March 4, 2011 at 7:37 am 1 comment

Professional principles




Excerpts from his book “How to avoid Armageddon”

Available through Amazon

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“If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”   – Mark Twain

Images on the screen reaching millions of people all over the world in a flash, create a compelling impact. The printed word in black and white, accompanied by a strong headline and an emotionally evocative photograph, can suggest censure or approval. The calm, confident voice broadcasting news or commentary on the radio, often sounds as though it’s passing justified and binding judgment. Clearly, the media carries a pseudo-authoritative punch that can influence public opinion and sway political trends and actions. All this implies a great deal of responsibility on the part of anyone gathering or presenting news or commentary in any form, making it imperative that truthfulness be strictly observed by reporters, cameramen, editors, producers and publishers. This means getting all the facts right, presenting an impression that tallies as much as possible with the reality of each story or situation and avoiding unfounded and tendentious assumptions. In democracies this ideal should be demanded unconditionally by the general public.

On the other hand, in autocratic regimes where freedom of expression is limited, the media is used cynically to ensure the positions of the people in power, while promoting their own political or ideological agendas and suppressing political rivals or stoking up passions against genuine or trumped-up national threats. While some citizens of such countries are aware of the falsehood spread in their media, most are browbeaten into believing the canards fed to them.

But being subject to human frailties like everyone else, reporters, editors, publishers and producers everywhere, are also driven by their own personal preferences and impulses. No one can be fully objective all the time. Also, most media sources are dependent on financing for their operations and for their very survival. To a large extent, it’s all about rating. That means giving the public pictures, stories and programs that grip their interest and that has them craving more. It means constantly presenting reports that feature the valiant underdog and the heroic struggle, while exposing the villain that everyone loves to hate.

Wars and scenes of devastation are always photogenic. There’s plenty of that in the Middle East, and very often Israel is involved. Since 1967, when Israel was outnumbered and outgunned by over three to one, yet routed the powerful armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in a mere six days, it has been perceived as the nasty neighborhood bully, while the Arabs – especially the Palestinians – are the valiant underdogs struggling heroically for their inalienable right to freedom.

It becomes even more appealing when the bully has perceived pretensions of superior ethics, as are the Jews of Israel, evoking biblical references of being the “Chosen people” or “a light unto the nations.” While most Jews don’t accept these references about themselves seriously, others who are not Jewish can point a finger with satisfaction when shown scenes that show Jews dealing violently with Arabs. The background to the violence is not important for them when they can say, “Look at what those damn Jews are doing!” And it’s human nature to believe what we want to believe. It makes us feel good to see someone who claims to have taught the world morality, himself behaving badly. These are sentiments that can make it hard for any reporter or editor to be objective about Israel.

But what about the fact that many media personalities are Jews? They are found in every branch of the media and every creative or administrative occupation connected with it. Many are in dominant positions and their words are widely distributed and often syndicated. Many of the opinions that are critical of Israel, are written by these Jews, prompting an impression that if Jews are saying such things, then Israel must indeed be a wicked place.

But among Jews, probably more than most other peoples, part of their psyche achingly sympathizes with the misfortune of others. It probably has to do with their long background of persecution. Among a sizeable percentage, their parents or grandparents had struggled to survive centuries of vicious anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe before emigrating to more hospitable democratic countries.

Also, among the Jews there have always been those whose Jewishness was too much of an imposition for them. It shamed them or scuttled any ambitions they might have had to advance socially or in other fields traditionally blocked to Jews. So they found it easier or simply expedient to denigrate their ethnic affiliation. Some changed their identities altogether, including names and background. Others kept their identities and even emphasized them, while using every opportunity to slander their fellow Jews. This, they believed, would make the Christians like them.

Many of the Jews working in the media fit this latter category. Some move in and out of this mode, sometimes finding something positive about their Jewish affiliation, and often reverting back to the negative and even to downright muckraking.

It’s also an inescapable fact that if one ignores the context of Arab aims to reduce Israel in size or even obliterate her, or its tactics that include bombing of innocent civilians, for the writer, whether Jewish or not, Israel all too frequently looks very bad, and that’s how it is portrayed in all forms of the media, whether on screen or in print.

But we are not dealing here with media of Arab or Muslim countries which can be expected to be prejudiced and slam Israel at every opportunity. In this chapter we are dealing with Western media, much of which seems to exhibit a similar alacrity to slam Israel. It is important to clarify that in our opinion, bias is not necessarily a bad thing. For the purpose of this book, whether bias is justified or not is really beside the point. Also, we are not interested in even-handed coverage. Bias is wrong when it is based on falsehood. Here are a few examples culled from Western media sources that indicate intended or unintended bias against Israel, through the use of lies, selective omission or inappropriate choice of accompanying photographs and other references.

On March 27, 2002, a few hundred guests were celebrating the Passover dinner at the Park Hotel in Netanya, when a bomb exploded, killing 29 guests and wounding 140. ABC’s Nightline faithfully reported the statistics. The report was short, to the point, and showed scenes of the devastation. Then the program presented people supposedly connected to the incident. An Israeli family staying at a hotel across the road gave a brief, very measured response to ABC’s Dan Harris. They seemed careful not to refer to the perpetrators as Arabs or terrorists, but rather as “extremists.” According to Harris, the family compared Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians with the oppression suffered by the Israelites in ancient Egypt, and their liberation celebrated during the current Passover, adding sagely that this family says the only way to bring peace is for the Israelis to release the Palestinians from their bondage.

Interesting, how with all the grief that had struck Israeli society on this special Jewish festival, with the news of this terrible terrorist attack, which was yet another one in a long series of outrages, ABC could only find Israelis to interview who had such warped, self-flagellating reactions. A senior Foreign Ministry spokesman, Gideon Meir was also heard briefly giving an official response. But anchorman Chris Bury, probably concerned about balance, devoted a large part of the program to a lengthy interview with Adel al-Jubeir, Director of Information at the Saudi Embassy in Washington. During his six-minutes on the air Adel al-Jubeir was able to explain that Palestinian suicide bombers were morally on par with Israeli soldiers. This assertion was calmly accepted by Chris Bury, who found the Saudi’s slant so deserving of attention that there was no time left to hear what any survivors of the bombing, or family members of the killed and wounded, or hotel staff, or any other Israeli spokespeople had to say about their national tragedy.

Instead, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi Arabian Embassy official, was given free rein to indicate that the Palestinians are the real victims of terror attacks. As far as ABC was concerned, this was the most suitable background to the outrage.

Presenters of news often do this, ostensibly in the interest of balanced reporting. But what is rarely indicated in these urbane attempts at balance is that most Israeli victims of Palestinian terrorism are innocent civilians, while most Palestinian casualties have been killed either with weapons in their hands as a result of their participation in violence against Israel, or in the immediate proximity of militants, often about to launch or having launched rocket attacks against Israel. The background that Nightline offered, giving an Arab spokesman an inordinate amount of time, created a false impression – especially to those viewers not conversant with the Arab-Israel conflict. Consequently the whole program which was supposed to deal with a terrible act of terror ended up almost excusing it. Despite the sophisticated props and slick presentation, this was unprofessional journalism. It was also a form of misinformation. And it’s a practise that is common to many of the world’s most prominent newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, including CNN, CBS, the BBC, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and the Guardian to mention just a few prestigious names as well as the less known media outlets.

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Entry filed under: Blogroll, dangeous lies and halftruths, How to avoid Armageddon, In order to survive, Solutions for Palestine, Things not mentioned in the press. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .


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