Media Microscope: A Matter of Priorities

Michelle Guthrie: Answers needed over glaring omissions in ABC coverage

Several media outlets covered an Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council media release announcing that Executive Director Dr. Colin Rubenstein had written to ABC Managing Director Michelle Guthrie seeking an explanation for the failure of any of its flagship programs to cover the firing of up to 216 rockets and mortars at Israel from Gaza in late May.

At about 2:20pm (AEST), on May 29 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched a barrage of projectiles that were widely described as the largest in number since the June 2014 Gaza war. The barrage continued for 24 hours.

With weeks of rioting on the Gaza-Israel border preceding the salvos, it was hardly surprising that Fairfax, SBS TV “World News” on May 29 and 30, News Ltd publications and the West Australian, amongst others, either reported on the barrage online or in hard copy.

Then there was the ABC. 

On May 29 at 5:08pm, with projectiles still incoming, ABC News Radio ran Middle East correspondent Matt Brown’s report on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ release from hospital.

Later that night, at 6:50pm, News Radio broadcast an Al Jazeera English story on a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report criticising Israeli banks for lending money to Israeli settlements. 

The broadcast story was essentially a free kick for HRW, lacking any balance. 

ABC’s Ali Crew introduced the story by repeating HRW’s claims as fact before cutting to the Al Jazeera sourced story. In it, HRW spokesperson Sari Bashi made a series of statements that were not challenged, including calling Israeli settlements “illegal” and “war crimes.” 

Finally, 15 hours after the rockets and mortars began, an Al Jazeera English sourced report was broadcast on ABC News Radio at 5:50am and repeated at 2:50 pm.

ABC News Radio host Sandy Aloisi introduced the Al-Jazeera report saying, “Israeli warplanes have struck… in a series of counterattacks that have sent tensions soaring in the Gaza Strip.” 

In other words, it was Israel’s response that sent “tensions soaring,” not the rockets fired.

And that was it. Nothing on ABC’s many webpages, nor “AM”, “PM”, “Breakfast”, “7.30”, “World Today”, ABC TV “World”, “Matter of Fact”, nor ABC TV “7pm News”.

World leaders condemned the barrages and UN Mideast special envoy Nickolay Mladenov issued a statement “call[ing] on the international community to join me in unequivocally condemning the indiscriminate targeting of civilians & the dangerous escalation in #Gaza.” 

The ABC failed to report any of this.

In contrast to the tepid response to Hamas’ war crime, Israel’s killing of a Palestinian medic during the riots on Friday June 1 saw the ABC spring into action, filing several website and TV reports on the incident in the following days.

AIJAC’s press release was picked up by the Daily Telegraph (June 6) and the Age/Sydney Morning Herald websites on June 5 (the SMH hardcopy ran a small report the next day).

The Daily Telegraph’s Kylar Loussikian framed AIJAC’s release in the context of “a slew of complaints against the ABC” in recent times.

Age/Sydney Morning Herald journalist Michael Koziol said AIJAC “demanded” Ms Guthrie explain the ABC’s editorial choices.

Both Louissikian and Koziol stated that Associated Press had reported that “at least 25 mortar shells” were fired at Israel. This of course was the number from the first hours of the barrage.

According to the UN’s news website, “Quoting reports from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF), Mr. Mladenov informed the Council that between 28 and 30 May, 216 different projectiles, rockets and mortar shells, were fired from Gaza towards Israel.

Koziol’s report said “there were no reported casualties on either side.” In fact, five Israelis were reportedly injured by shrapnel from the attacks.

Both reports noted that AIJAC expressed concern over the ABC’s continued use of Al Jazeera and that the ABC had said it would respond to AIJAC in “due course.” 

On the night of June 19, Hamas and Islamic Jihad fired 45 rockets and mortars at Israel. This time, ABC Middle East correspondent Matt Brown filed a short report on the topic for News Radio (June 20).

An extensive online report from the ABC’s Anne Barker on the threat of terror kites the same day noted that “Israel’s Foreign Ministry says at least 45 rockets were fired from Gaza overnight, targeting Israeli civilians and communities” and “now tensions are so high many fear another all-out war.”