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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

October 18, 2002

On the anti-Israel bias in the media

Anti-Israel bias in the media is omnipresent to the point that one hardly needs to quote examples to substantiate this statement. Those who do need proof can check out any of the zillion examples quoted in CAMERA, or Honest Reporting, two of the numerous sites that provide ample proof. Even the Economist, the mag that recently published “a balanced” article on Israel ( IsraPundit ) is not immune from egregious anti-Israeli bias (Jerusalem Post).

With all this in mind, it is instructive to read about an interview with Danny Seaman, a PR professional working for the Israeli Government Press Office (GPO); the interview was posted recently on the website of Israel News Agency (INA) .

To explain the negative way in which Israel is portrayed in reports coming from Israel, Danny Seaman states:

At the direct instruction of the Palestinian Authority... the offices of the foreign networks in Jerusalem are compelled to hire Palestinian directors and producers. Those people determine what is broadcast. The journalists will certainly deny that, but that is reality.

Seaman then continues to describe the PA’s strategy to control the foreign press:

Four years ago began the threats on the Israeli staffers, including Arabs from East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians let the foreign journalists understand: if you don't work with our people we'll sever contact with you, you won't have access to sources of information and you won't get interviews.

Seaman gives an example of press manipulation:

The IDF announces that it is going in to demolish an empty house, but somehow afterwards you see a picture of a crying child sitting on the rubble. There is an economic level to that. The Palestinian photographers receive from the foreign agencies 300 dollars for good pictures; that is why they deliberately create provocation with the soldiers. They've degraded photography to prostitution.

One could dismiss Seaman as a biassed Israeli official, but his statements echo what another journalist, Thomas Friedman of the NYT, wrote about the way the press was manipulated in Lebanon by the Arabs - PLO, Syrians, Lebanese militias. Here are Thomas Friedman’s words (see reference below):

There wasn't a single reporter in West Beirut who did not feel intimidated, constrained, or worried at one time or another about something he had learned, considered writing, or had written involving the Syrians, the PLO, the Phalangists, or any of the other forty-odd militias in Lebanon...

How many serious stories were written from Beirut about the well-known corruption in the PLO leadership, the misuse of funds, and the way in which the organization had become as much a corporation full of bureaucratic hacks as a guerrilla outfit? These traits were precisely the causes of the rebellion against Arafat after the summer of '82, but it would be hard to find any hint of them in Beirut reporting before the Israeli invasion. The truth is, the Western press coddled the PLO and never judged it with anywhere near the scrutiny that it judged Israeli, Phalangist, or American behavior. For any Beirut-based correspondent, the name of the game was keeping on good terms with the PLO, because without it you would not get the interview with Arafat you wanted when your foreign editor came to town. The overfocusing by reporters on the PLO and its perception of events also led them to ignore the Lebanese Shiites and their simmering wrath at the Palestinians for turning their villages in south Lebanon into battlefields.

One may learn more about “press freedom” in areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority (PA) by reading the report issued by the International Press Institute (IPI), which is no friend of Israel. A typical excerpt from the IPI report:

Palestinian Authority Security officials arrested Palestinian television cameraman Majdi Arbid for filming the execution of Majdi Makawi in Gaza on 20 January. Arbid sold the film to Channel 2 of Israel, which broadcasted the execution, according to a Reuters report.

Palestinian security forces ordered the closure of Al-Jazeera TV’s office in Ramallah on 20 March. The Palestinian security service had allegedly been offended by an image of Lebanese guerrilla soldiers holding up a picture of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat with a shoe hanging from it in a preview for a documentary on the 1975-90 Lebanese civil war. Al-Jazeera’s correspondent in Ramallah, Walid Al-Omari, said in a broadcast that members of a Palestinian security service entered the office and demanded that part of the preview for the documentary be removed.

In a letter to the PA, the IPI wrote, inter alia:

According to IPI’s sources, five journalists working for the news organisations Reuters, Associated Press Television, the Abu Dhabi Satellite Television Station and Agence-France Presse, were briefly arrested on 14 September. Four days later, on 18 September, new restrictive regulations for Palestinian broadcasters were introduced. As a result, the media were instructed by the Palestinian police not to broadcast news items concerning calls for a general strike, nationalist activities, demonstrations or security news without the permission of the police or national security services.

Furthermore, in a series of incidents on 8 October, at least four journalists were beaten during demonstrations in Gaza, a cameraman with French television station TF 1 was briefly arrested and a BBC reporter’s cassette was confiscated in the West Bank. On the same day, other journalists in Gaza were prevented from covering the demonstrations against US bombings of Afghanistan. Access to Gaza has been forbidden to foreigners, including foreign journalists, since 9 October; allegedly because the Palestinian Authority is unable to guarantee their safety.


The brief excerpts quoted in this article outline three of the elements of the PA’s strategy to control the media: infiltration, intimidation, bribes (“access to information”). In combatting the PA on this front, Israel is indeed faced with an uphill battle.

Referece:

Friedman, Thomas L. From Beirut to Jerusalem. New York: Doubleday, 1995. Quotation is from pp. 70-74.

Contributed by Joseph Alexander Norland