By Emily Gian
One does not have to be particularly religious at this time of the year to take the opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months or so and to think of what will be in the year to come.
As I look back, my mind inevitably wanders through the events that have taken place in Israel in the past year and to a time that welcomed in what was to become the start of a wave of violence carried out by Palestinian terrorists against Israelis and continued throughout the year until the present time.
And when I reflect on that wave that brought with it shootings, stabbings, car rammings, rock and bomb throwing aimed randomly in most cases at civilians, many of them young including a child in her sleep and others old and defenceless, I think of how the violence was reported both here in Australia and elsewhere in the world. Of course, it is not just this year but because year after year I seem to be writing the same story, over and over and wondering why so many in the media fail in their duty to adequately report on the facts in a truthful way and how, in doing so, they play such a destructive role in the lives of the people not only of this region but elsewhere in the world.
So I find myself asking after another difficult year, whether the international media needs to repent?Let me give you just a few examples from the past year; examples that are just a small drop in the ocean.
In early October last year, a 16-year-old Palestinian boy stabbed and lightly wounded two people near the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem. He was shot and killed by Israeli Security Forces. The Independent ran a story entitled “A 16-year-old boy was killed by Israeli police this morning”. The story was accompanied on Facebook with the following description “he is the seventh Palestinian killed in just 24 hours”.
It was only within the article itself that the reader learned that the Palestinian boy had stabbed and wounded two people, but the story was obviously not told in chronological order. It would seem that to the Independent, reporting on the news means placing the emphasis on how Israel responded, and not what the Palestinian attacker actually did.
There are those in the media who like to create some form of moral equivalence in certain events such as in November when the Australian carried a headline “Israeli soldier and three Palestinians die as Kerry visits Mideast”.
We learn that the soldier was stabbed to death by “alleged attackers”. Head’s up to the Australian – once they actually stab and kill someone, it might be a good idea to get rid of the “alleged” part. And when reporting on the issue, perhaps do not put the victim and his murderers in the same category.
News Limited also got in on the action in January. A pregnant Israeli woman was stabbed by a Palestinian, who was subsequently shot in the leg. The headline on that particular story was “Palestinian teen shot after stabbing attack”.
Somehow the story managed to be about the Palestinian teen, and not the pregnant Israeli who had been stabbed. How does it come to be that the terrorist became the victim?
In early February, Border Policewoman Hadar Cohen z”l and another officer stopped two men outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem and asked to see their ID. One of the men pulled out a knife and stabbed the second officer so Hadar shot him. Meanwhile, a third terrorist emerged and shot at Hadar, who later died of her wounds. All three terrorists were killed at the scene, and explosives that were found near the scene were also neutralised. To its everlasting shame, CBS reported on the incident with the headline “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on”.
The headline was later changed to “Israeli police kill 3 alleged Palestinian attackers” before finally settling on “Palestinians kill Israeli officer, wound another before being killed”. Why did it take three attempts for CBS news to get it right? Will they be asking for redemption for this stupidity on the eve of a new year?
In March, British publication the Sun ran with an interesting story online. The story went as follows – a 15-year-old Moroccan ISIS supporter allegedly took out a knife and stabbed a police officer in Hanover, Germany. When the Sun reported on the incident, it used what it said was screenshots and footage of the incident saying that “the girl can be seen fishing a giant kitchen knife out of her purse and stabbing the officer while he examined her identity documents”.
Sadly for the Sun, the screenshots and footage were taken from footage of a Palestinian woman attempting to stab an Israeli security guard in Betar Illit in November the year before. The article was later deleted.
The reporting of this story had two dimensions, the first was that it was actually news when it happened in Germany, but not when in happens in Israel. But more interestingly, that the international media has footage of Israeli incidents on file but most likely made no use of them when the incident actually occurred. When we rely on the media for our information, but we only get a selective version of the truth, how can we trust anything?
This point was brought home to me very recently by an article I read in the New York Times. It had nothing to do with Israel, but really made me wonder what on earth is wrong with the media. The story in question centred around Gary Johnson, who just quietly, is running for President in the US elections as the Libertarian Party nominee. Johnson was asked about the crisis in Aleppo, Syria, to which he replied “What is Aleppo?”
Politicians, commentators and all of social media had a field day with this one, mocking the fact that a Presidential candidate could have such a lack of foreign policy knowledge. But the most telling part of this particular New York Times article came at the bottom, where the article contained not one but two corrections.
“Correction: September 8, 2016
An earlier version of this article misidentified the de facto capital of the Islamic State. It is Raqqa, in northern Syria, not Aleppo.
Correction: September 8, 2016
An earlier version of the above correction misidentified the Syrian capital as Aleppo. It is Damascus.”
It turns out that Gary Johnson is not the only person having trouble working out where Aleppo is – the media, or at least the author of this article is too. Perhaps this year the NY Times could ask for forgiveness?
At least on that occasion, the Times let its readers know that it corrected previous errors. However, this week the same newspaper was forced to make a number of changes to an obituary for former Israeli PM and President Shimon Peres z”l who was laid to rest on Friday. Are these changes by stealth done to cover up incompetence, sloppy fact checking or outright dishonesty in reporting?
