Should Israel treat pro-Palestinian news manipulators as if they were serious journalists? Should they be given privileges because they belong to supposedly reputable media? Why accommodate the allies of your enemies? Such questions arise anew after a recent study of Reuters’ anti-Israel bias by Professor Henry Silverman of Chicago’s Roosevelt University.
Silverman investigated 50 news-oriented articles by Reuters on the Middle East. His conclusions about this “objective” news agency were damning. He concluded that Reuters’ coverage of the Middle East conflict “is systematically tainted by propaganda and influences readers to side with the Palestinian and Arab states against the Israelis.”
Silverman analyzed these articles for reporting and ethical failures, such as propaganda devices and logical fallacies. As Reuters has a handbook of rules that its reporters are supposed to follow, he also checked the articles against its requirements. Silverman found more than 1,100 instances of reporting failures in these articles. On the average, this amounts to 22 failures per relatively short article. Silverman then submitted the articles to students who were neutral about the Middle East conflict. After they had read the biased articles, their views shifted to pro-Palestinian positions.
Trevor Asserson, a British litigation lawyer now living in Israel, applied a somewhat different methodology to the BBC several years ago. This media outlet is heavily subsidized by the British government and enjoys an important monopoly position. It operates under a government charter that defines 15 legal obligations. They include: fairness, respect for truth, due accuracy, attachment to fundamental democratic principles, not broadcasting their own opinions on current affairs or public policy, insuring that opposing views are not misrepresented and not letting the audience gauge the reporter’s personal views.
Asserson checked various BBC TV programs on the Middle East against its commitments under the charter. He analyzed all documentaries on the Middle East shown on BBC 1 and 2 from late June 2002 to 2004. Afterwards, Asserson said that the BBC is conducting “what amounts to something equivalent to a campaign to vilify Israel, broadcasting a documentary critical of Israel every two to three months…88% of documentaries on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict paint either a negative impression of Israel or (in two cases) a positive image of Palestinians.” He also found that “there is a systemic problem with the BBC complaints system.”
Asserson concluded: “BBC’s news reports concerning Israel are distorted by omission, by inclusion, by only giving partial facts, by who is interviewed, and by the background information provided, or lack of it. The only way to establish this factually was to do a proper forensic analysis. I prepared my reports in the way in which a judge would expect the evidence to be presented in a court of law.”
Another form of news manipulation is selective publishing of biased op-eds. Recently, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “respectfully declined” to write an op-ed for the New York Times. His senior adviser Ron Dermer wrote a reply to the daily. In it, he quoted the late Senator Patrick Moynahan’s admonition that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but no one is entitled to their own facts.”
Dermer pointed out that the New York Times had printed an article by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas containing false historical “facts,” which it could and should have verified quite easily. Dermer also checked op-eds about Israel published within the last three months in The New York Times and in the International Herald Tribune. Nineteen out of those 20 op-ed pieces were negative.
If such manipulation or propaganda is practiced by three media of the profession’s elite, what can one possibly expect from others? There is a pressing need for a major study on the extremely questionable ethics of present-day journalism. Using Israel as a test case would be helpful to accomplish this.
In the meantime, Israel must act. It is time to form a Knesset caucus on media that should tackle this complex issue and hold the government accountable when it accommodates manipulators among the journalists. Freedom of the press is one thing. Being assisted by the government to help the enemy is something radically different.
Ministers should be asked why certain journalists (read: Palestinian and Arab propagandists) enjoy privileges. Let them fend for themselves without the rights press cards offer. In the physical war against Israel, its leaders search for and find solutions. The same approach should be applied to the propaganda war.
Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld has published 20 books. Several of these address anti-Semitism and anti-Israelism