Mainstream media portrayal
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What the media reports, how, and who influences all this is no doubt important in how we understand the issues and what opinions and perspectives we therefore form. As Israeli reporter, Amira Hass points out, what journalism should be about is “to monitor power and the centres of power”. Aspects of mainstream biases then are worth noting.
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The US and other Western mainstream media and Israeli leaders solely lay the blame of the current violence on Yasser Arafat. However, there is no real alternative to provide the Palestinians and they are also fed up with Arafat himself. The recent violence can equally be attributed to the actions of Israeli leaders, and also the frustration of the one-sided peace process, to which Arafat has not represented the Palestinian people, but instead, advanced his own interests.
Headlines of many mainstream sources also give misleading perceptions. Things like “Israel extends time for peace” (USA Today, October 10, 2000) leave the impression that it is solely the fault of Palestinians. As Jewish-American media critic, Normon Solomon says, “At this rate, we may someday see a headline that reads: ‘Israel Demands Palestinians Stop Attacking Bullets With Their Bodies.’”
One US report even advocates brutality against Palestinians, which has been condemned by Amnesty International.
The mainstream media often interviews a disproportionately large number of people that are supportive of US and Israeli policies and vilifying Arabs, Palestinians and/or Islam. The questioning is often very supportive rather than inquisitive. Senators, former or current military personnel etc are all regarded as “experts” on the Middle East. Civilian members, analysts and critics of American policy are usually not given much of a voice, or if they are, they are not usually present in a debate where their statements are analyzed by some sort of panel. For most of the population then, the framing of the discourse has been set and the perceptions made.
According to then U.S. Secretary of State Madeline Albright, she saw the US as an “even-handed peace broker”. In addition, “[t]hose Palestinian rock throwers have placed Israel under siege” adding that the Israeli army is defending itself. (Meet the Press, NBC, October 8, 2000). Many officials claim this position, and the US mainstream media accept it mostly without question.
For sure, it can be seen that Israel does have to defend itself against these attacks, for it has had a devastating toll on Israeli civilian lives. And, while there is often detailed reporting on some of the horrific events, on some of the “talks” that various sides have tried to initiate, and so forth, the deeper context within which the latest Palestinian uprising is ocurring is often left out.
The issue of Occupation is hardly discussed
The Palestinians have indeed risen up with protests, riots, violence and often with horrendous suicide bombings that target Israeli civilians. However the deeper context within which the Palestinian uprising has occured is often not looked at in detail. For example, some aspects often not looked into by much of the mainstream is that:
- It is Palestine which is occupied.
- Israeli tanks, helicopter gun ships etc have been used against villages, camps and cities, firing missiles and live rounds. (They also targeted the Palestinian National Authority’s Gaza headquarters, the Voice of Palestine radio station and police stations.)
- In comparison, the Palestinians don’t have an army in the first place. The Palestinian police force, accused of firing against Israeli soldiers are doing their primary job of protecting their citizens.
- Israeli extremists have also been turning on Palestinians living in Israel.
- For analysis and critique about Albright’s statements, see this report titled “A Tragic Reversal: Madeleine Albright’s View of Reality” by Hanan Ashrawi, Arab Media Internet Network, October 9, 2000
It is worth quoting at considerable length, the following background context, of the Camp David negotiations:
The above quoted article from FAIR also details how the mainstream media has claimed that “generous concessions” by the Israeli side have been met with hatred and violence from the Palestinian side. Yet, the above context suggests that those “generous concessions” were at the least very questionable from a Palestinian perspective.
At the same time, the following quote summarizes well the failing of the Palestinian leadership to help clearly articulate their issues so that others will listen and understand:
Cycle of violence and “peace” plans partially explained
Foreign Policy In Focus also adds some economic and other context:
There have been numerous comments and concerns about what Palestinian educational systems are teaching their children with regards to how they view Israel and Jewish people in general. While some of these concerns might be justified, less mentioned is about similar things from certain Israeli teachings, as this article from the French paper, le Monde Diplomatique, points out. (The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee also reports that, “A new report from George Washington University Professor Nathan Brown strongly challenges the cliche that Palestinian children are systematically taught to hate Israelis and Jews in their textbooks and school curriculum, and that this ‘incitement’ is a major cause of the current uprising against Israeli occupation.”
There have been a number of attempts at negotiating “peace” but it is always spun by the media as if it is down to Arafat to accept or not, without really explaining why he either cannot, or why it may seem like peace to one side, but may not be acceptable to the other. Furthermore, as Edward Said commented on the apparent rush to a “peace” agreement before Clinton left office, Clinton’s final attempts at peace have more to do with making “Yasser Arafat terminate his own people’s sovereign existence”.
