Monday, December 29, 2008

The trouble with "impartial" reporting.

Reporters working on the recently resumed hostilities in the Gaza strip on major news agencies, news websites and newspapers tend to take a supposedly neutral standpoint on events there. Unfortunately, what theey perceive as "unbiased" reporting, especially such as seen on the BBC website is particularly misleading. Allow me to explain.

The BBC website is good enough at taking isolated events of "Israeli oppression" and highlighting how Israel is relentlessly hounding the poor Palestinians. That kind of journalism is easy enough to single out as prejudiced or biased. This is mostly because even the BBC wouldn't argue against claims that these articles are one-sided; such articles are supposed to take one particular incident at a time and as such naturally tend to only examine one particular event.

What irks me however, is when the media reports on a chain of inter-related events in a fashion that does not make clear what the causes and effects are, consequently blurring the lines and equating the two. Additionally, the media repeatedly prints condemnation of Israel by the UN, even when such condemnation has no verifiable basis in reality. For example:

A UN human rights monitor accused Israel of "shocking atrocities".

Richard Falk - the special rapporteur for human rights in the Palestinian territories - said the international community must put more pressure on Israel to end its attacks on Gaza.

"Israel is committing a shocking series of atrocities by using modern weaponry against a defenceless population - attacking a population that has been enduring a severe blockade for many months," Mr Falk said in a BBC interview.

In a similar fashion, when we see quotes like this by clearly biased sources, we expect a minimal addendum to explain that Israel is, in actual fact, conforming to international law, and is not perpetrating any war crimes or otherwise:

The exiled leader of Hamas, Khaled Meshaal, has called for a new intifada, or uprising, against Israel.

Hamas's advisor on foreign policy, Dr Ahmed Yousef, warned that the Israeli operation could lead to suicide attacks.

"The scale of damage, they're destroying all the government buildings and mosques, schools, amenities," he told the BBC's World Tonight programme.

"When the people look to these crimes and the scale of damage that's happened here, yes, some of the people will go to get revenge."

Sensationalist language is something we expect to see in the tabloids, not in a publicly-funded internationally reknowned corporation the size of the BBC. Unfortunately, by refusing to place individual acts within context, time and again Israel is framed to appear aggressive and unreasonable when that is absolutely not the case. The only time I have seen mention of Hamas' continued use of human shields is at the end of one article, as a quote from a married Jewish couple. There are no statements of fact, only a quote by "biased Jews."

Similarly, after the ceasefire was broken in October, I read on the BBC website how there had been "a heavy reduction in rocket fire and Israeli incursions" during the ceasefire. Again, this happened today when the BBC published an article detailing the targeting of the Egypt-Gaza tunnels which are regularly used for smuggling weaponry. On the side of the page, a boxout details the "Run-up to Gaza raids." The page is available here. Below is a screen-grab of the page:

Notice the ambiguous wording which only partially decribes the situation accurately. The word "reduced" is employed in a way that cleverly decieves all but the most attentive of readers. Hamas has indeed overseen a reduction in rocket fire towards Israel. Israel however, has not similarly "reduced" incursions into Gaza. In fact, until the ceasefire fell apart, Israel suspended all violence towards Hamas. (Take note Hamas, ceasefire means ceasefire.)

While terrorists in Gaza made a mockery of the ceasefire, and from start to end launched rockets into (internationally recognised) Israeli territory, Israel did not Admittedly, there was a heavy reduction of these rockets being fired, but launching as much as one solitary rocket was a breach of the ceasefire. On the last day of the ceasefire, Noam Bedein of Sderot Media Center wrote that "377 missiles were launched towards Israel during the 'relaxation' period."

By grouping Israel and Hamas into one phrase together, the BBC made it seem as if we were equal in our efforts and commitment to the ceasefire. The reality was that this ceasefire had been repeatedly ignored by Hamas and that it had been respected by Israel, depsite the vast amount of rockets launched at her civilians. The phrasing suggested that Israel and Hamas had *equally* reduced attacks on one another. This was absolutely not the case.

It is totally wrong to equate Israeli air strikes on specific targets and Palestinian terrorists launching rockets at civilians in Sderot during the morning rush hour in an attempt to kill children on their way to school. Admittedly both are violent acts, but one is an act of unmitigated aggression and evil, whereas the other is an attempt by Israel to rid herself of an imminent threat to people's lives.

By refusing to overtly take sides, some media are placing the unssuspecting public in in the trap of condemning the Israelis and the Palestinians as being the same. I understand that people across the world will take sides in this war, but isn't it possible to condemn rocket strikes on a civilian centre like Sderot? Doesn't that appeal to the liberal mind, doesn't that equate to a humanitarian crisis, or do those only occur in Gaza at the hands of the Israeli aggressors? Do Jewish lives not count? The UN have condemned the attacks in Sderot, but only occasionally as an afterthought after vilifying Israel for defending herself.

It was interesting to read the following article a month or two ago:

Four Palestinians were killed during an Israeli air raid in the Gaza Strip, medical officials said. They were hit by an air-to-surface missile at the Shajaiye area of the city of Gaza. The Israeli military confirms the airstrike.

The dead were members of the Popular Resistance Committees. A spokesman for the group calling himself Abu Attaya conveyed the four were firing mortars into Israel when they were killed.

Earlier, two Palestinian rockets landed inside Israel on Sunday. According to Israeli reports, the rockets struck open areas and did not cause any casualties or property damage.

-Article quoted from

It was particularly pleasing to see that an Arab news agency has no problem telling the truth, and helps make chronological order of events clear: "the four were firing mortars into Israel when they were killed." Israel was responding to a terrorist attack, and they don't mind saying so.

Tim Franks, a reporter for the BBC has a page on their site called "Jerusalem Diary" - a blog on the BBC website documenting the news and people's views of current events here in Jerusalem. Tim particularly likes talking to settlers as he knows that their views clash with those of most Westerners, and making them sound extreme is easy fodder for him. Last month, he interviewed one man, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and the following quotes made it into this blog entry:

"The Jewish people don't have another country, and the Arabs have 21 countries. We have a small country, and from this they want to uproot us."

His wish is simple: "When you have a people that rise against you, kills you, massacres you, wants to take your home - you shouldn't let them stay. They should be deported."

The sub-headline was based on this last line (I suppose this should be unsurprising given his uncompromising stance is great fodder for journalists,) but was reworded and given a little twist. The end result - 'Deport The Arabs.'

Talk about quotes being taken out of context.

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