Before publishing our in-depth analysis of BBC articles on the Mideast conflict (pdf format), we forwarded an advance copy to the Beeb for a response. We found a quantifiable imbalance between Palestinian and Israeli perspectives quoted, a lack of historical context, and other examples of "soft bias."
They never replied. But the BBC gave a response to the Jewish Chronicle. It was -- unfortunately -- the party line we expected to hear:
A BBC spokeswoman said: "It's not uncommon to hear these sorts of findings from pressure groups but our role is to provide independent reporting and analysis of all perspectives of a story, so our audiences can make sense of what's going on themselves.
"The independent panel set up by our board of governors found no deliberate or systematic bias in the BBC coverage of the Israel-Palestinian conflict."
Does the BBC's shoot-the-messenger approach reflect an inability to refute the points we raised, or just arrogance?
Facing growing levels of anti-Semitism among Muslim students in Norway, Norwegian officials are considering blocking an Egyptian Islamic TV station over anti-Semitic broadcasts.
Here's one appalling example of why Norway's Minister of Culture, Anniken Huitfeldt, calls Al-Rahma anti-Semitic and wants the Norwegian Media Authority to investigate:
MEMRI elaborates on the effects of the transmissions:
. . . several teachers to whom NRK spoke said that they thought that students of Muslim background absorbed some of these attitudes through television stations that may be received in Norway via satellite.
France already blocked Al-Rahma over this video featuring Egyptian cleric Hazem Shunam.
I don't take online polls seriously because they're utterly unscientific, and government officials don't base their decisions on them. The only people who benefit are the newspapers -- these gimmicks boost web traffic in the guise of interactivity.
Sometimes, however, the questions reveal more about the pollsters themselves. Case in point: HonestReporting Canada spotted a Globe & Mail poll asking whether Washington needs to lean on Israel to bring peace to the Mideast.
Israel needs to be "leaned on" (i.e., pressured) either alone, or with the Palestinians. And the Palestinians can only be leaned on with Israel, but not by themselves. Plenty of children familiar with the multiple choice format could write out a question with the obvious options:
Who should Washington lean on to bring peace to the Mideast?
A) Israel B) The Palestinians C) All of the above D) None of the above E) Washington should lean on itself
As HR Canada aptly sums it up:
In other words, Globe Editors have already decided that Israel is the primary obstacle to peace and they’re asking you to kindly confirm their biased assumptions.
Our latest study reveals the BBC's selective focus on negatively
portraying Israel while ignoring Palestinian incitement and
glorification of terror. Read the full report here: BBC Bias: An In-Depth Analysis
Ombudsman Weighs in On Blurred Distinctions Between News and Comment
Miami Herald editors are enamored with the idea of “columnist reporters” because they include first-person observations written with an edge.
But ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos is uncomfortable with the blurred distinction between news and comment. The examples he cites deal with US politics, but the same problems apply to Mideast coverage too. The problem is basically how to A) balance a reporter's own insights of value, B) tell it like it is and C) do all that without inapproriate opinionating.
It's a particular minefield for journalists who blog for their papers. Reporters can easily undermine their credibility with readers. Schumacher-Matos concludes with this food for thought:
Perhaps the drift into reporters writing opinion is part of a larger trend in which technology will make the Herald's battle to remain interest-free irrelevant. By weakening the advertiser-supported business model for news, the Internet may be ushering in a return to the media being subsidized by political parties and others interested in imparting a point of view, as in the 19th century. But until that happens, the Herald and all news media need to think twice about what they are doing with your trust.
At the Wall Street Journal, Richard Haass knocks down the domino theory. If you really think peace between Israel and the Palestinians will make other regional problems with Iraq, Afghanistan, Al-Qaida, and Arab democratization fall into place, think again.
According to Haass, Mideast peace will actually complicate efforts to rein in Iran's nuclear program:
The greatest concern is Iran's push for nuclear weapons. But what motivates this pursuit is less a desire to offset Israel's nuclear weapons than a fear of conventional military attack by the U.S. Iran's nuclear bid is also closely tied to its desire for regional primacy. Peace between Israel and the Palestinians would not weaken Iran's nuclear aspirations. It could even reinforce them. Iran and the groups it backs (notably Hamas and Hezbollah) would be sidelined by the region's embrace of a Palestinian state and acceptance of Israel, perhaps causing Tehran to look to nuclear weapons to compensate for its loss of standing and influence.
According to Reuters, Hamas now has an "art" wing, to join its armed and political wings.
