Media Microscope: Blurred Lyons
Feb 26, 2014 | Allon Lee
“Stone Cold Justice”, the one-sided collaboration between the Australian newspaper’s Middle East correspondent John Lyons and ABC TV “Four Corners” program (Feb. 10) on Israel’s treatment of Palestinian children – see pp.19-22 – saw Lyons do the rounds on TV, radio and in print to generate publicity for his claims.
The groundwork was prepared with an ABC video promo featuring a narrator ominously asking “are children the newest target in the Middle East’s longest running conflict?”
Actually they are – but not the Palestinian children featured in the story.
As reported on ABC TV “7pm News” (Feb. 6), in Syria “more than 10,000 children have been killed during three years of fighting and millions more displaced. The UN says both sides are responsible for atrocities, including torture, sexual assault and the recruitment of children for combat.”
And surely the 1,300-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite conflict – deeply implicated in the Syrian civil war – holds the dubious title of longest running conflict in the region.
Attempting to talk up the allegations, Fran Kelly interviewed Lyons, saying that the report “exposes Israeli forces adopting an insidious strategy of targeting young children” in what she described as “a new Israeli military strategy… children are being used for intelligence gathering by the Israeli army and the Israeli security services.”
Asked by Kelly whether “this is all about instilling fear in the broader community with the aim of driving the Palestinians out of the occupied territories for the settlers to take their place?”, Lyons did not respond. The answer of course is “no”! With 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, it’s an astoundingly ignorant question.
Lyons told Kelly that he doubted change could occur in Israel’s treatment of Palestinian minors because “at the heart of the problem is the military occupation,” ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (Feb. 10). Similarly, in his main article for the Australian (Feb. 8), Lyons wrote that “While Israel is under pressure over the issue, at its heart is the occupation… Central to the conflict is that the Palestinians wake up each day under an occupation they do not want.”
Lyons thus made clear his real aim – a roundabout hit job on the Israeli “occupation”.
But the critical context absent in Lyons’ Four Corners report, advance publicity and accompanying newspaper articles was his constant failure to acknowledge the repeated commitment by successive Israeli leaders to a two-state peace and the three detailed offers for statehood rejected by Palestinian leaders.
One startling figure Lyons used in his Australian feature was a claim that “The UN says 726,000 Palestinian men, women and children have been through the military court.”
In fact, back in 2009 pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon comprehensively exposed the absurdity of this claim, explaining that if true, it would mean that since 1967 “there were, on the average, over 23,000 new prisoners a year…or 500 a week… Even during the height of the intifada, the number of these prisoners never reached 10,000… even if you assume that each prisoner is detained for only a single year and only arrested once, these past eight years add up to less than 50,000 prisoners … extrapolated to 1967 it would add up to under 200,000.”
Perhaps the most manipulative aspect of the coverage was Lyons’ selective use of UNICEF reports.
Happy in pre-publicity and on “Four Corners” to raise a March 2013 UNICEF report critical of Israel, Lyons studiously avoided mentioning an October 2013 UNICEF report that praised three major changes Israel had agreed to in September in cooperation with the UN agency.
A possible reason for this omission suggested itself on Feb. 20 via the Australian’s front-page headline declaring “Israel ends night arrest of kids after John Lyons investigation.” Lyons’ accompanying article relied on a Jerusalem Post report from Yonah Jeremy Rob.
In that report, Lyons highlighted UNICEF’s role in effecting a change actually first flagged in September – the trial use of summonses in place of arrests. Perhaps promotion of UNICEF’s October report might have devalued the TV report’s importance and Lyons’ position as an agent of change?
During a promotional online interview with Australian editor Clive Mathieson (Feb. 7), Lyons certainly seemed to set out that role for himself, prophesying that “after the Weekend Australian, the Australian and the Four Corners [Israel] will realise that internationally [its West Bank polices are] not sustainable for them”.
But unfortunately, Lyons did not quote what Yonah Jeremy Rob also wrote in the Jerusalem Post about the assumption that the recent announcement was a response to Lyons’ journalism – “with all due respect…there have been over a dozen similar reports and numerous similar TV programs before. In other words, none of the criticism was anything new.”