The way a situation is reported can be affected by the words that are used (or not used). It can also have a subtle but important effect on our perceptions and perspectives of the situation, as the following example shows:
For a while from around March 2002 to May 2002, it seemed like the mainstream media were becoming increasingly critical of Israeli policies and their use of excessive force, especially against civilians. Incidents like those at Jenin raise a lot of outcry the world over, which the mainstream reported in some detail. Underlying issues though still appear to be far from frequently discussed, and it has continued to be about an equivalence of violence.
While the spate of seemingly “tit-for-tat” violence has increased, the horrors and suffering are borne mostly by innocent civilians on both sides. Israeli military occupation and state “terror”, being resisted by a counter and extremist terror has led to anger on all sides. But, as Ali Abunimah suggests, while the Palestinians may be fighting for a cause, the means may not necessarily be justified, as it can itself be hypocritical, if justice is the aim:
Israel’s own War On Terror
The suicide attacks at the beginning of December 2001 have been able to “provide [Ariel] Sharon with reasons for his ‘war on terror’” as the British paper, The Independent describes (6 December, 2001).
And while the media are right to show and report the horrors of the effects of the Palestinian suicide attacks, the horrors of the effects of the Israeli actions are less shown. In deed, the subsequent F16, helicopter and tank based missile attacks on various Palestinian Authority buildings and forces, as well as residential areas are somewhat less reported in comparison. And so, with also a heavy focus on interviewing officials from Israel without questioning various claims and assertions (such as the often touted claim that Arafat is to blame for all this), a picture forms that for sure Arafat is harboring terrorists and not doing enough to quell it and so forth. Yet, as mentioned on a previous page on this site, there has been on-going almost tit-for-tat like violence, with Israeli forces assasinating Palestinians and Palestinians (Hamas in particular) doing likewise.
Robert Fisk, the longest standing western journalist in the Middle East, in an article in The Independent (December 4, 2001) dares to reverse the situation for a moment and ask, “Can Ariel Sharon control his own people? Can he control his army? Can he stop them from killing children, leaving booby traps in orchards or firing tank shells into refugee camps? Can Sharon stop his rabble of an army from destroying hundreds of Palestinian refugee homes in Gaza? Can Sharon ‘crack down’ on Jewish settlers and prevent them from stealing more land from Palestinians? Can he stop his secret-service killers from murdering their Palestinian enemies—or carrying out ‘targeted killings’, as the BBC was still gutlessly calling these executions yesterday in its effort to avoid Israeli criticism.” And he also suggests that, “It is, of course, forbidden to ask these questions.”
Furthermore, Israel pointing out that Arafat is not doing enough, while simultaneously intensifying attacks, makes it harder for Arafat to do “enough”, as the end of this BBC news report (13 December 2001) suggests. See also a similar point from Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), December 6 2001 which notes that the Hamas leader was in a Palestinian prison until freed by an Israeli attack.
For more information about the media, or from other sources, you can start off at the following links:
- From Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting is their Middle East section that looks at how the US media report on the region.
- Middle East Research and Information Project (MERIP). This site provides lots of articles and research.
- Palestine Media Watch keeps an eye on biased and unfair opinion pieces, columns, and newspaper and magazine stories on the Palestinian crisis.
- Arab Media Internet Network
- Jerusalem Post, a right-leaning Israeli paper.
- Ha’aretz, a popular Israeli daily.
- Jerusalem Report, another Israeli paper.
- The British newspaper, the Independent has a good section on the Middle East.
- "What Americans need to Know—but probably won’t be told—to Understand Palestinian Rage by Eduardo Cohen looks at US and Israeli racism at Arabs and the US media in particular. (He himself is Jewish).
- The Ali Abunimah web site provides a look at media myths about the middle east.
- FreeSpeech.org has a Special Report on the Middle East, with audio reports from a number of sources.
- Media omissions, army lies by Amira Hass, a prominent reporter for the Ha’aretz, criticizes the media and Israeli army.
- Israel Independent Media has updated news stories.
- From the MediaChannel.org:
- The Media and the Middle East is a section from MediaChannel.org that asks: “Are the ways most media report and discuss the Israeli-Palestinian war making the crisis worse? Do accusations of media bias push people farther apart? How can news stories help bring about peace?”
- Israel / Palestine Media Bias from the MediaChannel.org provides a collection of articles looking at the media coverage of this conflict.
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