A professional media network is challenged during times of war. It is not easy to get hard facts. Both sides will invariably attempt to assure the media coverage they want, and not necessarily the truth. During the past few days, the BBC exposed how Hamas manipulated old pictures from Syria and Iraq, presenting as images of the present round of hostilities between Israel and Hamas. A reporter on the scene, hearing a siren or a rocket and having to take cover himself, is hard pressed to let his audience know what really happened.
Any war is not only determined by the military results but also how they are perceived. One of the duties of our media is to present truthfully how we are perceived in the eyes of the world. This often entails broadcasting video clips from foreign news outlets, such as CNN’s Ben Wedeman showing the damage inflicted on Gaza by our bombing.
The same holds true for a clip aired by TV Channel 2’s Arad Nir on Sunday night in which CNN reported that Israel had hit a Gaza infirmary for handicapped people which, so the story goes, could not be evacuated on time.
However, in both these cases, the Israeli media did not handle the material professionally; Wedeman could not have gotten such a report without “help” from Hamas. In 2003, Jordan Eason confessed that CNN chose not to report on the atrocities committed by Saddam Hussein’s regime as the truth “would have jeopardized... lives.” Previously, in his 1989 memoir From Beirut to Jerusalem, Thomas Friedman wrote that “physical intimidation” was a major impediment to honest reporting from PLO-dominated Beirut. But TV Channel 1 dared not challenge Wedeman on this issue.
Similarly, Nir, who stressed that Israel tries to prevent such occurrences, did not include an IDF response to the video. Nor did he note that apart from damage, the clip did not actually show that any of the patients had been harmed.
But these are relatively minor issues. The real story this week is how Channel 2 and Channel 10 covered the Hamas side of the story. The most egregious case, widely publicized, was the appearance of Likud MK Yariv Levin on Channel 10 last Friday. He was invited to participate in an hourlong broadcast to share his views on the situation.
The channel naturally brought in other interviewees.
The first, to “balance” Levin, was Ran Cohen (not the former Meretz MK), the executive director of the Israel branch of “Physicians for Human Rights” (PHR).
PHR’s anti-Israel positions are well known. It blames Israel for the recent war, in its words: “Years of intensifying control and closure of Gaza on the one hand and the absence of activity to promote a just solution and end to the occupation on the other hand is leading us into the abyss, fanning the flames of hatred and revenge.”
Its Israeli tax-free status was revoked recently in view of its political activities.
The moderator noted that Israel allowed 130 trucks to enter the Gaza strip . Cohen claimed that only 13 supply trucks entered, five with medical supplies. He then claimed that the medical situation in Gaza is terrible. Not due to the present war but a result of the Israeli blockade on Gaza since 2007.
At this point, MK Levin, a member of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, accused Cohen of outright lying. For the next few minutes, Levin did not let Cohen talk. He was outraged by the fact that Channel 10 would countenance what according to him were outright falsifications and blatant lies. Levin claimed on his Facebook that after a commercial break, he was not allowed to return to the program. Cohen, however, was allowed to continue his diatribe, this time uninterrupted.
Channel 10 didn’t stop there, either. The next day on the London and Kirschenbaum program they invited a representative from Gisha, Iman Gabor, head of its research department, ostensibly to obtain a deeper understanding of the economic situation within the Gaza strip. Gabor was allowed, without interruption, to lay the blame for the poverty in Gaza on Israel and its blockade since 2007.
Gisha is a European Union and New Israel Fund organization which testified for the Goldstone commission. It sees its mission as, among other things, safeguarding the transfer of supplies to and from the Gaza strip.
Another source of information for our media is interviews with residents of the Gaza Strip. On July 12, Channel 2, in its weekly news roundup, interviewed Sunny Obeid, a Gazan journalist who accused the IDF of deliberately targeting civilians.
On July 13, Oded Ben-Ami on his Channel 2 program interviewed “Ahmed,” who described the difficult situation within the strip. On July 12, Nadav Peri of Channel 10 news interviewed a Gazan resident.
UNRWA officials have also been interviewed by all major Israeli outlets. For example, the UNRWA official interviewed on Channel 10 on July 13, who described the inability of his organization to help. UNRWA, according to him, just does not have the means to help all those who need it.
These interviews are typically bland, containing very little actual information.
It could be different. As reported by Yossi Melman of Ma’ariv, on July 11, he, together with former ambassador Danny Ayalon, were interviewed on the i24 news channel. At one point, a Gazan journalist was added to the discussion. Upon being asked what the situation is in Gaza, he launched into a vicious attack on the Israeli government, which he claimed is targeting civilians.
The moderator, Lucy Aharish, an Israeli Arab, challenged the Gazan’s claims. She then asked the Gazan why the citizens of Gaza are not coming out in droves, demonstrating against the Hamas government. As Melman reported, he has never heard a moderator on Israeli TV channels asking the same questions.
Another “star” is Haaretz’s Gideon Levy. In a July 13 op-ed, he wrote that “Israel’s real purpose in the Gaza operation is to kill Arabs... the Israel Defense Forces already has a ‘map of pain,’ a diabolical invention.... Since the first Lebanon war, more than 30 years ago, the killing of Arabs has become Israel’s primary strategic instrument. The IDF doesn’t wage war against armies, and its main target is civilian populations.”
Channel 2, naturally, invited him to present his views on air. This was done on the street in Ashkelon.
A passerby noted what was happening and simply prevented Levy from talking. After a few minutes, the anchor gave in and the interview did not take place. Of course, later Channel 2 did interview Levy, in spite of heated objections from the public. Channel 2 did not interview, say, Baruch Marzel to balance the extremist Levy.
To be fair, the war has been ongoing for over a week, and the media has to fill air-time. Many people have been interviewed, including representatives of Yesha and other right-wing organizations.
But, as especially evidenced in the Gideon Levy affair, many in the public are incensed.
Hamas, according to some, could not have asked for a better ally.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).