The danger that lurks in the power of the press, we have previously noted, is probably less in what it publishes than in what it does not publish. A new aspect, however, has emerged from the recent military confrontation between the State of Israel and the Hamas terror group controlling the Gaza Strip: the truly dangerous press is the one which prostitutes itself.
While it is understandable that most Israeli journalists would not be able to freely ply their trade in downtown Gaza City, there are, after all, dozens of representatives of the world’s press packed into Gaza’s hotels and private homes. Do they see nothing of what is going on there? The former editorial page writer for The Wall Street Journal Europe, Daniel Schwammenthal, uploaded at Robin Shepherd’s The Commentator website on August 1 his article “Fear and trembling: Western media and Hamas.”
He noted the willful blindness in Western media reporting when the subject is Hamas in Gaza. It is a throwback to the PLO bullying three decades ago in Lebanon. He suggested that “many of the journalists are also terrified of telling the truth.” A more recent example is Italian Ricardo Cristiano, from the Italian state television station RAI, who in 2000 published a letter of abject apology to the Palestinian Authority for the pictures of the Ramallah lynching.
JTA’s Uriel Heilman took on The New York Times, asking some very basic questions: why haven’t pictures of Hamas fighters inside Gaza been seen in the media? Isn’t it odd that rockets and mortars are fired off by unseen hands? We see both sides in the Ukraine, in Syria and even in Libya. Gaza is a unique battlefield, one that is one-sidedly sterile. Can it be that every Hamas combatant is underground and out of view? Eileen Murphy, the paper’s vice president for corporate communications, responded that out of several hundreds of photographs, only two “very distant poor quality images” of Hamas fighters were identified. After all, they are not uniformed nor do they wear any insignia, she admitted.
But that not one was snapped carrying a gun? Murphy then simply admitted that, “We are limited by what our photographers have access to.”
Access? On the one hand, the journalists feed us how small Gaza is and yet dozens of media crews cannot show us who is firing off deadly projectiles? The Tablet website was more specific in doubting Murphy’s excuse. In a “Staff notes” column, it published that “mainstream news outlets... hide from their readers... that their photographers and reporters... are working under terribly difficult conditions under the effective control of a terrorist organization which... doesn’t hesitate to maim, kidnap and kill people that it doesn’t like.”
France’s Liberation published on July 24 that Radjaa Abou Dagga, correspondent for Ouest France, had been intimidated by aggressive Hamas interrogation methods.
On his Facebook page of July 30, filmmaker Michael Grynszpan related meeting that day a Spanish journalist who had just come back from Gaza. He asked him, “How come we never see on television channels reporting from Gaza any Hamas people, no gunmen, no rocket launchers, no policemen?” The frank reply was, “It’s very simple, we did see Hamas people there launching rockets, they were close to our hotel, but if ever we dare pointing our camera at them they would simply shoot at us and kill us.”
This reminds us of the 2006 incident in which CNN’s Nic Robertson admitted – after leaving Lebanon – that Hezbollah has “slick media operations... had control of the situation. They designated the places that we went to, and we certainly didn’t have time to go into the houses or lift up the rubble to see what was underneath.”
One correspondent for Finnish TV, Aishi Zidan, inadvertently confirmed that Hamas fired rockets from the parking lot of Shifa Hospital. Gabriel Barbati, an Italian reporter, tweeted on July 29, “Out of #Gaza far from #Hamas retaliation: misfired rocket killed children 2day in Shati. Witness: militants rushed and cleared debris.”
Later, on August 2, he uploaded that, “Both [Hamas and Israel] pressure press.”
Nick Casey tweeted, too, and admitted on August 3 that a witness to the attack at Rafah UN school “told me target may have been 2 men riding motorbike in front of school, both killed,” thus independently confirming the IDF spokesman’s claim that the army “targeted three PIJ [Palestinian Islamic Jihad] terrorists onboard a motorcycle in vicinity of an UNRWA school in Rafah.” Casey is a rare example of a brave and professional journalist; he also tweeted earlier on July 28 that a room at Shifa Hospital was being used as the Hamas press center.
Another example of extraordinary candid journalism is Indian Srinivasan Jain from NDTV who documented how Hamas sets up and fires a rocket from within a densely populated area, as has now France 24 reporter Gallagher Fenwick. The 5Pillarz site informed that Harry Fear, a reporter for Russia’s RT channel, was ordered to leave Gaza by Hamas after tweeting the location of rocket launchers.
These, though, were the exceptions. It would seem that any semblance of balanced news can be found only outside of the mainstream media outlets. The reporting of the mainstream media has been overwhelmingly biased.
The willingness of the international press to prostitute itself emerges clearly from Saul O’s list of “40 questions for the international media in Gaza” at the British Harry’s Place on July 31 and republished at the Volokh blog which is hosted by The Washington Post. These are some of his questions: “Has Hamas pressured you to delete anything you have published? Are you scared to publish photos of Hamas operatives on your news channel? Have you put to Hamas spokespersons that firing rockets from civilian areas in a war situation will draw return fire and lead to the death of civilians? Have you seen or heard evidence of Hamas storing weapons inside schools, houses, flats, mosques or hospitals? Have you tried to interview any of the parents of the 160 Palestinian children who died building the terror tunnels?”
We could add more: have the journalists inquired into how many local Gazans were killed and injured as a result of Hamas rockets falling short or exploding upon launch? Are there no natural deaths in Gaza, from accidents, old age or health issues, or are all a result of Israel’s actions? Are there truly no open spaces and fields from which the rockets could be launched, rather than from school-yards, mosques and hospitals?
Blogger Elder of Ziyon wrote, “Every single report on TV from Gaza should have this disclaimer: ‘Our reporters have been threatened, implicitly and perhaps explicitly, by Hamas to report only one side of the story. Viewers must not trust anything they are saying.’”
The press debacle in Gaza implies that although truth-in-advertising is an important media issue, the really disconcerting issue is truth-in-reporting. The international media is making money from lies and distortions presented as news – this is nothing but prostitution.
Correction: in last week’s column, we misspelled Liat Regev’s name, for which we apologize.
The authors are vice chairman and chairman respectively of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).