Compared to many parts of the Middle East, Israel is a veritable island of calm. With ongoing peace talks taking place in a media blackout, there has been relatively little to report for once.
Which is just as well because most journalists’ attentions are now trained on Cairo as the Egyptian army deals with the Muslim Brotherhood in a quite brutal manner.
This gives us an opportunity to make some observations concerning the media’s treatment of the issue, the reporting of Israel’s role in the crisis and the differences between this and the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
1. A strange sense of proportion
Headlines such as this from the New York Times:
now find themselves co-existing in the same Middle East sections that are reporting on hundreds of deaths in Egypt. In addition, the death toll from Syria’s brutal civil war is said to have surpassed 100,000.
While we should not demean the loss of any individual human life, events taking place in Israel’s neighborhood perhaps give some perspective and proportion when we consider the enormous amount of coverage Israel receives in the mainstream media.
How many Egyptians, Syrians, Iraqis and others need to die violently before the media and others recognize that the Israel-Palestinian conflict and issues such as Jewish housing construction in Jerusalem are not the fulcrum around which all Middle East conflict revolves?
And while incidents such as the above are legitimately deemed newsworthy, it is noteworthy that individual Palestinian deaths command such coverage irrespective of whether or not the Palestinian involved could be considered a combatant or not. Indeed, the NY Times article refers to B’tselem’s figure of 10 Palestinians killed this year by the military without considering how many of those were terrorists.
2. A false comparison
Time Magazine takes a look at an English-language video released by the Egyptian military to government officials and journalists in Washington meant to explain and justify the army’s actions in recent weeks to the outside world. The article makes the following comparison:
The [Egyptian] generals this week took a page from the Israeli media blitz that surrounded their last Gaza offensive in November and launched some propaganda of their own.
But that’s where the comparison ends. To compare the rather amateurish Egyptian effort to Israel’s professional (and accurate) online presence is insulting. The IDF is way out in front when it comes to getting its messaging out there. Of course, it helps if your message is also a credible one and it looks like the Egyptian army is going to learn very quickly that its apparent lack of restraint isn’t going to play very well to Western audiences.
Perhaps the Western media might also consider taking another look at the IDF’s rather more benign methods of crowd control and dispersal which most definitely do not involve indiscriminate and deliberate shooting at civilians.
3. Bring out the bodies
On the subject of propaganda, here’s something courtesy of The Times of London (subscription-only) that you won’t find happening in Israel:
In our Shattered Lens study of photo bias in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we noted how photos of bodies and the imagery of funerals were consistently used by Palestinians for propaganda purposes.
In contrast, Israel does not allow press photographers to take pictures of dead or wounded soldiers or civilians at the scene of an event or in hospitals or morgues unless the photographers happen to be at the scene before the arrival of the emergency services. Even then, editors exercise a level of responsibility over what to publish. Images of Israeli suffering are therefore far less prominent.
In July, the Al Arabiya website reported that the Facebook page of Egypt’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood – had displayed images of children killed in Syria claiming they were victims of the recent unrest in Egypt.
Sound familiar? It’s not the first time that images of dead Syrian children have been misused.
Early into the 2012 Operation of Pillar of Defense, Palestinian journalist/activist Hazem Balousha tweeted a moving a photo of a girl lying in a hospital gurney, purportedly injured in an Israeli air strike.
BBC reporter Jon Donnison was touched and retweeted it. However, activists discovered that the photo was actually taken in Syria a month before the war.
Why then does the media recognize that bodies are weapons in the Egyptian propaganda war but will not question the same thing when it comes to the Palestinians?
Instead we are treated to images such as that of…