B'nai B'rith charges Aussie Web site with anti-Semitic content

ADC says 17 of 18 articles dealing with Cast Lead on newmatilda.com featured Palestinian narrative.

By SARAH SECHAN
July 4, 2009 23:26
3 minute read.
B'nai B'rith charges Aussie Web site with anti-Semitic content

newmatilda.com 248.88. (photo credit: )

 
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The Australian-based news Web site newmatilda.com has been charged by the B'nai B'rith Anti-Defamation Commission (ADC) with featuring anti-Israel and anti-Semitic content, particularly during the first three months of 2009, despite claims from the Web site's editor that it is providing fair coverage. The ADC issued a report highlighting newmatilda's Israel coverage, taking issue with the website's balance of Israeli and Palestinian narratives and the proportion of stories covering the conflict in the region during these months, particularly concerning Gaza. Contrary to the editor's claims of providing fair coverage, the report states that 17 out of the 18 articles concerning Operation Cast Lead featured the Palestinian narrative. None of the articles could be characterized as balanced, and one article acknowledged the existence of competing narrative, but argued for the validity of the Palestinian narrative. Many of the ADC's concerns regarding newmatilda are rooted in the fact that as a new media source, newmatilda does not need to adhere to journalistic standards of reporting and opinion writing. As the writers are not necessarily trained journalists and their work does not fall under the jurisdiction of a news editor, such standards are not always upheld. Despite the fact that Australia has laws against racial vilification, the report maintains that it is both more difficult to prosecute violations of these laws in new media sources and that incriminating articles are easier to remove. The report also claims that due to the fact that this information is made available to the general public, holding newmatilda to lower standards of journalistic integrity would be inappropriate. During the period in which the ADC studied newmatilda, the site provided a disproportionate amount of coverage on Israel. More than one article per week was published on the subject during the first three months of 2009, while only one article addressed the situation in Burma and no articles covered Darfur, North Korea, Zimbabwe, and Tibet, other countries possessing humanitarian-related news. Newmatilda features Al-Jazeera as its sole newsfeed. In its Frequently Asked Questions section, the site states that as Al-Jazeera has a non-Western focus, it brings balance to the Australian media, as it carries stories that Australians otherwise might not pursue. The ADC maintains that while Al-Jazeera is a legitimate news source, newmatilda offers no alternative sources which would present the other side of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue which the ADC finds most disconcerting is the fact that the Web site maintains very lax control over its comments section, which features responses of a highly anti-Semitic and anti-Israel nature. The comments make a variety of claims, such as denying the Holocaust or claiming that it was exaggerated or "used" by the Jewish people; claiming that Jews have no right or historical attachment to Israel; that anti-Semitism does not exist; that Jews control the media; that Jews are a threat to the world and would infect the world with the plague; and that Israel is supported by "blood money." While it is likely that some of these comments breach the racial vilification provisions of both the Australian states and Commonwealth, newmatilda rarely deletes them and when it does, it does not do so immediately - granting the comments an extensive readership. In April, the ADC wrote to newmatilda, expressing concern over the site's comments page. In response, Marni Cordell, editor of newmatilda, thanked the ADC for providing feedback and wrote "We believe we provide a fair coverage of this important nexus of issues - but we are very committed to publishing informed /opinion/ pieces, and our content reflects that. The possibility that your organization doesn't share the outlook of the bulk of our contributors - who also differ among themselves - does not make us unfair." "If you read opinions on our site that are not commonly found in the major dailies or in publications like the Australian Jewish News, then that is one sign that we are doing our jobs," Cordell's response continued. The ADC states that its primary concern regarding newmatilda is the effect that prejudicial coverage has on the attitude of Australians towards the Jewish people, both in Israel and in the Diaspora. As there is a documented connection between events in Israel and incidents of local anti-Semitism, the report posits that by hosting comments slandering Israel and Jews on unjust terms, newmatilda's lax policies undermine the freedom and security of Australian Jews, regardless of whether or not this is the site's intent.

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