Gaza: What Could the Press Corps Have Done Differently?

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Its’ too early to tell if Operation Protective Edge is really winding down or not. Israel says it has destroyed all the terror tunnels it knows of, but the possibility of continued rocket fire looms over the Cairo truce talks.

After one month of conflict, it’s fair to ask, What could the news services in Gaza have done differently?

Lee Habeeb of the National Review was on CNN discussing media coverage of the Gaza conflict. Following up on his recent column, Hamas’s Co-Conspirators, Habeeb raised several important points faulting the press corps for not showing Hamas fighters or adequately explaining the casualty count.

The interviewer, Kate Bolduan, wasn’t representing the mainstream media, but she was prepared ahead of time to defend CNN’s work.

 

Asked what reporters could be doing better, I think Habeeb could have answered better.

Although the IDF has since withdrawn from Gaza, the question isn’t academic. Soldiers remain massed along the border, poised to re-enter Gaza if necessary. And if the ceasefire takes hold into something long-term, journalists will have greater access to get a clearer picture of the casualty count.

So what do I think reporters should be doing better? I’ll sum it up in a 12-letter word.

Transparency.

Transparency demands that reporters be frank with their audiences about the circumstances they work under, and the methodology they use to gather and verify information.

I haven’t seen many journalists openly say things like “Hamas doesn’t allow reporters to . . .” or, “Some people from Hamas threatened me when . . . .”

I haven’t seen statements such as, “These casualty figures are based on Gaza health officials who are employed by Hamas.”

I haven’t seen any reporters point out that Hamas hasn’t released the names of any of its fallen combatants, nor have I seen coverage of the Gaza funerals reflecting that the dead person may have been a combatant. Do journalists only go to the funerals of children?

I haven’t seen qualified casualty figures. I have seen lines stating “X number of Palestinians have been killed,” followed by, in the reporter’s own voice, “the vast majority of whom are civilians.” What’s the basis for that certainty?

I haven’t seen reporters acknowledge that the ordinary Palestinians don’t necessarily speak freely. Which would explain why I haven’t seen displaced Gazans admitting their building was blown up because of the terror commander across the hall, the sniper’s nest upstairs, a stash of rockets in the basement, some tunnel running beneath the building, or the utter incompetence of a misfired Palestinian rocket.

And I haven’t seen editors acknowledge their reliance on Palestinian stringers — writers, cameramen, and technicians — who aren’t free to ask tough questions. If you’re a foreign correspondent, the worst case scenario — Alan Johnson and Paul Martin notwithstanding — is getting kicked out of Gaza. But if you’re a Palestinian journalist, the worst case scenario is when Hamas’s thugs knock on your door, interested in a not-so-friendly chat about something you reported.

For the India’s NDTV, transparency is telling readers that reporter Sreenivasan Jain and his crew left Gaza before posting an extraordinary video of Hamas goons preparing a rocket right outside a hotel where many reporters were staying.

This report is being aired on NDTV and published on ndtv.com after our team left the Gaza strip – Hamas has not taken very kindly to any reporting of its rockets being fired. But just as we reported the devastating consequences of Israel’s offensive on Gaza’s civilians, it is equally important to report on how Hamas places those very civilians at risk by firing rockets deep from the heart of civilian zones.

I do appreciate the Washington Post for taking a stab at this issue. Among the points raised by media issues reporter Paul Farhi:

  1. Humanitarian aid groups say they are making a good faith effort to tally casualties in difficult circumstances.
  2. Israel wasn’t providing its own stats.
  3. Gaza Health Minister Ashraf Kidra, of Hamas, is “the only game in town.”
  4. Journos are unable to maintain an independent casualty count.

Yesterday — I presume after Farhi’s column was published — the IDF announced that some 900 terror operatives were killed since Operation Protective Edge was launched a month ago.

Another example of transparency not specifically addressed by Habeeb or Farhi came from a different reporter — also from the Washington Post. Sudarsan Raghavan is in Gaza, and this dispatch draws attention to repeated scenes of  staged photographs, which is one example of fauxtography.

The scene was too neat.

 

I had just arrived outside the shattered remains of a large mosque in central Gaza City last week. It had been pulverized by an Israeli airstrike. There was rubble, glass and metal everywhere. But on a patch of ground in front of the structure, visible for everyone to see, was a small, dusty carpet.

 

On top lay piles of burned, ripped copies of the Koran, Islam’s holy book. The symbolism was obvious, almost too perfect. It was clear that someone had placed them there to attract sympathy for the Palestinian cause. A television crew spotted the pile and filmed it. Mission accomplished.

 

Farhi’s column doesn’t address everything on my mind, but it’s a start.

When reporters aren’t transparent, it leaves room for people to wonder, and reasonably too. If there are reasonable plausible answers to these issues, let’s hear them.

Image: CC BY-NC-SA HonestReporting, flickr/Free Press


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