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Frustrated by the representation of Israel in the media, community comes together for panel discussion on Media Bias

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A crowd of over 250 people packed into Beth Weizmann Community Centre on Monday for a panel discussion on “How to Challenge Media Bias”. The evening was co-hosted by Zionism Victoria, the Zionist Federation of Australia, United Israel Appeal and the grassroots activist Israel Advocacy Group.

The panel consisted of three speakers: Christian Kerr, Senior Reporter for the Australian; James Campbell, State Politics Editor for the Herald Sun; and Dr Jennifer Oriel, Political Scientist and Public Commentator.

Executive Director of the Zionist Federation of Australia (ZFA) Ginette Searle opened the evening emphasising the importance of being able to present the best image of Israel and holding the media accountable for doing that in the most accurate and fair way. Searle was impressed by the large numbers in the crowd saying later, “bias against Israel in the media is not a new concept, but the community as a whole is really understanding the need to get more people advocating for Israel on the ground. It was great to see many familiar faces, but also fresh new faces ready to join the discussion.”

David Southwick MP, who together with a small group of people formed the Israel Advocacy Group in July/August 2014, moderated the evening. He explained that the volume of calls and emails he received during Operation Protective Edge about the way the war was being reported in the media was the catalyst for him to start this group.

Each speaker was posed two questions from the moderator, before questions were taken from the audience. On the issue of the NSW Labor conference where Labor Friends of Palestine attempted to ban sponsored trips to Israel, Dr Oriel said it was a part of the “new anti-Semitism” whereby they “attack the State of Israel as a proxy for attacking Jews – a politically correct proxy”.

On the issue of sponsored trips to Israel, Campbell added, “it doesn’t say much for them that they thought their MPs could be bought so cheaply”. Campbell, who travelled to Israel recently on a sponsored trip, talked about how far from being one-sided, the trip exposed them to a broad range of fascinating people, including a Palestinian politician and journalist.

Christian Kerr began looking in the Boycotts, Divestments and Sanctions (BDS) Campaign after learning that the Marrickville Council in NSW had come up with a “preposterous notion to compare Israel to apartheid-era South Africa”. He also spoke about his experiences coming up against Professor Jake Lynch, the Director of the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the Sydney University, after Lynch successfully banned an Israeli academic from visiting in what Kerr called the “academic lobby” which aims to keep Israeli professors from speaking on Australian campuses.

It was obvious the audience was extremely impressed with the calibre of the speakers, and question time was filled with passionate discussion about the international media and the incredible amount of bias that exists. The question time could have easily continued into the night, but moderator Southwick very aptly handled the audience and brought it back to the key messages. The panellists stressed the importance of language, of building a rapport with the journalists and of the need to pump out immediate and short facts and comments to accommodate for the rapid reaction times required in today’s journalism.

The vote-of-thanks was given by UIA’s new Shaliach (Emissary) Idan Goldberger who noted that in this day and age there are “50 shades of news… everyone with a smart-phone can produce news”. 

Following the event Jane Rapke, Executive Director of Zionism Victoria said, “the speakers were fantastic, they were knowledgeable and the audience was extremely engaged in the issues discussed. There is a lot of work to be done.”