Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Trial by Media

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Allon Lee


If you are a high profile supporter of Israel and criticise the reporting of a Middle East correspondent, prepare for blowback, even if what you say is completely correct.

Federal Labor MP Michael Danby experienced trial by media over two ads in the Australian Jewish News (Sept. 28/Oct. 5) questioning ABC Middle East correspondent Sophie McNeill's story selection.

Fairfax's Adam Gartell and Broede Carmody (Oct. 5) broke the story, writing, Danby "admitted he charged taxpayers to take out an ad attacking an ABC journalist." Despite his receiving Parliamentary authorisation for the ads, the implication was that Danby did something wrong.

The story said, "The ad claims McNeill filed ‘no report' on three Jewish Israelis who were stabbed to death in July while celebrating Shabbat." The ABC was quoted attacking Danby on the basis he had accused her of not reporting the murders.

If the journalists had bought a copy of the paper, they would have seen that the ad actually said, correctly, that the Salomon family's murder received "minimal coverage," in comparison to McNeill's "extensive coverage" of the Palestinian Shamasneh family's eviction from their east Jerusalem home.

The duo's Oct. 6 report quoted unnamed ALP figures saying Danby should retire. Over this? Really?

The Australian's Brad Norington ran a lengthy attack by former foreign minister Bob Carr on nominal "factional colleague" Danby (Oct. 6). The fact the two have long been at loggerheads over recognition of Palestine was buried deep in the report.

The Saturday Paper online (Oct. 5) said Danby has a "bizarre obsession" with McNeill.

ABC TV "Media Watch" (Oct. 9) attacked those that dare critique McNeill and other Middle East correspondents whilst effectively conceding the correctness of the substance of Danby's ad criticising McNeill's coverage of the Salomon family. It also conceding its producers could not know if a larger critique of ABC coverage is justified without an "extensive audit."

Then it went to work, smearing Danby as a "serial complainant" with host Paul Barry seemingly agreeing with the journalists' union head that Danby "should pay the money back." Viewers weren't informed the appropriate Parliamentary office approved the ads.

The program then accused AIJAC and "Jewish lobby groups" of a pattern of "targeting" or "attacking" McNeill and other Middle East correspondents generally, ignoring the substance of any such critiques, and strongly implying it was obvious that they are unjustified and immoral.

A large part of the segment relied on former Australian Middle East correspondent John Lyons and his flawed memoir Balcony over Jerusalem, which defends McNeill. Media Watch didn't disclose Lyons is now a senior ABC employee. (An extensive deconstruction of Media Watch can be read at tinyurl.com/ybftsdey).

Gerard Henderson's "Media Watch Dog" (Australian online, Oct 6) criticised ABC TV "Breakfast" for attacking the ad saying "Placing an advertisement in a paper like the Australian Jewish News is no different from writing a letter or distributing a flyer to constituents."

Henderson's Oct.13 edition pinged Gartrell's Oct. 9 report (‘Labor MP pledges to stop attacking ABC') saying, "Mr Gartrell seems unaware that...Danby does not constantly ‘attack' ABC journalists in the Middle East. He has not criticised the objective reportage of [the ABC's other Middle East correspondent] Matt Brown."

On SkyNews "Outsiders" (Oct. 8), Rowan Dean and Ross Cameron agreed the ABC is biased against Israel and ridiculed a $1 billion per annum taxpayer-funded organisation criticising an MP for using taxpayer funds to attack it.

On SkyNews "Agenda" (Oct. 8), Danby defended spending taxpayer money, saying he spends "a lot more on other issues" of concern to voters, citing Victorian infrastructure and same sex marriage, adding, "it is not fair to say that politicians... can go hard on all these other issues, but only Danby shouldn't speak on this issue to represent part of his constituency."

Australian Foreign Editor Greg Sheridan defended Danby (Oct. 14) and said the ABC is "consistently biased against Israel" and adopts "a world view" where "Israel represents... Western colonialism, militarism and racism... To humanise an innocent Jewish Israeli... brutally murdered... by a terrorist seems somehow or other to be supportive of Israel, so it is rarely done. Danby in his ads was responding to this profound emotional truth."

Sheridan mocked the ABC's response to Jewish complaints, saying, "The implication is always that Jewish criticism of the ABC over Israel is somehow sinister... what penalty has any ABC producer or broadcaster ever paid for this criticism? Answer: none."

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