HonestReporting has been monitoring English language media for over a decade. But what about the non-English language media in countries beyond the US, UK, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa?
In addition to our Spanish language affiliate, ReporteHonesto, we are in regular contact with a number of media monitoring organizations in countries around the world.
Here, in a guest commentary, Yochanan Visser takes a look at the state of the Dutch media.
The Dutch media pays excessive attention to Israel. The average Dutch newspaper publishes more news items regarding the situation in Israel than about any other country in the world.
Most of those reports, however, are not about Israel, but about the Palestinians.
This type of coverage guarantees that news about the real Israel is structurally being ignored.
As a result the average Dutchman does not know, for example, that Israel is a world leader in the field of medical inventions, water recycling, high tech, agriculture technology and the integration of immigrants.
No Dutchman reads in the Dutch media about the thousands of Palestinian patients, or patients from Arab countries, treated in Israeli hospitals every year.
A story like the one about Dr. Adi Weissbuch of the Kaplan Medical Centre in Rehovot, who recently saved the life of a pregnant Iranian woman, will never be published in the average Dutch newspaper.
Some members of the Dutch media are accomplices in delegitimizing and demonizing Israel.
The best example is the free daily De Pers (The Press); a paper read by a quarter of a million Dutchmen.
‘De Pers’ doesn’t hesitate to publish libels against Israel and as a rule refuses to correct false claims or lies.
As an unwritten rule, no Dutch newspaper will publish articles which criticize other members of the media. Rebuttals of reports which contain false claims are seldom publicized, nor is the right of reply properly applied.
The bias in the Dutch media reporting is best shown by the coverage of events in the West Bank. Balanced reports about the Jews living in that area are almost absent. Generally the word ‘colonist’ is used for the Israeli’s living in the West Bank and many news reports show generalization and demonization.
As a result, some half million Israeli Jews have basically been stripped of any humanity. Only in extremely rare cases is attention given to the subject of every-day life in the West Bank such as the fact that Jews work together with Arabs in places like the Rami Levy supermarket at the Gush Etzion junction.
Dutchmen only hear about the suffering and the poverty among Palestinians. Where were the reports in the Dutch press about the PA decision to build houses and to pay up to 5000 USD to the terrorists who recently were released during the Shalit-deal?
But that’s not all. News about the Palestinians is also subject to selection. Positive news is being ignored, as is negative news about the Palestinians. Most Dutch media tend to publish this type of news only when they can connect it to a negative image of Israel.
In addition many Dutch news reports about the West Bank are exclusively based on Palestinian sources and pro-Palestinian NGOs.
Reports which are based on information provided by persons or organizations with an obvious political agenda guarantee incorrect and incomplete reporting.
This fact is not unique to the Netherlands: it is a global pattern.
Some recent examples show the extent of the bias in Dutch media.
In the article Bos wrote about the situation of Palestinian Arabs in East-Jerusalem.
However, his writings were solely based on information provided by Jeff Halper the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD).
Halper is known for his support for the Free Gaza movement and boycott actions (BDS) against Israel.
He also supports the so-called “one state solution”; which basically means the end of the Jewish state of Israel. The end result was an article filled with lies and stereotypes.
Bos claimed he had asked the Jerusalem municipality for a reaction. However Stephan Miller, a spokesman for the mayor of Jerusalem, stated that the municipality never received such a request.
If Bos had made an effort to do some research or to interview all parties involved, he would undoubtedly have discovered that there is another story to tell about the situation of the Arabs in East Jerusalem.
A recent study of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA) showed that a large number of East Jerusalem Arabs prefer to remain under Israeli governance. Furthermore, an even larger number claimed to be satisfied with their standard of living, which is indeed higher than in many other Arab countries or in the areas controlled by the PA.
Here is one of the claims in Bos’s article:
“Whereas in Jewish districts in Israeli occupied parts of East-Jerusalem, construction is in full swing, Palestinians are denied to build legally in that part of the city”
Refusal to build legally?
The number of delivered construction permits for existing Arab districts in East-Jerusalem over 2007 and 2008 show a totally different picture:
· Kalandia, Atarot, Bet Hanina 78
· Shafuat, Anata 84
· Ishwaja, A- Toer, A-Sawana, Wadi El Goz 16
· Sheikh Jarrah, Moshava Amerikanit, Bab El Zahara 4
· Deir Abu Tor, Ras al Amud, Chirbat Beit Zahur 11
· Jamel Mugaber, Arav A-Swahara, Tzur Baher, Bet Tsafafa South 182
· The Old City – Muslim Quarter 1
· Kalandia, Atarot, Bet Hanina 81
· Shafuat, Anata 91
· Ishwaja, A- Tur, A-Sawana, Wadi El Goz 48
· Sheikh Jarrah, Moshava Amerikanit, Bab El Zahara 11
· Deir Abu Tor, Ras al Amud, Beit Zahur 60
· Jamel Mugaber, Arav A-Swahara, Tzur Baher; Bet Tsafafa South 170
Stephan Miller wrote that in 2010 some 1000 Arabs from East Jerusalem registered new apartments or dwellings with the municipality.
Another claim in the article concerned house demolitions in East Jerusalem.