Just a few weeks ago a Palestinian terrorist stabbed an Israeli soldier while he was checking ID papers at a checkpoint. When the news made its way to Australia, channel 9 news reported on it with the headline “Palestinian ‘executed’ after Israeli checkpoint knife attack”.
The headline alone left me wondering if those writing them actually know what an execution is. Meanwhile, they were being so careful making sure we would not know that the Palestinian was at fault that they continued with the very confused sentence “Israeli checkpoint knife attack”. As the story went on, the Palestinian man was referred to as a “fellow”, as if he was just some nice young chap who had a knife that just somehow, by no fault on his part, accidentally slipped on an Israeli soldier. This part of the story was later changed.
Again however, the headline was disturbing. A day or two earlier eight people were wounded in a stabbing attack in Minnesota, USA and the shooter was subsequently shot dead. The headlines told the story in that exact order. One of my wishes next year would be for the media to simply afford Israel with the same reporting.
I am also reflecting on our television stations, in particular ABC and SBS, who routinely run stories about the Israelis and the Palestinians with little context, often placing blame on Israel for something or without giving the matter much thought or having the decency to consider Israel’s position.
The first story that springs to mind is one that was filed by the ABC’s Sophie McNeill last week on Lateline. It was about Palestinian children with cancer who travel from Gaza to East Jerusalem for treatment but their parents are sometimes unable to get permits to join them. The story was also accompanied by an article on the issue, and both pieces were remarkable in terms of their lack of context. In Sophie McNeill’s twisted world, Israel has some sort of obligation to just let anyone in, despite the extreme security threat that comes from the Gaza Strip.
As HonestReporting put it – “Think about how remarkable this is: Gaza has declared itself an enemy of Israel, is engaged in an active war against the Israeli people, destroys its own hospitals and medical infrastructure for military purposes, and yet Israel nonetheless provides constant medical care to Gaza’s residents, often at great personal risk to Israel’s civilians. This kind of humanitarian care for an active enemy is almost unheard of, not only throughout the world, but throughout human history.”
McNeill has never been a friend of Israel and this was known when she was appointed to her role, so it comes as no surprise that she could manage to find an angle in this story to criticize Israel. So much for the ABC’s mission to report the news in an impartial way.
In July, SBS screened a program on Dateline entitled “A Survivor’s Guide to Gaza”. I had a lot of issues with the documentary, which I wrote about in my own article entitled “An alternate guide to Gaza”.
HonestReporting picked up on a point which served as a basis of an official complaint I made to SBS. The SBS website carried a blog which accompanied the blog and it stated “his family’s prized paddocks were bulldozed in 2009, his land now sits barren. Swallowed up as a part of the deadly no-go ‘buffer zone’ wedged hard against the border with Israel. Gaza’s most fertile land is also the most dangerous, monitored by automatic machine gun towers that detect movement and shoot without warning”.
HonestReporting had consulted with the IDF on this statement and was informed that there are no “automatic machine gun towers that detect movement and shoot without warning”. While the towers may utilize motion detection technology, it is soldiers who are responsible for firing any shots. There is nothing “automatic” about it. Warning shots are fired some 10-20m away giving Palestinians in the buffer zone ample time to leave the area without any further incident. In addition, the only soldiers qualified to open fire, after first receiving permission from their commanders, are highly trained snipers who aim for the legs with the specific purpose of preventing fatalities.
I lodged a formal complaint to the Ombudsman, stating that it violated Code 2.2 (News & Current Affairs – Accuracy, Impartiality and Balance). It seemed obvious to me, but perhaps I should not have been so surprised when I received a letter late last week informing me that “for the reasons provided below the report was found not to have breached the code”. Apparently, among other things, while “SBS will take reasonable steps to ensure timely correction of significant errors of fact”, “the requirement for accuracy does not mean that an exhaustive coverage of all factual material relating to matters broadcast must be presented”. Oh … I see. It’s OK for only the so-called factual material supporting one side of the conflict to be broadcast but not all of the facts.
Additionally, they stated that “the blog accurately reflects that some Palestinians interviewed by the Dateline report consider that the towers shoot at random without warning” and that “some residents interviewed by Dateline claimed they are fired upon on an almost a daily basis and often without warning”.
So there you have it. The Palestinians interviewed stated that to be the case, and according to the code they do not need to do an “exhaustive coverage of all factual material”, so if that is what they said, that is good enough. SBS too, it seems, has a lot to reflect on this year.
There are of course, the facts and nuances but there are also plain, outright lies. Take Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent visit to the Richard Rodgers Theater in New York. A number of media outlets reported that he was booed when he arrived to see the Broadway hit musical “Hamilton” but a video emerged which tells the truth – that he was actually given a standing ovation. The media focused on one heckler whose voice was drowned out by the cheering crowd.
That there are some in the media who want to twist the news to suit their agendas is an indictment on them, particularly when the agenda is to demonise the only true democracy in a difficult region.
My wish for the new year is first and foremost that a comfortable level of peace and quiet comes to our friends and family in Israel and indeed to the entire region. And if somehow it is written that this does not happen in the year ahead, then my only wish is that the media takes a more honest approach when presenting the news to their readers.
Wishing you all the sweetest New Year.
Emily Gian is the Media & Advocacy Director for the Zionist Federation of Australia.