Wielding art instead of arms, Hamas issued an animated video on Sunday aimed at pressuring Israel into trading hundreds of jailed Palestinians for Gilad Shalit, a soldier held captive in Gaza for almost four years.
"Wielding art" sounds so innocuous. If a manipulative propaganda video is a sign of Islamic moderation, what's all the fuss about South Park?
Fathi Hamad, a key Hamas figure involved in negotiations for Gilad Shalit's release has a three-year-old daughter who was transferred to Jordan for urgent medical treatment. Israel allowed the transfer on humanitarian grounds.
A defense establishment official explained that despite the unusual request and the fact that the girl's father is a Hamas man, Israel decided to approve the humanitarian move in order to save the girl's life.
The source added that it would have been wrong to turn down the request, despite the fact that Hamad is a senior Hamas member involved in the negotiations aimed at securing the release of kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit.
And how did Hamas respond to the goodwill gesture? With a manipulative animated video depicting Gilad Shalit's return in a coffin to an old and gray father. The video ends with a renewed Hamas threat to kidnap more Israeli soldiers.
According to YNet News, two Katyusha rockets were fired at Eilat.
One apparently flew over the city, landing in the industrial zone of the adjacent Jordanian town of Aqaba. A second landed in the Red Sea. They were presumably fired from the Sinai peninsula. No indications of any casualties.
Should the world community award the 2020 Olympics to Jerusalem as an incentive for Israelis and Palestinians to make peace? Udi Sommer thinks so.
The reason why this plan can succeed where others have failed is threefold: It puts economic payoffs front and center, requires cooperation on a large scale, and involves sublimation of otherwise deadly instincts.
In the meantime, here's my Top 10 List of Media Subplots If Jerusalem Hosts the 2020 Olympics.
10. British, Turkish and Greek windsurfing teams all feature veterans of previous Free Gaza flotillas.
9. Sick of wall-to-wall coverage of dumb events like speed walking, table tennis and skateboarding, the IDF restricts media access to certain venues. Relieved journos and the Nielsen ratings officials praise the news blackout.
8. The burning question: Will Anat Kamm leak Olympic drug test results to Haaretz?
7. Feuding Gaza vs. Palestine soccer teams give new meaning to "sudden death overtime."
6. Iran boycotts Olympiad, organizes alternative Islamic Nuclear Pride Games. President Hillary Clinton doesn't rule out US participation.
5. After Israeli hoopsters upset the USA Dream Team, players attribute victory to Olympic schedule which banned events and training on the Sabbath. But American sportswriters grumble about an Israel lobby undermining US interests.
4. Michael Phelps marries a Palestinian athlete and seeks UNRWA refugee status.
3. Security cameras catch Dubai's mysterious tennis team loaning passports to unsuspecting competitors.
2. Bloggers on warpath when Olympic judge Richard Goldstone repeatedly gives unusually low scores to Israeli gymnasts.
1. Will sparks fly at closing ceremony when Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat passes torch to Mayor Rahm Emanuel of 2024 host city Chicago?
HonestReporting's social media editor, Alex Margolin, contributes occasional posts on social media issues. He oversees HonestReporting on Facebook.
In the good old days, the Internet was a hub of free content. Things people paid for in the brick-and-mortar world - music, news, software – were readily available online in free digital versions.
But while there is still a great deal of free stuff online, the tide appears to be turning against the “free” model, at least for content that has value in the real world. File-sharing sites such as Napster, which threatened to destroy the record industry, have largely disappeared, replaced by Itunes, which charges a small fee for each song.
Like the recording industry, the newspaper business is betting that people are willing to pay a price for content. Ruport Murdoch’s Wall Street Journal has begun to charge for most of its content, and the New York Times plans to do the same starting next year. Other publications, such as the Financial Times are thriving behind their own pay walls.
Social media services have also started seeing a shift. While the superpowers – Google, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter – are likely to remain free thanks to their advertising revenues, smaller players aren’t so sure. Just this week, Ning, which allows people to create their own social networks, announced that it was phasing out its free service in order to devote all of its resources to paying customers.
In a telling note, Ning CEO Jason Rosenthal said that 75% of its traffic was coming from subscribers to its premium service, meaning that the most active users were those who paid for the service. Commenting on the Ning announcement, technology blogger David Heinemeier Hansson put it best: “The just-give-it-away-for-free-and-they-will-come-and-we’ll-be-rich automatron is as broken now as it was in 2001.”