De Volkskrant: “widescale demolishing of houses is taking place in Jerusalem”.
Stephan Miller: “zero took place in 2011 so far”.
Then there was this claim:
“behind all this, there is a master plan to ‘judaise’ the whole of Jerusalem. The goal is to get a proportion of 70% Jews, 30% Palestinians. The meter stands on 67/33”.
The reality is quite different. Figures show that the Arab population of Jerusalem has grown constantly since 1967. Statistics also show that the number of Arabs has increased in comparison to the Jewish population. In 1967 the percentage of Arabs was 25.8% of the total population of Jerusalem. By 2009 it had increased to 35.7%.
Take for example science-editor Marcel Hulspas, who claimed the following when writing about the Arab countries:
“Most likely you cannot register ( in the Arab countries) as a non-believer at municipality, birth, marriage and death registers in those countries, but that is also impossible in democratic Israel. In the eyes of the state, everyone is forced to be Jewish.”
Forced to be Jewish? Aside from the fact that more than 1,000,000 Israeli citizens are registered as Muslim, Christian or Baha’i, Jews can also register as non-Jews if they wish to do so.
De Pers’ Israel correspondent Eva Ludemann is not even able to write a journalistic report about Israel. All of her articles are libelous.
Over the last month she published two articles which were rife with distortions and outright lies. One of these articles dealt with the position of women in Israeli society. Ludemann presented a picture in which all women in Israel are ultra-orthodox and subordinate to men.
When confronted with the facts, the apparently angry editor of De Pers wrote he was fed up with the criticism about every ‘De Pers’ article which pictures Israel in a negative way. He refused to grant the right of reply when a detailed rebuttal of the article was submitted.
These are just two examples of newspaper articles which have appeared in the Dutch media over the last month.
Generally speaking one can say there are only some small news outlets such as the Christian daily ‘Reformatorisch Dagblad’ and the weekly magazine ‘Elsevier’, which are making an effort to present the correct and complete story about Israel.
The same pattern can be seen on the Dutch television. The Israeli side of the story is frequently being ignored and it is possible to determine the political views of editors by noting which guest commentators are invited toappear on programs.
For example on October 18th the program “Nieuwsuur” (News Hour) invited ex-prime minister Dries Van Agt, who is known to be a fierce opponent of Israel. He was supposed to give his comment on the release of Gilad Shalit. Predictably Van Agt ended up in a diatribe against the Israeli ‘blockade’ of Gaza.
Documentary programs on Dutch TV show the same bias.
Kees Schaap who is one of the editors of the documentary program ‘Zembla’, wrote to us in 2009 stating that his intention was not to inform the public about the facts, but about the opinion of the editor. His remarks came after the publication of a detailed rebuttal of false claims made in a documentary’ No money for Gaza’.
The Dutch state-funded NOS news show has been the subject of two detailed reports concerning the bias in its Israel reporting. Recently NOS finally acted to correct the one sided focus on Israel and the absence of any context in its reporting about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Two new Middle East correspondents were added to the news desk, but the bias continues.
Last year, on the day Lebanese soldiers shot dead an Israeli colonel in a cross border attack, NOS reporter Van Hoorn decided that the opening of a new cinema in Jenin was the real scoop of the day. As a result, the NOS report about the cross border attack was based on an Al Jazeera report of the event.
In the middle of November 2011, the NOS news site ran a story about comments by Israeli minister of defense Ehud Barak concerning the explosion at an Iranian rocket base. Barak made the comments on Israel Army Radio (Galatz). The NOS report quoted Barak as saying that “Israel would not shed one tear about such explosions”. When confronted with the audio recording of Barak’s comments, which clearly proved he never said such a thing, NOS rectified the report.
A few days later NOS ‘Nieuwsuur’ (News Hour) broadcasted another report about Iran.
Thomas Erdbrink, the NOS correspondent in Iran, was asked whether people in Teheran take an eventual Israeli attack seriously.
His answer was: “Well, not really seriously. After all since 1992 Israel has threatened to attack Iran, for whatever kind of reason”.
Nobody at the studio thought about asking Erdbrink if was not actually the other way round. After all, who’s threatening who with ‘wiping them off the map’?
Another report by ‘Nieuwsuur’ on Wednesday November 9th, titled ‘American green light’ reported mainly about the crisis between Israel and Iran. The Iranian ambassador in The Hague was interviewed and even got the chance to threaten Israel. A reply from an Israeli diplomat in The Hague never made it into the program.
The Dutch government has already indicated that it aims to stop the so-called ‘Israel-bashing’ in the Netherlands, most probably because the government realizes that it can lead to dangerous excesses.
To understand this, one only needs to look at what is taking place in Iran and other Arab countries in this regard.
It is high time that Dutch media displayed the same sense of responsibility.
Applying the normal journalistic standards to the news coverage about Israel would be a good start.
Yochanan Visser is director of Missing Peace Information, an Israeli public diplomacy organization operating in The Netherlands and Belgium. He is a frequent contributor to the main Dutch paper De Volkskrant and for several other media outlets in The Netherlands.
Image: flickr/RonAlmog, flickr/psd.