Operation Protective Edge is entering its third week. With only a limited stream of reliable information from Gaza reaching the public, the media finds itself situated at a crucial nexus. Network commentators and guest experts are becoming more familiar, their prejudices and weaknesses, their strengths and biases more apparent and the good and the bad of their journalistic endeavors more obviously recognizable.
Journalists, writes Mark Coddington of the University of Texas, “cast themselves fundamentally as sense-makers rather than information- gatherers.” In reviewing the many television and radio broadcasts during the current operation, we have noticed several paradigms that should be brought to the attention of the media consumer.
Given that this is the third round of military activity since the 2005 Gaza disengagement plan – which was promoted, praised and protected by the media – it was disappointing to hear very little self-criticism from the media.
An egregious example of a journalist’s shifting attention from the real problem was Amos Harel’s July 17 column in Haaretz where he asserted that the “IDF fears that, without Hamas, Gaza could descend into a Somalia-like situation, in which dozens of gangs or clans would take over various parts of the strip.” As it is, Gaza has for decades already divided into clans and tribes; it is the political-theological ideology of Hamas that is the more potent danger for Israel.
It is also discouraging that certain inconvenient elements are glossed over. For example, we were all told that the rocket fire from Gaza increased as a result of the IDF search for the three kidnapped youngsters and the arrests of Hamas operatives in Judea and Samaria. The simple fact is that ever since April the number of rocket and mortars fired toward Israel had been increasing steadily. Incidentally, these launchings also kill and injure Gaza residents, which should have been part of the commentary to reports on the high numbers of casualties being claimed by Hamas.
Another element is the content the media conveys from abroad. Given Israel’s special diplomatic considerations, support from the major and even minor powers is important and a factor in Israel’s ability to continue the military actions needed to provide long-term security for the country and its citizens. As we wrote in last week’s column, our media should present truthfully how we are perceived in the eyes of the world. We found then that television Channel 2’s Arad Nir was wanting in this respect, which continues to be the case.
Nir is the chief foreign news editor for the station.
Our review indicates that he is extremely selective in his editorial decisions regarding what to show us, what not to show us and in his analysis of what is happening around the world. In fact, we have found that he is engaged in minimizing our perception of what is happening.
For example, on July 10, he discusses a major pro-Israel demonstration in New York, but accompanies the report with no visuals.
On July 13, only one out of several pro-Israel demonstrations is mentioned. On July 11, anti-Israel rallies were extensively covered. On July 17, even an anti-Israel rally in Cracow, Poland, a city not very important for Israel’s diplomatic position, was reported.
In fact, for three straight days, July 16-18, Nir made sure that the news from abroad covered in Channel 2’s central evening news edition was exclusively devoted to anti-Israel events. At the same time there was ample evidence that Israel had significant support from major newspapers, columnists and television stars, including the progressive liberal Bill Maher. Such support is arguably of much greater significance than demonstrations by Muslims or extreme left-wing radicals. Indeed, the anti-Jewish violence in Paris and Los Angeles had more significant ramifications for the local communities than for Israel.
Nir’s unprofessional judgment is actually not surprising. He maintains a Twitter account and there one can find the retweeting of blatantly anti-Semitic caricatures, notably those of Carlos Latuff. Many of the tweets are without any comment, as if Nir is completely neutral regarding their news value or worse, allowing people to think he might sympathize with their contents. He also retweets anti-Netanyahu cartoons such as one by Haaretz’s Amos Biderman on July 14 portraying the prime minister as the Major Kong character in the Dr. Strangelove film without comment, even though the original tweeter wrote, “there’s only one Biderman.”
CNN’s Diane Magnay was sent packing to Moscow after calling some Israelis “scum” on her Twitter feed. If he had been employed by CNN, Nir would have been fired over his conduct, but our media lets him continue his unprofessional acts, in the name of “freedom of speech.”
On July 13, he retweeted a claim that 77 percent of Gaza victims are civilians, again without any evaluative element. His only source for this statistic is Hamas, and we all know how reliable Hamas’s information is. To simply repeat this statistic is irresponsible journalism – unless one is actually interested in promoting and magnifying Hamas propaganda. On July 16, Nir wrote, “Hamas offers conditional ceasefire for 10 years. If genuine should be checked as a starter for long-term agreement.” Is it professional for a news editor to give advice to the political echelon or to critically report on their activities? Another item Nir decided should not be brought to the attention of Channel 10’s viewers was the July 3 passing, in the Dutch parliament, of a motion calling for an end to the salaries that the Palestinian Authority pays to terrorists. The motion passed unanimously.
It read, in part, “...since 2011, the Palestinian Authority transfers money to Palestinian convicts in Israeli prisons [and] that these moneys can have a negative effect, in which criminality and terrorism are rewarded.”
A European country, a member of the inimical EU and with a sizeable Muslim population to boot, adopts a very pro-Israel stand. That is not a worthy news item? Kalman Liebskind, writing a fortnight ago in Ma’ariv, termed this type of media practice as a form of “occupation of thinking” which is dictated to lower-level employees by centrally-positioned persons with editorial responsibility.
Nir is not alone. Kol Yisrael also uses statistics provided by Hamas as to the number of Gazan casualties. We asked one of Kol Yisrael’s editors why they do this. The laconic answer was that since the IDF spokesperson does not provide the numbers, there is no choice but to mention Hamas figures, while noting that the source of the information is Gaza.
Such an attitude is no better than that of CNN or other outlets with crews in Gaza which bring to the world the misery of the Gazans without a word about who is really responsible.
Tuesday’s The Marker reports that the expanded format of the news broadcasting of channels 2 and 10, with multiple on-scene reporters, endless hours of studio screen-time, Live-U technology, satellite time and such is estimated to cost NIS 600,000 per day per network.
It is a shame that too much of this money is being wasted on poor journalism that, in the end, does not serve the public. Even the reality shows are a better investment.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).