Media Microscope: One Side Now
Jun 2, 2021 | Allon Lee
As Hamas’ latest war rolled on, an “open letter” exhorted Australia’s media to “DoBetterOnPalestine” by avoiding “both siderism that equates the victims of a military occupation with its instigators” and to “make space for Palestinian perspectives, prioritising the voices of those most affected by the violence.”
It was signed by hundreds of media workers, including, controversially, a number of SBS and ABC employees. The ABC and SBS have a statutory duty to cover both sides of any issue, but the letter effectively urged them not to.
Mercury columnist Greg Barns smeared “so-called progressive media” – the ABC, Nine Newspapers and the Saturday Paper – for being “shamefully silent on these issues” on May 24. Yet his outrage towards the ABC is misplaced – it already seems to be doing what the letter demanded.
It is true that the May 12 ABC TV “Mornings” report from ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner correctly explained how the conflict started: “Hamas sent a volley of rockets into Israel… Hamas issued an ultimatum to Israel… or face the consequences… they came good on their threat and that’s when the first volley of rockets was sent.”
Yet later that day on ABC TV’s “7 pm News”, Israel was falsely made to look like it had fired the first shot.
On May 17, Sky News host/News Corp columnist Andrew Bolt noted that Joyner had apologised on Twitter to a pro-Palestinian group who criticised his use of the word “clash”, which implied “that both sides are equally to blame.”
Meanwhile, on ABC Radio “PM” (May 14), Joyner said Israel isn’t letting journalists into Gaza so “we can’t get in there to see for ourselves what’s going on.” Of course, he didn’t mention the alternate entry to Gaza through Egypt.
On ABC TV “7 pm News” (May 19) Joyner said Israel authorised an aid convoy to cross into Gaza “but just five trucks managed to enter before shells were launched nearby,” without making it clear the shells were launched from Gaza and landed near the convoy.
Also helping render absurd claims Palestinian voices are missing at the ABC was ABC Radio National’s “Rear Vision” (May 16) program which included no less than three Palestinian voices: journalist Daoud Kuttab, veteran Palestinian spokesperson Hanan Ashrawi and “Electronic Intifada” website founder Ali Abunimah.
Kuttab railed against the Oslo peace process, blaming Israel for how “the Second Intifada broke everything up.” US expert commentator Jonathan Schanzer provided the sole balance, explaining that the Second Intifada “was very much launched by Yasser Arafat.”
Both siderism also wasn’t an issue on May 19, when an online ABC report on local community reactions to the Gaza war canvassed three Palestinians and two Jews highly critical of Israel, with the Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s Alex Ryvchin as the only mainstream Jewish voice. The piece was compiled by one of the letter signatories.
On May 24, whilst interviewing US-born Palestinian academic and activist Rashid Khalidi, ABC Radio National “Late Night Live” host Philip Adams effectively told listeners he wants Israel dismantled, saying,“We would love to see, of course, a creation of a democratic sovereign binational state in all of Palestine, with rights for all.”
On May 15, ABC Radio “AM” host Linda Mottram interviewed controversial BBC correspondent Jeremy Bowen who misattributed the slogan that Palestine was “a land without a people, for a people without a land” to early Jewish Zionists and told an anecdote that has long since been debunked claiming rabbis in the late 1800s visited Palestine and sent a telegram warning the land was “married to another man.” He also talked about “horrible pictures” he’d seen on social media of Jewish youths attacking Arabs, but said he hadn’t seen any in reverse, even though they were all over social media!
In another choice example of the ABC not bothering with “both siderism”, on ABC Radio “PM” (May 18), Mottram interviewed former Australian diplomat Bob Bowker to discuss a series of highly dubious assumptions, with Mottram asserting in the introduction that Israel is guilty of “inequitable treatment of Arabs.” Bowker spoke of the “fundamental inequity of the system as Israel runs it at the moment” and said “the right of Jews to be the dominant players in Israel” cannot continue, amidst a factually dubious claim that Palestinians and Israeli Arabs already outnumber Jewish Israelis.
If even this parade of one-sidedness was apparently not enough for the letter’s signatories, nothing will be.