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When the media becomes the story

Dec 20, 2011 | Allon Lee

When the media becomes the story
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It wasn’t even close. In fact it was a “landslide”. That is how pro-Israel media watchdog Honest Reporting describes its decision to bestow the Guardian newspaper the 2011 “Dishonest Reporting Award” for its relentless anti-Israel coverage.

Readers of Fairfax newspapers will be familiar with the Guardian‘s news stories and one-sided selection of opinion pieces via their regular appearance in the Age, Sydney Morning Herald and the Canberra Times.

For many people, there is a sense that the Guardian‘s coverage of Israel is partisan, obsessive, selective, disproportionate in output, and automatically assumes Israel is always the guilty party when there is conflict.

Just this week the Canberra Times and the Age ran a typically obnoxious piece by the anti-Israel former British MP George Galloway in which he editorialised that the 2003 Iraq was carried out for oil and Israel.

Guardian correspondent Harriet Sherwood also features on a regular basis in Fairfax papers. As AIJAC’s Jamie Hyams noted here, Sherwood’s recent effort on an Israeli plan to move a Bedouin encampment from the West Bank omitted to tell readers they would receive compensation, housing, running water and electricity offered.

Judged on the weight of comments left on its website, Facebook page, and emails, Honest Reporting listed ten standout categories that snared the Guardian top billing.
Amongst the notable standouts tabled by Honest Reporting:

1. An Anti-Semitic Response to Gilad Shalit Swap
Responding to the Gilad Shalit prisoner swap, Deborah Orr said the disproportionate number of freed Palestinians for one soldier reflected the Jewish state’s “obscene idea that Israeli lives are more important than Palestinian lives,” and that “the lives of the chosen are of hugely greater consequence than those of their unfortunate neighbours.”
Never mind that the disproportionate nature of the exchange was at the insistence of Hamas, or the fact that choseness actually refers to responsibility, not superiority.

2. PaliLeaks
PLO documents on a decade of peace talks (The Palestine Papers, a.k.a. PaliLeaks) were leaked to The Guardian and Al-Jazeera. But the revelations – that Israel was actually serious about peace – sorely disappointed the editors.
In response, the editorial team displayed their objective detachment with a staff editorial that was “more Palestinian than the Palestinians.”
In The Guardian’s own words, PA negotiators were “craven” bootlickers who “conspire to build a puppet state in Palestine, at best authoritarian, at worst a surrogate for an occupying force.”
…Furthermore, the paper issued a correction for a quote box attributed to Tzipi Livni after editors conceded that the former foreign minister’s quote “was cut in a way that may have given a misleading impression.”

3. Soapbox for Terror
At one point, The Guardian gave Hamas spinmeister Musa Abu Marzuq the legitimacy of an op-ed soapbox.
… The Guardian also gave a soapbox to [Hamas chief of international relations] Osama Hamdan who discussed the Hamas response to the PaliLeaks affair.

4. Fishing for A Story
Correspondent Harriet Sherwood spent a day in July reporting and tweeting from a Gaza fishing boat testing the Israeli navy’s enforcement of a three-mile limit.
None of Sherwood’s 46 tweets acknowledged maritime arms smuggling as the reason for the naval restrictions. Four months before the jolly jaunt, the Israeli navy intercepted the Victoria, which was carrying anti-ship missiles, mortar shells, radar systems, and more.

5. Goldstone Recants
In a Washington Post op-ed, Judge Richard Goldstone backtracked on the UN report into Operation Cast Lead which he headed. His mea culpa specifically stated, “civilians were not intentionally targeted as a matter of policy” and accepted that the casualty figures were not as high as his report indicated.
The Guardian reacted with an arrogant, intellectually dishonest staff editorial denying that the Goldstone report ever accused Israel of deliberately attacking civilians in the first place.
As for the casualty numbers, the paper insisted on using the inflated casualty figures Goldstone disavowed – without explaining why.

6. Jawaher Abu Rahma
Palestinians claimed that Jawaher Abu Rahma died of tear gas inhalation at a demonstration in Bil’in.
Harriet Sherwood’s coverage compared Abu Rahma to Mohammed al-Dura, the 12 year-old Palestinian whose video (itself debunked) elevated the boy to iconic martyr status.
… In fact, an IDF investigation found that Abu Rahma died because of Palestinian medical malpractice.

8. The Palmer Report on the Mavi Marmara
When the UN’s Palmer report vindicated the legality of Israel’s Gaza blockade, a Guardian staff-editorial rebuked the inquiry simply because the findings contradicted an array of UN documents already bashing Israel

10. London Riots
As London boiled over in August riots, one report in The Guardian didn’t bother to mention the race, religion, or ethnicity of anyone – except for a reference to a group of Hasidic Jews jeering the police.

Meanwhile, a new academic study claims global news service Reuters‘ coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict is systematically biased against the Jewish state and in favour of the Palestinians.

Roosevelt University researcher Henry I. Silverman selected “a sample of 50 news-oriented articles related to the Middle East conflict published on Reuters‘ websites over a three month period”.

He judged whether there was bias in the articles according to the criteria of whether they included “classic propaganda techniques”, “logical fallacies” and “violations of the Reuters Handbook of Journalism, a manual of guiding ethical principles for the company’s journalists”.

According to Silverman across the articles, there were over 1,100 occurrences of propaganda, fallacies and violations of Reuters‘ own handbook of journalistic standards.

To give one example from the study, Silverman looked at an analysis piece of the Mavi Marmara incident by two of Reuters‘ Middle East correspondents. The article described the vessel as an “aid ship”, when it was fairly apparent that its main function was actually one-sided political propaganda.

First, by mischaracterizing the Mavi Marmara as an “aid ship”, asymmetrical definition is being deployed to suggest a role for the ship distinctly different from the role it actually undertook and ultimately played in the incident.

In the second part of the study, he surveyed the views of 33 university students before and after reading the articles to ascertain which party in the conflict they supported and why. He found that the readers’ sympathy shifted significantly towards the Arabs after reading the articles:

Significant associations are found between 1) the use of atrocity propaganda and audience favorability/sympathy toward the Arabs/Palestinians; 2) the use of the appeal to pity fallacy and audience favorability/sympathy toward the Arabs/Palestinians; and 3) the use of atrocity propaganda, appeal to pity and appeal to poverty fallacies, and audience motivation to take supportive action on behalf of the Arabs/Palestinians.

It is inferred from the evidence that Reuters engages in systematically biased storytelling in favor of the Arabs/Palestinians and is able to influence audience affective behavior and motivate direct action along the same trajectory. This reflects a fundamental failure to uphold the Reuters corporate governance charter and ethical guiding principles.

– Allon Lee

 

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