A Journalist’s CritiqueJuly 17, 2003 12:00 by ManagingTeam
Dear HonestReporting Subscriber,
No one has a better angle on Mideast media bias than the journalists themselves.
Fiamma Nirenstein, veteran Italian journalist and Jerusalem correspondent for the daily La Stampa, recently penned a searing indictment of certain intellectuals and journalists — whom she calls “the real cradle of contemporary anti-Semitism.”
“We have to know how to say that the free press is a failure when it lies, and that it does lie,” writes Nirenstein. “We have to say that all human rights are violated when a people is denied the right of self-defense, and that right is denied of Israel.”
Below we reprint for HonestReporting readers an excerpt from Nirenstein’s important article, which provides a comprehensive overview of the sources of distorted coverage of the latest intifada. The full article may be found online here.
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Somebody on a European radio program said that after the diffusion of the images of Muhammed al Dura, Europe could finally forget the famous picture of the boy in the Warsaw ghetto with his hands raised. The meaning of this statement, often repeated in other forms, is obliteration of the Holocaust through the overlapping of Israel and Nazism, namely racism, genocide, ruthless elimination of civilians, women and children, an utterly unwarranted eruption of cruelty and the most brutal instincts. It means pretending to believe blindly, without investigation, the Palestinian version of a highly disputed episode and of many, many others; it means taking for granted the “atrocities” that the Palestinian spokespersons always talk about, and ignoring every proof or fact that doesn’t serve this position…
As a journalist, I must mention the significant contribution of the mass media to this new anti-Semitism. Since the beginning of the Intifada, freedom fighter journalists, grown in the Guevara and Fedayeen campus, have given the Israeli-Palestinian conflict some of the most biased coverage in the history of journalism. Here are the main problems that lead to distorted reporting of the Intifada:
1) Lack of historic depth in attributing responsibility for its outbreak. In other words, failure to repeat the story of the Israeli offer of a Palestinian state and of Arafat’s refusal which, in essence, is a refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state, and which continues the almost 70-year old Arab rejection of partition of the land of Israel between Arabs and Jews as recommended by the British in 1936, decided by the UN in 1947 and always accepted by the Jewish representatives.
2) Failure, right from the very first clashes at the checkpoints, to assign responsibility for the first deaths to the fact that, unlike in the first Intifada, in the second the IDF faced armed fighters hiding in the midst of the unarmed crowd.
3) Failure to recognize the enormous influence of the cultural pressure on the Palestinians from the systematic education in Palestinian schools and mass media, vilifying Jews and Israelis and idealizing terrorist acts of murder and mayhem.
4) Describing the death of Palestinian children without identifying the circumstances in which they occurred. The equating of civilian losses of Israelis with those of the Palestinians, as if terrorism and war against it were the same thing, and as if intentional killing was the same as a deplored consequence of a difficult and new type of fight.
5) Using Palestinian sources to certify events, as if Palestinian sources were the most reliable. I am thinking of Jenin, of the unconfirmed reports that passed to printed pages or TV screens as absolute truth. In contrast, Israeli sources, which are very often reliable, are seen as subservient, prejudiced and unworthy of attention, despite the country’s aggressive, free and open journalism, and the equally determined criticism of government policies by opposition parties, conscience objectors, commentators and journalists.
6) Manipulation of the order in which the news are given and of the news itself. The headlines give the number of Palestinians killed or wounded in most articles, at least in Europe, before describing the gunfights and their causes, and linger on the age and family stories of the terrorists. The purposes of the IDF actions, such as capturing terrorists, destroying arms factories or hiding places and bases for attacks against Israel, are rarely mentioned. On the contrary, Israel’s operations are often described as completely uncalled for, bizarre, wicked and useless.
7) Manipulation of language, taking advantage of the great confusion about the definition of “terrorism” and “terrorist.” This too is an old issue, connected to the concept of freedom fighter, so dear to my generation.
A few days ago, at a checkpoint, I was doing some interviews. It soon became clear to me that the use of the word “terrorist” sounded to each one of my Palestinian interlocutors a capital political and semantic sin. The press has learned this very well: the occupation is the cause of everything, terrorism is called resistance and does not exist per se. Terrorists who kill women and children are called militants, or fighters. An act of terrorism is often “a fire clash,” even when only babies and old men are shot inside their cars on a highway. It is also interesting to note that a young shahid is a cause of deep pride for the Palestinian struggle, but if you ask how a child of twelve can be sent to die and why young children are indoctrinated to do such acts, the answer is: “Come on, a child can’t be a terrorist. How can you call a 12 year old boy a terrorist?”
This is perhaps the most crucial point: Given the fact that there is a ferocious debate on the definition of terrorism, it is widely accepted that terrorism is a way of fighting. This is a semantic and substantial gift of the new anti-Semitism, where it is natural for a Jew to be dead. Namely, intentionally targeting civilians to cause fear and disrupt the morale of Israel is not a moral sin. It doesn’t raise world indignation, and if it does, it hides in its folds some or much sympathy for the terrorist aggressor. What the European press fails to or doesn’t want to understand is that terror is a condemnable and forbidden way of fighting, regardless of the specific political goal it tries to achieve.
8) The media have promoted the extravagant concept that the settlers, including women and children, are not real human beings.
They present settlers as pawns in a dangerous game they choose to play. Their deaths are almost natural and logical events. In a way, they asked for it.
On the other hand, when a Hamas commander is killed, even though he obviously “asked for it,” an ethical, philosophical debate arises on the perfidy of extra-judicial death sentences. This would certainly be a licit debate, were it not for the grotesque double standard on which worldwide press bases it.
9) Not to go overlooked is that censorship and corruption within the PA and the physical elimination of its political enemies is hardly ever covered.
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Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.