Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Foreign correspondents

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Allon Lee


It is far from scientific, but the quality of local television and radio coverage of the latest Hamas-Israel war seemed to dip when it relied upon foreign news services.

Two reports from Jeremy Bowen, a long time senior BBC reporter, were yet further reminders of why his anti-Israel reporting has long generated controversy.

On SBS TV "World News" (July 12), Bowen stated as fact that "more than half of the 100 people killed in Gaza by Israeli raids so far this week were women and children." This did not appear to have been accurate at that time. He went on, "The UN human rights commissioner says there's serious doubt Israel is complying with the laws of war that protect civilians."

Bowen did not include an Israeli official to address these claims or mention Israeli measures such as advance warnings via telephone calls, leaflet drops and "roof knocks" to notify Palestinians to vacate buildings. Bowen concluded by claiming that the current fighting is because "the underlying political realities of the conflict haven't been tackled. Many Israelis would say that's because Palestinians won't accept the existence of their state. Palestinians and plenty of others say...if they had their own state things might be very different."

Not acknowledged was that Israel has made three offers since 2000 to establish a Palestinian state while Hamas has always opposed the peace process.

The next night on SBS-TV "World News" Bowen essentially repeated these allegations. He said that, "belligerents are obliged under the laws of war to protect civilians. The UN has already asked whether Israel is working in the way that it should to fulfil those obligations. After the attack on the centre for the disabled it is clear that the Israelis have some serious questions to answer. So do Hamas about their attacks."

In fact, Israel warns civilians of upcoming operations, while Hamas openly fires rockets indiscriminately without warning into Israeli territory with the intention of killing as many Israeli civilians as possible.

The use of reports from al-Jazeera English, owned by the Qatari royal family - one of the main financial patrons of Hamas - again raised questions of whether SBS and ABC are compromising the quality of their news service.
On SBS Radio's "World News" (July 21) reporter Brianna Roberts used two interviews identified as having come from al-Jazeera suggesting Israel's military was carrying out war crimes in Shujiyah in Gaza.

Dr. Basman Elashi, was quoted saying, "they are shelling indiscriminately. Just shooting at everything that is moving. A child, a woman, an old man, even an animal - they are shooting at it. This has to end. The world has to see it. The world has to hear what's going on. It's a massacre in Gaza, done by the Israeli forces."

There was no Israeli response to Elashi's claims, nor any explanation that Shujiyah is a well-known Hamas stronghold, where civilians were notified to leave.

After Elashi, Roberts used al-Jazeera audio of Dr. Mads Gilbert, described as "a Norwegian doctor working at the Al-Shifa Hospital in Gaza". Gilbert accused Israel of denying injured Palestinians in Shujiyah access to ambulances. Again no attempt was made to include an Israeli response to this allegation.

Moreover, Gilbert is a well-known Maoist activist, who turns up in Gaza every time there is a war there to offer extreme condemnations of Israel to the world's media.

ABC NewsRadio's "Weekend Breakfast" program (July 20) incredibly gave Qatar-owned al-Jazeera the chance to evaluate the merit of the Hamas ceasefire plan without mentioning its conflict of interest - Qatar is one of the plan's sponsors.

Impassioned al-Jazeera in house commentator Marwan Bashara sounded like he was broadcasting straight from Hamas' headquarters in Gaza, saying that "Hamas rejects the notion of quiet for quiet after Israeli bombardment of hundreds of communities and the killing of hundreds and thousands of casualties... Because, look, at the end of the day, Israel can't keep doing the same thing and expecting a different result."

Bashara could well have been asked how firing rockets at Israel is not an even more egregious example of self-defeating behaviour - but he wasn't.

Bashara also claimed that Palestinians in Gaza "live as subhumans in one big prison camp. The most impoverished, oldest prison camp in the world today. This is not a sustainable situation. Everyone understands that."

In fact, what everyone should understand is that Palestinians receive more aid per capita than anyone else in the world, and Gazans were kept impoverished whilst Hamas squandered millions to build tunnels with the sole aim of preparing to launch a future war against Israel that could only bring misery and destruction.

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