Media Comment: Irresponsibility even in war

Why do so many readers continue to support media outlets proven to be consistently unethical with unfair and biased toward Israel?

Newspapers (photo credit: Wikicommons)
(photo credit: Wikicommons)
Marcus Tullius Cicero said that “Inter arma enim silent leges,” which translates as “In time of war, the law falls silent.” A better-known spin-off is “when cannons roar, the muses go quiet.” In our world, however, if the cannons roar, the media seems to get louder.
One recent example is Rupert Murdoch’s tweet: “Middle East ready to boil over any day. Israel position precarious. Meanwhile watch CNN and AP bias to point of embarrassment.” He then tweeted: “Why is Jewish owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?” Murdoch’s voice is not a lone one. Buried By The Times, a 400-page book published in 2005, authored by Laurel Leff, is a damning study of Jewish media owners’ approach to coverage of the Holocaust.
The IDF spokesperson has seemingly understood the message. Instead of relying solely on the established media outlets, it opened its part in the present war in an announcement over Twitter.
IDF spokeswoman Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovich, in an interview with the BuzzFeed site, said she was “very proud” of the IDF’s social media accomplishments.
“We still have a lot more to learn,” she said, “and maybe other platforms to join, but I think in a relatively short time it’s very progressive.”
YouTube, Flickr, a blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts are the new “bank of weapons” for those with the goal of conveying a message.
One cannot help but wonder whether the IDF’s use of social media is also part of a realization that the established media cannot be relied upon to tell the truth.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the BBC tweeted on Monday a week ago: “@Twitter bans ‘threats of violence’, but will it stop tweets by Hamas’s @AlqassamBrigade & Israel’s @IDFSpokesman.” The BBC equates information coming from Hamas and the IDF.
In fact, its bureau chief, Jon Donnison in Gaza, tweeted a picture which purported to be a local child in a Gaza hospital, a picture which was given to him by Hamas sources. A few hours later he retracted; the picture was an old one, taken in Syria and had nothing to do with the IDF. But the damage was done.
In a professional media organization, Donnison should have been fired, or at the least removed from his position as a reporter in the present conflict. He did not check his sources and gave his employer a black eye.
Arguably, Donnison would not even have apologized had it not been for the social media which glaringly exposed Donnison’s mistake.
No wonder the IDF is active in social media.
According to Government Press Office figures, as of Sunday earlier this week, almost 500 foreign journalists had requested press credentials, joining approximately 1,400 journalists and crew members who are already in Israel and the nearby region.
Most of these journalists do not speak Hebrew or Arabic, are not aware of the intricacies of the situation in Israel but must send reports back home to their employers.
This is only possible if they rely on local sources. Sadly, our local sources are not doing their job, and this is not the first time.
Already in the Second Lebanon War, Israel became the victim of crude Hezbollah disinformation. A Reuters photographer was fired for faking pictures of smoke coming from Beirut, purportedly a result of Israeli bombing.
This was exposed by social media, not mainstream Israeli media. The same is true for pictures of a lady who twice in two weeks had her home destroyed, or the many dolls to be found wherever Israeli forces destroyed a Hezbollah stronghold, and many more.
Yet our media not only failed to be the first to find out about these incidents, it made very little effort to make sure everyone knew about them. The same story is repeating itself as the war in Gaza unfolds. Hamas will put out a story about a family of 12 killed by Israel, and our media treats the story as truth from Moses at Sinai, neglecting to mention the facts that the population had been warned and a terrorist chieftain responsible for the death of Israeli civilians successfully targeted.
Hamas figures of Gazan civilians killed are already painting Israel as using disproportionate power and, as reported by NGO Monitor, this is picked up by left-wing organizations, funded by the New Israel Fund, who do their best to delegitimize Israel.
If it weren’t so serious, it could be considered ludicrous.
On October 18, a picture was published of a mother and three children killed in Syria. Hamas picked it up and on November 18 publicized it as evidence of Israeli “atrocities” in Gaza.
The BBC has learned nothing.
As reported originally by blogger Elder of Ziyon, in breaking news, the BBC showed a “wounded” Gazan civilian being removed by stretcher following an Israeli attack. The headline was: “Hamas military: Attack opens the gates of hell.” Yet 30 minutes later a clip shows the same person walking about freely. As a result, CNN corrected its report on this incident.
But the lies and misinformation do not come only from Hamas sources. CNN, for example, showed a picture titled “The Israeli military launches a missile Thursday from the Southern city of Beersheba.” This was not a missile aimed at civilians but an Iron Dome rocket sent to intercept a Gazan missile.
What is the behavior of the mainstream Israeli media? As noted by Maurice Ostroff in a Jerusalem Post op-ed, our press did not adequately expose the huge disparity between the number of civilian casualties in Libya and Kosovo and the total lack of NATO casualties. Doesn’t this constitute necessary background when dealing with criticism of Israel’s supposed use of disproportionate force? Israel’s citizens are being crippled by a lack of information, and cannot judge their own government’s actions.
The media feeds on information, and its main source from within the Gaza Strip is controlled by Hamas. Even the reporters who do attempt to report in an independent fashion are nevertheless very much aware of Hamas supervision, which is always a threat to their freedom.
Neither reporters nor their bosses choose to qualify such information with a standard statement noting that Hamas is notorious for manipulating and falsifying facts. Even Kol Yisrael does not do this, so why should the BBC or CNN? Our media’s disinterest in defending Israel should be contrasted with the major effort taken by Yediot Aharonot to expose what they considered to be bias in their competitor Israel HaYom.
When it hurts their pocket, Yediot Aharonot is a valiant defender of the truth, but when it hurts Israel, when millions of citizens must live in fear of missile strikes, the truth is not so important.
The only real question that remains is why so many readers continue to support media outlets proven to be consistently unethical as well as unfair and biased toward Israel.The authors are, respectively, vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (