impact
(relates or put impact on the everyday life of the audiences) by
19%. The other important values were proximity (relates to the
events those occurred near the audiences both geographical and
cultural) 16% and conflict (charge and countercharge, controversy
and conflict) 12%. The least frequent value was oddity by 0.2%.
This chart explains that the majority of the Guardian news stories
focused on Tony Blair’s character and involved well known British
individuals and politicians to shape the British public opinion in
order to judge and make decisions about this people according to
its political orientation. Another thing about this chart is that the
Guardian gave a great emphasis to the value of conflict regarding
its news coverage of Iraq war since it was reporting a war which
was a remarkable conflict in the Middle East since the Second
World War and had a great impact on global politics.
The following charts represent the adjectives used in the Guardian
news stories about Blair and Iraq war. The adjectives categorized
in three groups; positive, negative and neutral (Table 3, Figures
5 and 6).
Figure 5: The number of adjectives in the Guardian news stories.
Figure 6: The percentage of adjectives in The Guardian news stories.
Table 3 The number of adjectives in the Guardian news stories.
Both the column and pie chart reveal that most of the adjectives
mentioned about tony Blair in the Guardian news stories are
negative. 51% adjectives used by the Guardian about representing
Blair’s involvement in Iraq war are negative that reveals the
paper’s political orientation regarding this intervention and its
efforts to bring British public opinion along this ideology in this
The relation between prominence and conflict
In this part of our research, the correlations between the most
dominant news values (prominence and conflict) and negativity
(the negative adjectives, since they were the most recurring
among adjectives) were examined according Spearman’s Rho test,
Kendal’s Tau test and Pearson R test. The relation between these
variables examined in two parts: first between the prominence
and conflict and second between what and negativity (Tables 4,
5 and Figure 7).
Figure 7: The relation betwwen prominence and conflict.
Table 4 Correlation between prominence and conflict (pearson).
Table 5 Correlation between prominence and conflict (Kendall, spearman).
Tables 4 and 5 illustrate the re sults of exam ining the relation
between prominence and conflict. The researcher employed the Spearman’s Rho test and Kendal’s Tau test in this regard.
According to the results of research, the correlation coefficient
significance between these variables was 0.76 in Kendal’s and
0.84 in Spearman’s tests. The results indicate that there is a
meaningful relation between prominence and conflict. According
to this report we can conclude that lots of news which reported
conflicts in Iraq war contained some information about famous
individuals and places and their effective role in this war.
The relation between what and negativity
Table 6 and 7 demonstrates the results of whether there is
a meaningful relation between two variables of what and
negativity. In this case the researcher used Tau test and Rho test
again. After the calculation, the amount of correlation between
this variables was 0.55 and 0.58 in Kendal’s and Spearman’s test
that shows the meaningful relation between what and negativity that reveals the Guardian’s opposition to British government
specially policies in Iraq and the way they choose for entering
Britain in this indeterminate conflict (Tables 6, 7 and Figure 8).
Figure 8: The relation between what and negativity.
Table 6 Correlation between what and negativity (Pearson).
Table 7 Correlation between what and negativity (Kendall, spearman).
Considering the findings of the study, the reasearcher claimes
that the Guardian portrayed Tony Blair’s position toward Iraq
war in a negative way since most of news about him contained
negative adjectives. Another report related to this analysis was
that the most recurrent news values was prominence and the
reasearcher claims the Guardian main’s focuse was on the Blair’s
policies and his role and also the key politicians and individuals
in this war.
According to the findings related to the analysis of news values,
the next strongest news values was conflict in the Guardian news
stories and most of news containd this value in their reports.
The reasecher belives that the Guardian’s coverage of Iraq war
was also based onreporting conflicts and important war events,
since this value was one of the important elements in their news.
Another result of our study reffers to the dominant news
elements about Blair regarding Iraq war. As we obserrved the
highest frequency of news elements in the Guardian news blonged
to who and what that showes their emphasise firstly on who
saidand secondly what is said in news stories regarding Iraq war.
Finally, the researcher argues that the Guardian focused on
the stories that had more newsworthy than the other stories
and reported events and issues related to the British national
interests wich was very important to the people andcan be
followed by them. The Guardian also tried to introduce Blair as a
responsible ofIraq war and criticize him and his policies regarding
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