'Israeli, Arab media rallied round the flag during Gaza campaign'

Both Israeli and Arab media rallied around the flag during the Gaza operation, panelists told the audience during an Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information (IPCRI) event on Wednesday. Keshev Executive Director Yizhar Be'er presented an analysis of the Israeli press over the three-week conflict. Keshev and its Palestinian partner analyze the Israeli and Palestinian media. "In times of crisis or war, the immediate reflex of the Israeli media is to rally around the flag. They provided full justification for the military operation and full support for decision-makers," Be'er told the audience at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem. Be'er compared the coverage this time to that of the Second Lebanon War. Both times, he said, Israeli media highlighted the suffering of Israelis and downplayed the suffering of Palestinians. On the slightly more positive side, Be'er said, this time there was ample mention of diplomatic options. "Right from the very beginning, there was a comprehensive and deep discussion of windows of opportunity for getting out from under the fighting," he said. As opposed to the last war, however, this time there was only one source of information - the IDF Spokesman, which prevented independent verification, Be'er said. Be'er used the examples of the "Grad truck" and the UNWRA school to demonstrate his point. In both cases, the media practically blindly reported what they were given from the IDF Spokesman without attempting to verify it themselves. Only Ha'aretz followed up on the Grad truck and talked to the owner, who said he was not carrying a Grad but empty oxygen tanks to be used for scrap metal, he said. The Hebrew dailies also declined to cover the follow-up to the events at the UNRWA school, Be'er said. Despite subsequent probes by the UN and the IDF, which found that there had been no gunmen within the school compound hit by an IDF tank shell that killed up to 40 civilians, the major Hebrew dailies didn't cover the probes in their news pages. The major dailies also splashed big pictures of IDF troops or Israeli casualties on their front covers, but never put any pictures of Palestinian civilian casualties on the front page, he found. Mohammed Daraghmeh, who covers the PA for the Associated Press out of Ramallah, discussed the major sources of news for Palestinians. Daraghmeh noted that this was the first war in which the Palestinians themselves were not in consensus. While protesting Israeli actions, the Palestinians were split on whether to blame Israel or Hamas for starting the war. "Some said it was Hamas who had brought on the war by taking Gaza hostage," he said. "Seventy-five percent of Palestinians watch Al Jazeera, then Al Arabiya [Arab satellite news channels], and very few watch or believe local Palestinian media," he said. He said Al Jazeera's on-scene coverage was graphic but accurate. They became "controversial" by choosing which commentators to interview. "All of the commentators and politicians which were interviewed were biased towards Hamas," he said. Al Arabiya, at least, included the Fatah point of view, he said. Aryeh Green of Media Central brought an interesting parallel to a war in the Congo which occurred during the same late December-early January weeks. Despite the killing of roughly the same number of civilians, the international media scarcely covered the Congo, choosing instead to focus on Gaza. "There were 200 to one articles about Hamas as opposed to the Lord's Resistance Army," a terrorist group determined to create a Christian theocracy in the Congo, Green noted. "There were 400 to one articles covering Gaza than covering the Congo, and 800 to one covering the UNRWA school bombing as opposed to an incident in Doruma in the Congo where the LRA hacked to death 100 civilians hiding in a church," he said. The Jerusalem Report's Editor-in-Chief Eetta Prince-Gibson called for journalists to adopt professional positions whether in peacetime or war. "We have failed," she said of journalists altogether, as each reporter pushes their own agenda rather than striving for objectivity and balance. Journalists need to be critiqued by their opposite number in Israel or the Palestinian Authority, she argued, to help them realize where they have strayed. "We are confusing dismissal with disagreeing. You can disagree with me, but don't dismiss that side of the story just because you don't agree with it," she concluded.