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'We are disappointed that the IDF didn't give us more opportunities' (Archive photo)
'We are disappointed that the IDF didn't give us more opportunities' (Archive photo) 

Journalists blame Israel for war coverage

International journalists discuss Lebanon war coverage; NYT bureau chief: Israel 'not interested in Lebanese deaths'

Yaakov Lappin
Published: 08.29.06, 21:46 / Israel News

A number of journalists claimed during a convention in Jerusalem Monday evening that Israel and the IDF were mostly to blame for the way the foreign media covered the Lebanon war.


The panel of journalists, largely from the international media, convened to discuss their coverage of the war, at a conference arranged by the Media Line agency's Mideast Press Club.


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"Journalists' access to the battlefield is controlled exclusively by the IDF," said Simon McGregor-Wood, Chairman of the Foreign Press Association, and Bureau Chief of ABC News.


"We are very disappointed that the IDF didn't give us more opportunities," he added.


Wood's claims of restricted battlefield access seemed undermined, however, by the London Times' Stephen Farrell, who said: "I spent most of the war within five miles of the border… you have to get up and put your face right up against the glass, and if you can, to put your head through the glass."


Farrell told the panel that the best way to report the war was to witness it first hand, and recounted using binoculars to watch clashes between Hizbullah forces and the IDF.


Responding to the Reuters photo scandal, Farrell said: "I'm not sure I like the allegation that it's local staff who are unreliable. Over the last few years we've seen… apparently respectable, white western American, British, everybody… being sacked and disgraced… integrity is integrity is integrity, whether it's Arab, Israeli, or western."


The New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Steven Erlanger, expressed surprise that Israel's view of the war was different to that of its critics, and said that Israelis didn't "quite grasp how the war was perceived outside of Israel."


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He lamented the lack of "proportionality" in the war, adding: "This is a charge that came against Israel from the United Nations… the French, the Italians."


The New York Times bureau chief also said that Israelis "were not interested in whether 1,000 Lebanese civilians needed to die," adding that the question of "whether Israel fought a proportional war is not much of interest here (in Israel)."


Erlanger added that during the war, he "took General Yadlin (who briefed the press on IDF operations) too seriously."


'You are free to say what you like about us'

Erlanger told the panel he turned down an offer by the IDF Spokesperson Unit to gain access to IDF efforts aimed at enabling humanitarian aid to reach Lebanon, saying he was not interested in the story.


The Associated Press' Chief Jerusalem Correspondent, Ravi Nessman said the casualty count in Lebanon was impossible to confirm: "All we can do is report what everyone's telling us."


"We don't know, even now, the death toll (in Lebanon), still weeks later, it's totally disparate. Did 800 people die, did 1,200 people die. We still don't exactly know," he said.


"We have to rely on the Red Crescent or other rescue officials," Nessman added. "Getting an accurate count is very difficult. We are forced unfortunately to rely on rescue services, because we don't have the capacity to know exactly how many people died," he conceded.


Nessman downplayed the Reuters doctored photo scandal, saying: "It was probably one guy… everyone's working very hard. Everybody is tired. Everybody is overworked. It's very unlikely that the photo editors sat there and said, these are doctored photos, get them on the wires… I'm sure it slipped through. They're trying to do as credible a job as possible."


Nessman also claimed that "there was one real photo scandal in this war, and there were dozens of non-scandals that cropped up."


"Pictures have been faked as long as there have been pictures," remarked the Times' Farrell, citing "commercial imperative" as a factor in the doctored images.


Al-Jazeera's Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walid Omary said his news network had been vilified in Israel, and wrongly accused of abating Hizbullah.


"Al-Jazeera tried to keep good balance in covering this war," Omary said.


"You are free to say what you like about us, in the same way we are free to say what we like about you," the ABC's Simon Wood told the audience, which largely consisted of US immigrants to Israel.


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