So what does this shift mean for Israel’s public diplomacy? It means that media bias may become harder to monitor and to fight, but it would also reach a smaller audience. An uptick in pay walls on Internet services also means that today’s guerilla marketers will have a harder time spreading the news across the web.
But Internet users have shown great resilience in keeping the Internet free. Expect new technologies to emerge to fill the gaps left by the emerging paywalls.
Are you more likely to stop vising a paper like the NY Times over a paywall, or pay a small fee?
The scene: Sunday morning. Jerusalem Bus 13 winds its way towards town as I take my kids to school. On the radio, a news/talk show is discussing King Abdullah's latest interview and whether there'll be a war this summer.
But my mind is on more immediate things: catching the next bus, work matters, and regret for not downing a coffee before rushing out the door.
I tune the radio out of my headspace.
We get off at our usual stop -- which happens to be across the street from the Mt. Herzl military cemetery. My son points to some policemen and soldiers milling around flags and setting up barricades for what was last night's nationally broadcast Remembrance Day ceremony. He then looks around the sky, vainly trying to get a fix on one of those helicopters we often hear, but never quite see.
And then Rivka, my daughter, almost-nine, jars me with a question.
"Abba, will there be a war?"
Huh? When did my little girl start paying attention to talk radio? Is she looking for reassurance, or is this how she becomes a news junkie -- just like her father?
Not wanting to alarm Rivka, I tell her I don't think there will be a war this summer, but there are people, like the king and some of the callers, who are concerned -- and they're talking about why. She then asks, "If there is a war, where will it be?" There's some kind of mature seriousness -- beyond Rivka's years -- in her voice.
"Where will it be? That's a good question, Rivka'le. I don't know." What else can I say? The teachable moment ends with the arrival of our bus -- crowded and loud as usual.
David Ben-Gurion once said, "Anyone who doesn't believe in miracles is not a realist." He was right. Miracles do happen. Jews celebrating 62 years of independence tonight is one of them.
But 22,684 soldiers and security personnel have also died defending the land since 1860, and they teach us something about miracles too. (1860 is when the Jews of the Holy Land began settling other parts of the country outside the main communities of Jerusalem, Hebron and Safed). The fallen we honor today are 22,684 sobering reminders that we're not supposed to rely on miracles.
My daughter's growing up. Don't I owe it to her to continue that conversation?
In Kenya, a government demolition campaign in the coastal city of Mombasa has left many people homeless. Human rights groups say the demolitions are part of a government effort to displace opposition voters ahead of this year's elections . . . .
An estimated 5,000 people are now homeless. Mr. Khalifa has said many of them are sleeping in the city's churches or mosques or simply out on the streets in the rain.
Can you imagine the headlines if Israel demolished homes in eastern Jerusalem on a scale like that?
Israel fears Obama wants to impose peace. Unfortunately, AP's lead sentence legitimizes that imposition:
Israel's hardline government is deeply worried that the U.S. will try to impose a Mideast peace deal . . .
Unfairly labeling the Israeli government as "hardline" actually legitimizes the very imposition that Israel justifiably wants to avoid. I'm more worried that AP itself is trying to help impose a Mideast deal.
Hezbollah Media Figure to Address World Editors Forum
The June gathering of the annual World Editors Forum (from Elder of Ziyon, via Forbes Biz Blog) includes a lunch meeting with Hassan Fadlallah. He's a Hezbollah MP who not only chairs parliament's media committee, he's also the news director of Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV.
What's the value of the forum legitimizing one of Hezbollah's top propagandists? Fadlallah's views on jihadi journalism are well-known. Here's what came out when Jeffrey Goldberg interviewed Fadlallah in 2002:
I began by asking him to compare Al Manar and the most famous Arabic satellite channel, Al Jazeera. “Neutrality like that of Al Jazeera is out of the question for us,” Fadlallah said. “We cover only the victim, not the aggressor. CNN is the Zionist news network, Al Jazeera is neutral, and Al Manar takes the side of the Palestinians.” . . .
He said Al Manar’s opposition to neutrality means that, unlike Al Jazeera, his station would never feature interviews or comments by Israeli officials. “We’re not looking to interview Sharon,” Fadlallah said. “We want to get close to him in order to kill him.”
So don't expect news executives to ask for Fadlallah's take on current media issues like job cuts in newsrooms, broadcasting to mobile devices, or paywalls.
