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Middle East - report

Israeli media biased over Gaza, say campaigners

by Tony Cross

Article published on the 2009-01-14 Latest update 2009-02-09 18:12 TU

Melanie Takefman of Acri, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel (Credit: T. Cross)

Melanie Takefman of Acri, the Association of Civil Rights in Israel
(Credit: T. Cross)

Israel’s offensive in Gaza has caused controversy throughout the world’s media, with reports of civilian casualties and accusations of “disproportionate force”. Government officials have complained about “unprofessional” foreign journalists. But they have little to complain about at home, where newspapers and television have overwhelmingly supported the offensive and given little space to criticism.

 A small band of civil rights campaigners aren’t happy about that. The Associaton of Civil Rights in Israel this week published an open letter to the Israeli media, accusing it of failing in its duty. Other groups are monitoring coverage of the conflict.

Yitzhar Be’er of the press monitoring group, Keshev, sifts through the papers. He isn’t impressed, especially by top-selling daily Yediot Aharonot. He holds up the daily that came out on the third day of the war. 

"What you see is a very big picture of the front page of a kindergarten in Beersheva that was attacked by a Hamas missile," he explains. "None were injured because it was empty. The same day, our prime minister said, 'We can't get a ceasefire with Hamas, those terrorists who attack our kindergartens."

Be’er, a former journalist, and his fellow media critics believe that there is an eerie resemblance between the government and military line and that of the mainstream news media … especially in this war.

The Associaton of Civil Rights in Israel, Acri, was so concerned that it wrote to the media to tell them they were failing to do their job.

"What's being portrayed right now is this ultra-patriotic rhetoric, where criticism is realy shunned," says Acri’s Melanie Takefman, adding that this is unusual for Israeli papers who can sometimes be seen as too critical of the government.

"We're saying that this is a crisis, but look, that doesn't mean that we can't have freedom of expression and that there can't be meaningful debate."

Takefman's views are not typical, according to Avital Goihman, a member of pro-government Media Central, which says it exists to help ensure accurate reporting. She believes Israelis are getting the truth.

Not much news is coming out of Gaza at the moment for one simple reason – the military has banned journalists, apart from a very select few Israelis, from going in.

Goihman believes that move was justified, and for the journalists’ own safety. "For the journalists to be able to go freely inside Gaza would be  very very difficult for the military operations," she says.

Whatever the reason for the ban, it has two effects. Most reporting out of Gaza is being done by Palestinians, many working for Arab-owned channels, like Qatar-based Al Jazeera. Apart from them, the Israeli army, the IDF, is certainly getting its side of the story over.

Yizhar Be’er admits that the Israeli media do reflect public opinion, which overwhelmingly backs the offensive. In a small country with national service, everyone knows someone in areas threatened by rocket fire from Gaza or has a friend or relation in the military. And Israelis feel threatened by surrounding Arab or Islamic countries, some of which say their country should not exist.

But those aren’t good enough reasons, says Acri's Takefman. "We think that the media is just not doing their job right now," she says.

Her organisation seems to have been a victim of the very tendencies it has criticised. Takefman admits that the open letter hasn’t yet had much coverage in the local press.

Report: Israeli press criticisms

15/01/2009 by Tony Cross