Australia/Israel Review


Scribblings: Two weekends of ABC TV news

Feb 16, 2022 | Tzvi Fleischer

Over the nights of Jan. 16, 17 and 18, almost every Australian TV network’s nightly news show found space to report on a dramatic story out of Colleyville, Texas. A British terrorist had pulled out a gun during a Saturday religious service at Colleyville’s Congregation Beth Israel synagogue and taken the rabbi and three worshippers hostage, demanding the release of a convicted al-Qaeda-linked terrorist being held at a nearby prison. After 11 hours, the hostages managed to escape and the gunman, Malik Faisal Akram, was killed by an FBI counter-terror squad (see pp. 21-22 for more).

SBS TV “World News” covered the story on the nights of both Jan. 16 and 17. Channel 7, Channel 9 and Channel 10 News also all ran stories on the saga. 

Notice anyone missing? That’s right – ABC TV evening news, of all the traditional TV network evening news programs, never covered this story.

To be fair, ABC News Radio and ABC radio news bulletins did cover the Colleyville siege. Yet there was no coverage on the flagship ABC radio current affairs programs “AM” and “PM” – only on “The World Today”, which has a much smaller audience, on Jan. 17. ABC-24’s “The World” had a very brief and rather uninformative story on the same day.

Nonetheless, by failing to include the Colleyville attack in the nightly news, the ABC was clearly out of sync with both other Australian media outlets and similar overseas networks.

The ABC’s decision to avoid the story on the evening news could be dismissed as a simple oversight if it were not for the heavily promoted feature story that appeared on ABC TV evening news the following Sunday – Jan. 23.

On that night, ABC devoted a full four-and-a-half minutes of the 42-minute evening news program to a story by ABC Middle East correspondent Tom Joyner on the earth-shattering news that a single Israeli teen named Shahar Peretz had decided to go to military prison rather than be drafted into the IDF, to protest Israeli policies. More than this, the news also devoted another 30 seconds early in the program to promoting the story. Apparently, producers at the ABC thought this was the most important international story of the weekend.

The story did include a façade of fairness by interviewing some Israeli soldiers who are proud to serve in the IDF as well as Peretz and her parents, but a façade is all it was. Joyner described the soldiers he spoke to as taking part “in the military occupation of Palestinian land” – effectively implying that Peretz is right to refuse to serve despite what the soldiers had to say, because they are involved in oppressing Palestinians by serving.

More than this, besides Joyner, Peretz and her parents, and some IDF soldiers, the only other voice in the story was Knesset Member Ofer Cassif. Indefensibly, Joyner did not reveal that Cassif is a left-wing ultra-extremist, a member of the Communist Party Hadash, which in turn is part of the anti-Zionist Joint Arab List. He calls Zionism “a racist ideology and practice which espouses Jewish supremacy.”

While what Cassif said in the report was not obviously extreme, he is perhaps the only Jewish member of the Knesset who could be counted on to be sympathetic to the stance of draft rejectionists like Peretz.

In other words, despite an ostensible appearance of balance, the story appears to have been set up to strongly imply that Peretz is right to reject service in the IDF and viewers should wholeheartedly support her stance.

The difference between ABC news on the weekend of Jan. 16 and Jan. 23 illustrates that it is not simply how stories are put together, but also what is considered worthy of broadcast, that can indicate bias, unprofessional journalism and destructive groupthink.

Producers at ABC TV news decided that viewers did not really need to know about an attack on a US synagogue by an Islamist extremist. Perhaps they believed that Jews are “privileged” in line with current “woke” ideology, and their victimisation is not something viewers should care about. Perhaps they felt that Islamist terror is passe – we should only talk about white supremacist violence now.

What viewers really needed to know about, these producers apparently decided via their choices, is that there is at least one Israeli teen who holds the view – probably shared by some of those same producers – that Israel is awful, and what it is doing to the Palestinians is indefensible, to the extent that she was prepared to go to jail, albeit briefly.

AIJAC understands that Joyner is shortly going to leave his post as ABC correspondent in Israel and take up a new ABC post in Turkey. Turkey, like Israel, also has a conscript army. Five minutes of internet research shows that Turkey also has some conscientious objectors, who are subject to much more extreme punishments than the few weeks in military prison Israeli objectors typically face. According to the Association for Conscience Objection, Turks who refuse to be conscripted “face the possibility of a life-long cycle of prosecutions and imprisonment, and a situation of ‘civil death’, which excludes them from the normal social, cultural and economic life.”

How much does anyone want to bet that Joyner will never prepare, and the ABC will never run, a significant story on Turkish conscientious objectors? It simply wouldn’t be newsworthy. But Israel is a different story – presumably because there is a groupthink operating within the ABC which sees Israel as exceptionally deplorable, and anything which appears to “educate” viewers toward that worldview as particularly newsworthy. 

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