With malice aforethought: Media bias
This report on the Cape Times is another contribution to this ongoing battle for integrity in the media.
Cape times Photo: Reuters
One of the strange paradoxes of our age is the unholy alliance between many
self-designated Western social progressives and assorted tyrants, homophobes,
religious extremists and anti-Semites in the Middle East.
dalliance which leaves the few brave Arab- Muslim voices openly questioning the
assumptions underpinning their dysfunctional societies bereft of the support
whence they should most expect it.
Israel is the common ground, where
anti-Semitism, ignorance, fanaticism, self-interest and, yes, sheer malice,
intersect and trump the enormous gulfs of culture and ideology. The remarkable
but flawed democratic Israel with all its cultural, linguistic, political and
religious diversity is reduced to a symbol of Western-Jewish militarism and
racism – hated and envied in equal measure.
Such attitudes are especially
prevalent in much of the English, post-apartheid popular press in South Africa.
And, among these, the Cape Times is one of the most notorious. The vast majority
of Jewish South Africans support Israel despite diverse political views; and the
systematic bias which has pervaded the coverage of Israel by the Cape Times and
some other media has been both distressing and infuriating.
impotent and rejected. A few have found their home among Israel’s enemies and
work feverishly to blacken her name. They are much treasured by certain
newspapers and the hyperactive Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanctions movement in
While everyone knew what was afoot, there remained the
small matter of proof. So I undertook a systematic survey of the coverage by the
Cape Times of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for the year 2012, ending on
September 12. The findings are contained in an approximately 4,000 word report
which establishes conclusively the obsessive, pervasive and systematic bias in
the treatment of Israel and Zionism by the Cape Times.
In one month, from
20 June to 20 July, no less than 59 items dealt with Israel or Zionists or
Zionism when nothing special was going on there. Only on the Letters page was
there some plausible parity of treatment, though the most acrimonious and
overwrought anti-Israel letters always received top exposure. But for the rest,
in the reports and commentaries, not a single pro- Israel item
Interestingly, these always appeared in clusters, invariably
initiated by an overtly anti-Israel commentary, letter or report given top
Reports were used in particular to repeat verbatim and thereby
reinforce anti-Israel messages contained in the commentaries or
Since the data were so strong, the question arose: could these
results reflect an unusual statistical aberration? So the study was extended to
the other months not examined and excluded letters, since these were not the
primary source of bias.
In this section of the study two questions were
asked: How did the Cape Times treat atrocities committed against Israeli or
Jewish civilians? And, secondly, what were the topics selected for coverage and
judgement? Three atrocities were examined: the Bulgarian bomb attack, the
Toulouse-Montauban shootings (including three children and a rabbi) and the
Fogel family murders.
In brief, only the Bulgarian bomb attack was
actually reported by the Cape Times, while the other two were essentially
ignored. Nevertheless, the paper did find space to present other either
irrelevant or anti-Israel articles at the time these atrocities took
With respect to selection of topic, there was an obsessive focus
on real or potential anti-Israel issues, which took up 75 percent of the 70
items meeting the selection criteria. Not a single positive report appeared on
Israel’s achievements or aspects of Israel’s daily life or any of its
The remaining 25 percent of items dealt with
Iran, Palestine or anything else relevant to the focus of this study. Not one of
these dealt with Iran’s vicious rhetoric against Israel, independent evidence
that Iran may be following a militarized nuclear program, Arab-Muslim homophobia
or gender inequalities, the relative democratic freedoms enjoyed by all Israelis
relative to their neighbors or the anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist incitement so
common in the region.
This superficial treatment does not do full justice
to the “reality distortion field” created by the Cape Times. And even the fuller
report does not fully mine the many subtle ways the anti-Israel message is
conveyed by skilled and experienced journalists, adept at maintaining plausible
deniability when only single items are considered.
Such coverage does not
happen by chance. In recent weeks there has been a precipitous fall in the
coverage of Israel by the Cape Times, possibly as a precautionary measure having
caught wind of this study. But the day following the release of the report, two
prominently displayed and headlined “anti-Israel” items appeared. Since then the
trend has continued with three more mainly anti-Israel commentaries and reports
The message was clear: mess with us at your peril.
exposure may elicit a yawn rather than outrage: after all, what’s new about
media bias? Such a reaction would be a mistake. A sense of outrage is essential
if we are to combat this scourge which afflicts many more important media
outlets than the Cape Times. Honest Reporting and others are doing a sterling
job in exposing lies masquerading as legitimate reporting.
This report on
the Cape Times is another contribution to this ongoing battle for integrity in
The writer is a retired medical academic and member of the
Academy of Sciences of South Africa. He is currently an independent political
commentator with a nonexclusive focus on Israel.