This Washington Times editorial explains why Al-Manar broadcasts aren't protected by free speech. The same logic applies to the WEF's meeting with Fadlallah:
Al Manar had hoped to stave off the designation as a terrorist entity by framing criticism of its connection to Hezbollah as an effort to deprive it of its First Amendment rights. But as the Treasury Department made clear, the issue is not al Manar's role as a television station but its role in facilitating the activities of Hezbollah, an organization that has killed more Americans than every other terrorist group save al Qaeda.
"Any entity maintained by a terrorist group -- whether masquerading as a charity, a business or a media outlet -- is as culpable as the terrorist group itself," said Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey
By the way, this year's gathering takes place in Beirut -- ruling out any chance of Israeli news executives attending. Hmmmmmm.
After recently releasing an update to his 2008 book about Scandinavian anti-Semitism, Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld was "interviewed" by Norwegian state radio, NRK.
I put the word interview in quote marks, because NRK's Mideast reporter, Sidsel Wold didn't really "interview" Gerstenfeld. "Harangue" would be a more appropriate verb. In a three minute piece, Gerstenfeld only spoke for 20 seconds before being cut off by Wold.
Wold went on to answer her own questions and describe Gerstenfeld's views in her own words. She concluded the broadcast with a tangent, that to me supports Gerstenfeld's thesis. She said:
Under the Netanyahu government, a wind of McCarthyism is blowing over Israel. All Jews or Israelis who do not agree with Netanyahus government are branded “self-hating Jews”. If the critic is not Jewish, yes, then they are branded as antisemites. A simple tactic to stop all undesired political debate.
According to Britain's Advertising Standards Authority, the Western Wall is a no-go zone for an Israeli Tourism Ministry ad.
That's because the ASA judged in favor of a complainant who said the ad "misleadingly implied that East Jerusalem was part of the state of Israel." The ruling said:
We understood, however, that the status of the occupied territory of the West Bank was the subject of much international dispute, and because we considered that the ad implied that the part of East Jerusalem featured in the image was part of the state of Israel, we concluded that the ad was likely to mislead.
Here's the ad in question.
With the ASA on a slippery slope, how much longer till it adopts the even more radical view of PA media that Israel doesn't exist?
Arab media reports that Syria transferred Scud missiles to Hezbollah. YNet News correctly notes:
It should be noted that the Scud shipment has not changed the military balance as Hezbollah already possess long and medium range missiles and rockets which could go as far as Beersheba. However, the transfer bears a symbolic significance boosting the Shiite group's confidence since the only bodies which hold surface-to-surface ballistic missiles are sovereign states.
Hezbollah has therefore become the only non-governmental organization in the world to hold such weapons.
I can't wait to see how the Shiite terror organization's apologists explain this. Acquiring ballistic missiles isn't an example of an "armed wing" acting independently of Hezbollah's political and social agendas.
As Hezbollah's no. 2 man, Naim Qassem told the LA Times last year:
Neither Qassem nor Washington distinguish between the Shiite militant group's political wing, which has members serving in the Lebanese Cabinet and parliament, and its military wing, preparing for the next round of battle against Israel. "Hezbollah has a single leadership," said the 57-year-old cleric in a rare interview with an American reporter recently.
"All political, social and jihad work is tied to the decisions of this leadership," he said. "The same leadership that directs the parliamentary and government work also leads jihad actions in the struggle against Israel."
What use does a "political party" or "welfare organization" have for ballistic missiles?
Palestinian officials blamed the shortage in industrial diesel needed to power the plant on anIsraeli blockade of Gaza tightened in June 2007 after the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory.
Cast Lead Aftermath: Anti-Semitism on the Rise World-Wide Report notes “rampant ignorance of political and historical facts among contemporary youth, for many of whom Israel, Zionism and Jews represent a catchy symbol of evil.” I think European media has to shoulder some responsibility.
CBC Seeks Machete Wielding Spokesman Who Hates Zionists
CBC News is so open-minded about getting "the other side of the story" that their brains fell out.
The story begins in Ottawa, where Nick Bergamini is vice-president of the Carleton University Students' Association and a well-known campus supporter of Israel. Bergamini and his Israeli roommate, Mark Klibanov, were attacked off campus by a group of people, one of whom swung a machete at Bergamini.
"The first thing they said before punching my friend is that we were Zionists," Klibanov said. "This situation surprised me, but the intentions of these people did not.
"If you are from the right wing or are a supporter of Israel, it gets around pretty quickly because Carleton is one of the worst campuses for having a division between Palestinian and Jewish students. It is a really polarized campus between left and right, Jewish and Arab students."
