Kiwis battling their country’s anti-Israel media bias

New Zealand NGO advocating for fair reporting continues to keep up the fight against prejudicial press.

Burning Israeli flag 370 (photo credit: reuters)
Burning Israeli flag 370
(photo credit: reuters)
Kiwis for Balanced Reporting on the Middle East – an NGO in New Zealand – feels it hasn’t been able to properly get Israel’s message across in the country’s mainstream newspapers.
The group was formed in 2006 after the Second Lebanon War, due to common sentiments that media coverage of the conflict was very one-sided and in many cases untruthful.
Composed of 20-30 volunteers from New Zealand, most of whom aren’t Jewish, KBRM’s main focus for the past seven years has been to level the playing field regarding the newspaper industry’s unbalanced approach to covering stories involving Israel.
“The media is a very powerful tool for conveying news and views, but unless it’s balanced and fair, it can have a detrimental effect,” said Michael Kuttner, a KBRM member who has called Israel his home since 1991.
Kuttner says his role with the group has been submitting op-ed columns and letters to the editor in response to unfavorable coverage.
Living in Efrat and writing to New Zealand’s press from Israel should in theory give Kuttner a unique perspective in times of conflict, he says, but his efforts have been largely unsuccessful.
“Letters to the editor are not terribly effective for the simple reason that there’s usually a limitation of the amount of words you can use,” he said. “For 120 words or less, you can’t really get your message across. It’s also the prerogative of the letters editor as to what letters he or she is going to publish.”
Kuttner describes a lack of competition within New Zealand’s press, noting that typical problems faced by worldwide newspapers of shrinking print readership have had a strong effect locally, with the country’s major cities each having just one mainstream newspaper as a result.
“It affects [our cause] in a very large way, presumably because the editors don’t feel any pressure now to address our problems and concerns, because they know the people complaining don’t have anywhere else to go,” Kuttner said. “The editors are not under any great pressure to provide balance if they don’t want to.”
Kuttner says many of the op-eds he has submitted have been ignored or rejected, due to local news outlets already using other foreign sources to provide readers with information.
While he does not think these reports are inherently anti-Israel or at all hostile, he feels they tend to “misconstrue the situation” and give New Zealand readers a “warped perspective.”
“I’m not suggesting that every single item they write is anti-Israel in any sense of the word, but there’s always a slant which comes through,” Kuttner says.
Peter Bolot, one of the group’s funders, says a significant part of the problem lies in Kiwi newspapers’ left-wing tendencies.
“The press from the left side is very anti-Israel. It’s quite a left-wing country,” Bolot notes, adding that there is no Jewish newspaper in the country where Israel can be portrayed more accurately.
“It’s just very frustrating not being able to get our side of the story across or point out how biased and prejudiced these people are,” he says.
In a letter to the editor published in The Press on August 20, Bolot complained about the newspaper’s cartoonist Malcolm Evans, known for anti-Israel drawings that make use of Jewish and Israeli stereotypes, according to Kuttner.
“It is difficult to stomach Evans’ anti-Israel cartoon when the Arab Middle East is reeling in bloody mayhem, providing outstanding examples of suspended democracy and unparalleled violence in the streets; thousands of men women and children slaughtered by truly brutal regimes,” Bolot wrote.
“While Israel disgorges from her prisons Palestinian terrorists guilty of murdering innocent Israeli civilians… Evans has conveniently forgotten that there have been no democratic elections in either Gaza or the West Bank for more than seven years, while gays, Christians etc. are subjected to savage repression.”
At one point, the group invested heavily in half-page advertisements during times of increased turmoil in the Middle East, which would inform readers of Israel’s perspective and correct any inaccuracies in reporting, according to Kuttner.
However, this strategy has been abandoned in recent years so as to avoid “rewarding” newspapers that are unbalanced in the first place with thousands of dollars in advertisement revenue.
Instead, KBRM has decided to focus its efforts on its website, where it features its own content, including stories about Israeli innovation and culture. The group will soon be expanding to Facebook.