Knesset calls for foreign media to account for bias

Sub-committee calls for legal action over slanted coverage that misleads the international public about Israeli and Palestinian actions following latest specious headline.

The start-up nation, famed for the prowess of its special forces and its ninja-like abilities at cybersecurity, appears, much like an elephant handler presented with a giraffe, to be flummoxed by the international media.


The latest demonstration of this conundrum followed a stabbing and shooting attack last week.




This is what happened: Last Thursday, two border policewomen, Hadar Cohen and Ravit Mirilashvili, were on patrol at Jerusalem’s Damascus Gate when they were confronted by two knife and gun wielding terrorists. (A third attacker was at another, nearby location.) As the assailants lunged at the officers, Cohen and Mirashvili shot them dead, as they were trained to do. In the shootout, Cohen, 19, who was in the third month of her service, was shot in the head by an attacker’s bullet.


The third assailant was shot and killed by other officers.


Next: CBS News a headline reading “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on” with no mention of terror, attacks or the fact that Cohen was fatally wounded in the attack.


In the following hours, CBS rectified the offending headline four times, but never quite managed to address the fundamental questions of “who, what, when, where and how.”



The egregious headline appears to have unhinged the government.


Government Press Office director Nitzan Chen initially threatened to revoke the credentials of foreign journalists’ whose headlines displayed anti-Israel bias.


On Tuesday, Luke Baker, Jerusalem bureau chief for Reuters and chairman of the Foreign Press Association (FPA) came to work on a slow news day and found in his inbox a surprising invitation. Or maybe a summons. It wasn’t entirely clear.

The Subcommittee for Foreign Policy, Public Relations, and the Political Struggle of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was requesting his take on the subject of “Foreign media reporting, a long term survey undermining (Israel's) legitimate action against terror.” (sic.)


The Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry, the prime minister’s liaison to the Knesset, the internal security adviser and the Government Press Office were all slated to take part.


The sub-committee for legal action, headed by the former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, who is usually considered one of the more cool-headed members of the Knesset, requested responses to the following questions:


1. Examples of slanted, one sided reporting against soldiers and police following terror incidents.

2. What are the existing recommended professional legal, diplomatic remedies available in these cases –both for limiting disinformation as well as for dealing with errant reporting?

3. Are there reasons for legal claims of libel, as a result of these publications?


Infuriated by the approach, which the FPA described as reminiscent of such notoriously anti-free press régimes as “Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia” the organization initially decided to boycott the meeting but eventually relented.


In an uncompromising statement, the FPA declared that “a free and open media is the bedrock of a democratic society. Parliamentary subcommittee hearings that start from the premise that the foreign media are biased tend to look like poorly conceived witch hunts.”


“Efforts to clamp down on the media – including sweeping allegations of media bias, state censorship and the detaining of members of the press – are the sort of actions usually associated with authoritarian governments in places such as Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Such conduct is unbecoming of a country like Israel, which likes to describe itself as the only democracy in the Middle East,” the statement said.


Asked what actions were undertaken by the Israeli government in reaction to February 3 headline, and if CBS News was directly approached, GPO director Chen was unclear about which Israeli official had directed its protest to CBS, if at all. “Maybe the foreign ministry spokesman called them,” he said in a conversation with The Media Line.


The FPA used the occasion to mention another source of frustration for the locally stationed foreign media, a mocking animated video that Israel’s foreign ministry first posted, then retracted, last year. “While the foreign media try to act with professionalism and balance, the Israeli Foreign Ministry took it upon itself last year to produce a YouTube video, suggesting that the foreign media were biased, ignorant and witless. After the blatant inaccuracy and imbalance of the video were pointed out, the ministry withdrew it immediately.”


Israel is having difficulty finding its footing in the current media environment. Last week, the military censor sent letters to 30 political bloggers and Facebook posters, warning them that their work must be submitted for review before being posted.


The FPA conceded that mistakes are sometimes made. “There are cases in which headlines in the international media have been poorly chosen and failed to accurately reflect developments on the ground. These have been pointed out and corrected as rapidly as possible.”


"Mistakes are made in all professions. Isolated mistakes – and given the vast coverage of this story, they are extremely isolated – do not constitute institutional bias. It should also be pointed out that headlines are never the full story, and are usually not written by journalists on the scene, but rather by editors sitting in New York, London or other headquarters.”

Outright bias in outlets less prominent than CBS, or not from the English-speaking world, often pass with little or no mention in Jerusalem.


By the end of the day, it seemed that the like the case of the now-notorious video, the Knesset hearing may have served to do little more than stir the foreign media’s ire.


The session itself had little to do with the invitation, Baker said in a conversation with The Media Line, and made evident “basically a lot of misunderstanding about how the press works and how the Israeli police/army/GPO information representatives work.”


Chen said the most important factor in safeguarding the fairness of coverage is “a daily dialogue and a daily connection between the GPO and other government offices and the foreign media.”


“The vast majority of reporters do balanced and fair work,” he added, emphasizing that since the beginning of the current wave of violence, coverage has been “very professional.”


But the CBS headline still exasperated him. For instance, when “a report doesn’t mention that an Israeli policewoman was killed, and mentions Palestinians only as Palestinians, without stating that they were attackers, that is not journalism.”


Article written by Noga Tarnopolsky.


Reprinted with the permission of The Media Line .


פרסום ראשון: 02.09.16, 20:16
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