The attack made headlines across Canada, and Bergamini has been interviewed by countless news services.
But the fourth year journalism student told talk show host Michael Coren that the CBC asked him for help getting "the other side of the story."
What could possibly be "the other side of the story" of a student nearly getting killed by an armed gang of bigoted thugs?
Bergamini: I'm a journalism student and you often want to provide both sides of the story. There usually are two sides to the story. Now, they said to me, "We need somebody from the other camp. Who is against you?" I said, "Are you mad? Are you going to try to find somebody to defend this? Or do you want to try to find the attackers yourself?" So I guess, you know, in a machete case, you need to show the person who got attacked, and I guess the attackers because it's obvious both sides need their stories shared in the opinion of the CBC.
Coren: Just an appeal now to the people of Canada. The CBC are looking for any member, any spokesperson for the machete wielding community. If you're willing to come forward and go on the show with Nick, they would appreciate it very much . . .
That part of the conversation begins at the 8:51 point.
In the end, CBC reporter Jeff Sample filed this video report without any fresh quotes from "the other camp" of machete wielding spokesmen who hate Zionists.
Ayash, better known as "The Engineer," was linked to attacks that killed 90 Israelis. The Shin Bet caught up with Ayash in 1996, killing him with -- appropriately enough -- a booby trapped cell phone.
A month ago, the PA gave similar honor to the "heroine" of the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, Dalal Mughrabi. You're forgiven for not knowing about that -- AP picked up on that story two weeks late. That means I'll check the wire services in another two weeks for coverage of the new Ayash homage.
In a Business Week commentary, Rep. Steve Rothman lays out how American military aid to Israel benefits the US.
First, it’s important to remember that about 70 percent of the $3 billion aid must be used by Israel to purchase American military equipment. This provides real support for U.S. high- tech defense jobs and contributes to maintaining our industrial base.
A nuclear-armed Iran would threaten the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans in the region, all of Iran’s Arab neighbors, the world’s largest oil supplies and those who rely on that oil. It also would provide anti-U.S. terrorists with access to the most lethal Iranian technology and probably set off a nuclear arms race in the region.
For about 2 percent of what the U.S. spends in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan this year, Americans can take pride in the return on our investment in aid to Israel.
The problem? David Heap, who reviewed a book with the ugly title, " Canada and Israel Building Apartheid," has his own partisan background, which the LFP never disclosed. Fegelman points out:
Heap is a self-described pro-Palestinian political "anti-war" and "social justice activist," a strident supporter of "Israel Apartheid Week" and a participant of the so-called "Gaza freedom march." He's also a signatory to the "Cairo Declaration to End Israeli Apartheid" and to a letter sent to PM Harper alleging that Israel was "targeting civilians" and conducting "collective punishment." The fact that none of these affiliations was acknowledged by Heap is disturbing and the fact that an anti-Israel adherent was given the opportunity to review an anti-Israel book has only resulted in a sycophantic and uncritical review that has greatly mislead Free Press readers.
Katharine Viner is slated to take over The Guardian's Comment is Free section. CiF Watch is disturbed for a number of reasons, including the fact that Viner co-wrote the controversial paean, "My Name is Rachel Corrie."
Shortly before I took off for Passover, Haaretz interviewed Matt Seaton, the editor of The Guardian's Comment is Free section. It was a disappointing puff piece that didn't touch on the cess-pool of anti-Semitism and Israel-bashing freely posted at CiF.
Newspapers have to take responsibility for incitement and hatred posted on their web sites. Balancing free speech with responsibility with what's practical for moderating thousands of comments is no mean feat.
Don't overlook this, but better newspapers are mulling how to rake out the muck from reader comments.
Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn made some buzz in recent days by proposing what he calls "pseudonymity" (a consistent screen name linked to a profile including limited background info).
And Washington Post ombudsman Andrew Alexander raises a tiered system that would group comments posted by trusted readers separately from off-topic, anonymous or invective comments. Both suggestions have their appeal.
Strictly speaking, comment isn't really free. Every day, I invest varying degrees of time moderating comments on Backspin. This means screening out comment spam, trolls, inappropriate language, anything that, if posted, could lead to legal trouble. On occasion, I also get messages clearly not intended for publication.
Bottom line: Web technology means talk is cheap. As Zorn and Alexander point out, comments don't have to be a free-for-all. Will Viner clean up CiF, or make it even more polarizing? Stay tuned . . .