Media comment: Distortions in the foreign press – part II

There are various strategies that could assist the struggle for a fair international coverage of events in Israel.

Social media  (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Social media
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Last week we reviewed some blatant examples of anti-Israel bias in the foreign press. We also noted that Israel’s Government Press Office (GPO) has not really succeeded in improving the coverage.
This week, we will suggest various strategies that could assist the struggle for a fair international coverage of events in Israel.
As the outset, it should be clear that we have high respect for the people at the GPO and their efforts. The GPO today is more accessible and user-friendly than it ever was. It is also willing to take a stand.
For example, on March 17, the headline on the GPO’s website was “TIME won’t clarify that ‘Palestinian graphic designer killed by Israel’ was terrorist who murdered 3.”
This was in reference to a Time magazine report on December 22, 2015: “a graphic designer from the predominantly Palestinian neighborhood Jabel Mukaber, was killed by Israeli security forces after allegedly trying to carry out an attack in Jerusalem.”
The GPO’s action vs. Time is a step forward, but are there any real consequences for Time as a result? Why can’t the GPO provide on its website (publicly available) contact details of the reporters and editors responsible for such an outrageous headline? Why doesn’t it allow people and groups to subscribe to a newsletter which would provide on-thespot information? That would facilitate the ability of both individuals and groups to express their disapproval more directly and effectively.
Action can take different forms; it can be through letters of complaint. Citizens or groups could ascertain that the public and the politicians know who the reporters are.
Action can be a demonstration at the offices of the media organ responsible. It can also be carried out abroad, by concerned citizens in the country of origin of the media organ.
Action should also be positive. Concerned citizens might invite the relevant reporters to their homes, discuss the situation with them, explaining the Israeli viewpoint. It can also take the form of recognizing and encouraging those media outlets that are fair.
For example, the Voice of America March 14 headline read: “Three Palestinians Killed in West Bank Attacks” and was later altered to “Israel Military Kills Three West Bank Attackers.” From the story’s lead in one learned that “Three Palestinians who carried out attacks in the occupied West Bank were shot dead.” Reuters proved that headlines can be composed correctly and fairly when that same story appeared as “Three Palestinians attack Israelis in West Bank, shot dead.” The AFP’s headline, “3 Palestinians carry out shooting, car-ramming attacks, shot dead,” also proves the point.
But responsible action must be predicated on reliable information. This should be coming from the GPO. A search of the GPO website using the words “Voice of America” or “VOA” gave zero results. Even Reuters doesn’t fare much better.
On the website, in the section “About the GPO,” one can read that “The GPO also monitors and collects, on a daily basis, stories in the foreign press about the State of Israel and sends the survey to the relevant government offices.” Why then isn’t this information made available to the public? The GPO should have a section entitled “Media Bias.”
This would not only lend increased credibility to the work of the independent NGOs engaged in waging the battles from which official Israel remains aloof. The GPO should let the public know what is going on. As the GPO claims it gathers this information in any case, uploading it to the site would not cost anything.
There is much more. An important part is dissemination of the information internationally.
Naturally the GPO cannot do this, nor can it act upon it. However, there are at least a dozen pro-Israel media review organizations world-wide. Why doesn’t the GPO fund an annual International Conference of Media Review Organizations and individuals? It would then hear what these organizations are doing and at the same time learn how it can help them in their struggle to defend Israel. More effective networking is an important side benefit of the conference that would increase cooperation between these organizations, making their voice even stronger.
There is another arena where the GPO could make a difference: it should provide press credentials to outstanding bloggers and editors of news websites who bother to bring the truth out. This would not only improve their professional standing, it would allow them to participate in press conferences and attend events where only the media is allowed in. These people would be able to ask some of the questions that the standard politically correct media never does. They could also observe just how mainstream media works.
Consider this past week when Kol Yisrael repeatedly, perhaps even gleefully, reported that UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the German foreign ministry and America’s state department criticized Israel for embarking on the long road which would turn almost 620 acres in the vicinity of the Almog settlement, close to the Dead Sea, into Israeli government land. Not a word of response from the government’s official spokespeople was mentioned in these reports.
Now consider that a reporter, in a press conference, poses the question to the foreign minister, who is also the prime minister: Why didn’t Israel respond to the criticism and defend itself? Who in the Foreign Ministry should take the blame? Wouldn’t this help in preventing the kind of article written in the Neue Zuercher Zeitung on March 18, by their Israel correspondent Dr. Ulrich Schmid (who is not an Israel-basher), whose headline on this issue was “The Israeli Palestinian conflict,” with the subtitle, “Land expropriation in the Jordan Valley” and a further subtitle “Israel has confiscated additional land near Jericho. The Palestinians and the world protest. Jerusalem does not respond.”
The name of the game is information. Our enemies have no difficulty for they falsify it freely. We need to be reliable, responsible and accurate. While hyper-activity is not the style of any government bureaucracy, passivity is no advantage.
Take for example the story of Hanan al-Haroub who received last week $1 million as the winner of the Global Teacher prize. The Duke of Cambridge, Prince William, participated in the award ceremony via a video link. As it happens, Haroub is married to a former security prisoner, someone who could be termed a terrorist, a fact the Israellycool blog posted.
While the GPO or someone from the Foreign Ministry might be loath to point that relevant item out in a backgrounder to the press, there should have been no problem in informing them that in Haroub’s classroom hangs a map of “Palestine” (which another tweeter forwarded) which shows all the land between the Mediterranean Sea and Jordan River, leaving no room for Israel.
A legitimate question could have been: is this the geography she teaches? These are but a few examples of how our GPO could take a lead in providing Israel’s citizens as well as our friends abroad with reliable and factual information to act on.
This would make a quite difference.
The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (