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The problem of the foreign press in Israel

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Media comment: Bad news for


by Yisrael Medad, Eli Pollak

J. Post

Oct. 30, 2013

It is much easier to let things be than to struggle to change them. Bureaucratic complacency has to be replaced.

The Foreign Press Association in Israel represents, according to its website, “some 480 journalists who… report from Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Our membership includes international journalists based in the region, as well as dozens of Israelis and Palestinians.”

The FPA makes an effort to introduce Israel to its members, especially for those who are new to this country.

On its web page, “Blogs & Links,” this professional association lists just over 30 external sites as references for its members, including four mainstream media sites (Ynetnews, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz English and Ma’an News) of which only one can be described as centrist, while two are to the Left and the one represents the Arab population which sees itself as “Palestinian.”

But there are additional resources there, including Gush Shalom (English and Arabic), Machsom Watch, Givat Haviva Jewish Arab Center for Peace, Corresponsalisraelpalestina and other extreme left wing political activist groups whose primary agenda is “anti-occupation.”

Amnesty International is included, along with but one Israeli academic institution: Ben-Gurion University.

The list does include centrist groups such as MEMRI and NGO Monitor, but the overall tone is clearly identifiable.

The FPA would presumably claim that these sites provide a partial component of life in Israel and so are important for a good journalist who wants to present the whole picture. This would be a credible position if the FPA indeed provided a balanced list.

But this is not the case. Their list does not provide adequate insight into the vast majority of Israeli public opinion. It ignores events and incidents that are usually only reported by sectorial outlets. As we know, the majority of foreign correspondents arrive with little knowledge of the complex history of Jews, their connection to the Land of Israel, the background of the Israel-Arab conflict and even less of the Hebrew language.

In too many cases, they arrive with prejudices about who is right and who is wrong, who is the victim and who is a criminal. The makeup of the websites recommended by the FPA only serves to deepen the antipathy towards us.

There is another section at the website, called “Useful Contacts.” It includes the names and contact details of official spokespersons from government ministries, office holders, the IDF and Palestinian Authority offices.

This section is somewhat more representative.

Included are IBA NEWS (English), IDF Radio, Channel 2 and Channel 10 TV as well as Israel Hayom. Israel National News (Arutz 7), though, is missing, as is the Tatzpit Photo Agency.

The FPA also provides a list of “civil rights” NGOs.

These include some of the most extreme and/or unreliable NGO’s in Israel such as Adalah, LAW, Al-Mezan Center, B’Tselem, Musaawa, Physicians for Human Rights and the Palestinian Center for Human Rights.

In the “General” category, one can find only four groups that we would consider as not identified with the Left: JCPA, Israel Resource News Agency, MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch.

Another half-dozen are proactively involved in furthering a left-wing agenda, including the Israel Peace Initiative, Ir Amim and MIFTAH.

Someone at the FPA is either incompetent or perhaps worse, is using the FPA as a mouthpiece for Israel’s post-Zionist ideologues.

The narrow-mindedness of the FPA, providing only a limited picture of Israel, is not just theoretical. Too frequently, foreign journalists are not able to competently understand, analyze and report on Israel’s political, social and cultural landscape. These limitations are then magnified abroad.

Last week, The New York Times had to issue a correction for a profile piece on Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The correction revolved, though, around the personality of his wife, Sara. The original article had noted that she had a “purported temper [which] has been widely faulted.” In addition it suggested that her child-rearing methods were faulty.

In a later corrected version the tone changed, to “Ms. Netanyahu is a respected child psychologist.”

Israel Hayom reported that the author of the article, Jodi Rudoren, had sent a letter of apology to Sara Netanyahu claiming that it was an “embarrassing failure of the editing process.”

Haaretz’s Barak Ravid pursued the matter and was told the apology was initiated the Times realizing that the article contained an error and that “there was no pressure from the Prime Minister’s Office.”

The Times correspondent declined to disclose to Ravid the contents of his letter of apology.

The article, however, also claimed that Prime Minister Netanyahu is “isolated” in his Iranian sanctions policy. This was published at a time when public opinion polls indicate he is well-supported by Israel’s citizens.

Where is the Times getting its information from? Could this be indicative that some foreign correspondents are too well-bedded down with interested parties on the Israeli fringe? Do they listen only to politicians from the opposition? On October 27, Glenn Greenway, of Edward Snowden fame (or infamy), wrote to the Times’ former editor and current writer Bill Keller and expressed this view: “All journalism is a form of activism. Every journalistic choice necessarily embraces highly subjective assumptions – cultural, political or nationalistic… and serves the interests of one faction or another.”

Such a journalist, we suspect, would surrender accuracy in favor of his personal outlook. And that is done here in Israel by too many of the foreign media.

Recently, we learned of an incident in which a film crew from NBC accompanied a group of Jews inside the Temple Mount compound to report on the restrictions on prayer by Jews there. Threatened by the Wakf authorities, the police, pressured by the Muslim religious trust representatives, removed the media team from the Temple Mount.

In the past, Israel has been negatively profiled when it was perceived as having interfered with the freedom of the press. In the past the FPA itself was active in denouncing Israeli limitations.

Not having seen any report in the foreign media concerning the matter, not even in a search of NBC news itself, we directed a query to the FPA.

The response we received was: “We have asked the GPO (as we always do) to speak to the relevant authorities after a similar incident recently. Our aim is to enable foreign journalists to cover the news without impediment.”

This is a remarkably reserved and low-key reaction.

The denial of freedom of the press on the Temple Mount is not on the agenda of the foreign press or the FPA. The Wakf, an extreme, religiously obscurantist institution, was “given a pass” or, to be blunt, a double standard is being practiced against Israel in favor of its Arab enemies.

Is the bias of the FPA an immutable law of nature? We believe not. Too many government officials engaged in contacts with the international media are not doing their job.

It is much easier to let things be than to struggle to change them. Bureaucratic complacency has to be replaced. A concerted effort by the government, Zionist NGOs and the public at large can change the situation.

The authors are respectively vice chairman and chairman of Israel’s Media Watch (www.imw.org.il).

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  • Published: 11 years ago on November 1, 2013
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