Media Microscope: Media War Winners and Losers
Nov 28, 2012 | Allon Lee
Unlike the result of the latest round of intense Hamas-Israel engagement, the winners and losers in Australian media coverage of the conflict were obvious.
After spending a week somewhere in the Gaza Strip, Fairfax Middle East reporter Ruth Pollard appears to have ended her coverage of the war the way she started it – framing reports decidedly tilted with sympathy toward the Palestinian perspective, while openly sceptical of Israeli claims.
Her last report stated “There were questions for both sides too – how could Israel’s army, purportedly using some of the best military technology in the world, kill so many civilians…? And how had Hamas and the other militant factions operating in the Gaza Strip acquired missiles with enough range to threaten Israel’s two major cities, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem?”
In other words, for Pollard the conflict raised ethical questions about Israel and only logistical ones about Hamas, Sydney Morning Herald/Age (Nov. 24). In this piece she also acknowledged that “Israel dropped thousands of leaflets from the sky into several neighbourhoods warning residents to evacuate immediately and stipulating which streets were safe,” but only in the context of an implied reproof of Israel for forcing the flight of “descendants of those who fled homes on the land that is now Israel,” Sydney Morning Herald (Nov. 24).
Pollard’s tone began with her reporting on the first day of the war (Nov. 16) with a whiff of evident disbelief about Israeli claims, strangely putting the unexceptionable word “targets” in quotation marks – “The Israel Defence Forces said they had hit more than 100 ‘targets’ in the besieged coastal territory,” Age/Sydney Morning Herald (Nov 16). More scepticism on Nov. 20: “Israel claims it is carrying out ‘surgical strikes’ in Gaza and is making every effort to avoid civilian casualties. As of Monday night, the toll for six days of fire was 90 Palestinians and three Israelis”. Pollard did not bother to mention the large number of Israeli missions that led to these casualties (around 1300), probe how many of the 90 were combatants, or mention that many were victims of Hamas’ reckless human shield strategy.
In contrast, John Lyons noted how in Gaza “fights have been breaking out between some groups when residents of an area become angry with militants wanting to fire from their neighbourhood,” thereby making clear Hamas’ human shield policy was contributing to civilian casualties on the Palestinian side, Australian (Nov. 20).
Pollard’s online account on Nov. 21 of six men executed in Gaza for alleged collaboration was criticised for its references to “the corpse of a collaborator”, with the word used without quote marks or use of “alleged.”
She uncritically accepted comments made to her by Al Mezan Centre for Human Rights director Issam Yousef, who told her the men had “already been charged earlier and sentenced to death. They were not just taken from the street today and shot.”
Nor did she ever report on rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel hours after the ceasefire had come into effect, as ABC correspondents Matt Brown in Gaza and Philip Williams in nearby Ashkelon did on Nov. 22.
Brown consistently filed balanced reports, with the standout being a story in Gaza on a Palestinian toddler who died after an Israeli air strike. On camera, Brown was told by an Islamic Jihad spokesperson that “We do not deliberately go to residential areas to launch rockets. We avoid them.” Disagreeing with the man, Brown responded, “It’s just not true that the rocket crews don’t fire from near civilian dwellings. We’ve seen videos of it. We’ve seen the vapour trails of the rockets coming out from very close to civilian homes,” ABC “7:30” (Nov. 19).
Also worthy of mention was an exchange between Leigh Sales and former PLO spokesperson Diana Buttu. Buttu demanded the international community pressure “perhaps the state with the 10th largest army in the world” to abide by its obligations to “a stateless, defenceless civilian refugee population.”
Sales asked “How about the international community putting some pressure on the stateless actors to stop mounting terrorist attacks against the state?” Buttu answered that “Israel at this point in time cannot demand security from Palestinians. That’s not the role of Palestinians to provide Israel security; it’s the other way around.” Sales parried back with “The Israelis aren’t asking the Palestinians to provide them with security, they’re simply asking them to stop firing rockets into their territory,” ABC “7:30” (Nov. 19).
The Nov. 21 bus bombing in Tel Aviv that injured 28 people was the focus of standalone reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian but in the Age it merely merited a paragraph buried in a Pollard report. Unfortunately, no Australian media reported on celebrations in Gaza by Palestinians welcoming news of the bombing.