Media Microscope: Know Way
Apr 2, 2020 | Allon Lee
The publication of journalist Sophie McNeill’s memoir We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know, focusing on her time as the ABC’s Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent, saw her in the media spotlight but seldom having to answer challenging questions.
In the Age/Sydney Morning Herald (March 21) McNeill said, “I still think that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a litmus test for journos…I was so glad that I had been covering it since 2006, so I knew the facts and the terminology, I knew why it was important to call it the occupied West Bank…When [then Labor MP] Michael Danby accused me of selective reporting [on Israel], people could see for themselves that I was reporting from other places. So that blew up in his face.’’
McNeill’s claim to have also reported from other conflicts is immaterial. It was her story selection – ignoring Palestinian politics and focusing on alleged Palestinian victimhood at Israel’s hands – that attracted controversy. Danby accused McNeill of excessively reporting on the alleged suffering of Palestinians while ignoring Israeli Jews who were victims of terror.
McNeill said that during the “stabbing intifada,” she found it “infuriating” to be attacked by critics “sitting in Australia.” Is McNeill absurdly implying that she put her life on the line for the ABC’s audience and her work should therefore be beyond criticism?
She also lamented that “Right now the ABC is the only media outlet in the country that has Middle East correspondents. That’s shocking.”
SBS produces in-house reports on the Middle East from Australia. Moreover, its Middle East coverage generally provides greater breadth and depth than the ABC, with its two Middle East based correspondents.
An excerpt from McNeill’s book in the same edition’s “Good Weekend” magazine claimed, “more than 1400 civilians [were] killed… including 551 children” in the 2014 Gaza war.
This figure is from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, which sources its figures from the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health. Israeli sources claim a much lower figure of 963 civilians.
Whilst all these deaths are undoubtedly tragic, McNeill has repeatedly failed to acknowledge Hamas’ responsibility for this – starting a war by deliberately firing rockets at Israel from the midst of civilian populations, which maximises Palestinian casualties. This is a war crime.
Recalling the “distraught children in Gaza whose parents had died after they were prevented from receiving cancer treatment outside the strip because Israeli authorities wouldn’t give them permission to cross the border,” McNeill neglected to mention that Gaza shares a border with Egypt through which Palestinians can also enter and exit for medical treatment – or that Israel is under no legal obligation to grant entry to foreign nationals from a hostile territory. Yet every month Israel issues permits to thousands of sick Palestinians to do just that.
On ABC Radio National “Breakfast” (March 9), McNeill absurdly suggested Australia cannot protest China’s incarceration of one million Muslim Uighurs “on the basis of religion” because last October Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave a speech “undermining the UN system” and thus the “rules don’t apply” anymore. This is a gross misrepresentation of Morrison’s speech, which merely argued against Australia uncritically accepting the diktats of international organisations run by unelected officials.
Talking to ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” host Phillip Adams (March 9), McNeill similarly said, “if you want to lead you have to lead by example, so if you don’t speak out against what is happening in Gaza or what’s happening by the Saudis in Yemen, then when you do want to criticise [Syrian dictator] Assad or… the Iranians or… Xi Jinping, then you’ve lost your high moral ground.”
This implies that all parties in conflicts are equally guilty and all conflict is equally immoral, which most people rightly do not accept. Moreover, suggesting that Australia cannot criticise the Assad regime for the hundreds of thousands murdered, tortured, and subjected to chemical weapons attack and ethnic cleansing because of more muted criticism in other conflicts is just a ridiculous argument to make.
On Radio 2SER (March 11), McNeill included Gaza in a list of conflicts that receive media coverage but the world is “indifferent to this slaughter” – which is nonsense, given all the UN resolutions and media coverage focused on Gaza, particularly during war.
McNeill also appeared on ABC Radio 774 Melbourne “Mornings” (March 11), ABC Triple J’s “Breakfast” March 11), community radio’s “The Wire” (March 24) and Network Ten’s “The Project” (March 8).