8. Media representations of the conflict
Page last updated 21 Sep 2015
How the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is presented in the media has long been the subject of major discussion – and conflict. There is a highly organised pro-Israel lobby, exemplified in Britain by the Britain Israel Communications & Research Centre (Bicom) and in the US by The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac). Both have relatively well-oiled communications arms which try, often very successfully, to influence media perceptions and reporting of the conflict, as well as putting a lot of time and energy into influencing MPs in Britain, and members of Congress and the Senate in the States (see the discussion in The ‘Israel lobby': US aid to and support for Israel). The Israeli government also plays a strongly interventionist role in trying to manipulate its media image (see the general discussion in Setting the scene: the hasbara (propaganda) war).
Here we are concerned particularly with how the British media – television, and newspapers – represent the conflict. There is plenty of evidence to suggest a pro-Israel bias in much of the reporting, as discussed in many of the articles below. The reporting on the BBC is a particular area of contention as a number of articles listed below show. Also of concern is the image that the pro-Israel lobby has been able to establish, in the teeth of all the evidence, that the BBC (and the Guardian) display an unacceptable left-wing bias on the issue…
1. How the Western media’s Middle East coverage has changed
John Lloyd, BBC Presenter, Media and the Middle East, BBC website, 15 Sep 2014
2. The media & the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The Council for Arab-British Understanding (Caabu), nd
An accessible introduction to how reporting the conflict and bias works in practice
3. Language wars
Guardian “readers’ editor on… the Guardian’s coverage of Israel/Palestine issues” and Jonathan Cook on “Language that disappears the Palestinians” the blog from Nazareth, JfJfP 27 Oct 2014
Chris Elliott discusses the Guardian’s response to a number of complaints (which included 17 from the Israeli embassy, and 38 from CIF Watch that year to date) while Cook writes “about the constant misuse of language in ways that work to Israel’s benefit by shaping how western publics understand the conflict. In fact, it is precisely such language that has enabled Israel to incrementally disappear the Palestinians”.
4. Publish it not!
Jonathan Cook, The View from Nazareth blog, Nov-Dec 2010
“In the mid-1990s, I arrived in Jerusalem for the first time – then as a tourist –with the potent Western myth at the front of my consciousness: that of Israel as ‘a light unto the nations’, the plucky underdog facing a menacing Arab world. A series of later professional shocks as a freelance journalist reporting on Israel would shatter those assumptions.”
The Guardian, among other papers, does not come out well in this story…
5. The language of peace and the language of justice
Hasan Abu Nimah, The Jordan Times, JfJfP 29 Sep 2010
From Racheli Gai’s (Jewish Peace News) introduction:
“Since, writes Abu Nimah, ‘Israel has never stopped “begging” for peace and for unconditional negotiations with its “enemies” to reach it, it must be the Arabs who obstruct peace, because they put preconditions, such as a stop to settlement building and insistence on the right of return for Palestinian refugees which, according to Israel, is tantamount to ending its existence.’
‘Peace talks’, in search of ‘peace’, don’t only replace efforts to find justice, but actually help hide the fact that while endless talking is going on, the land in question keeps disappearing from under Palestinian feet, to be used for further building of settlements.”
6. The JC declares war on the Guardian
The Jewish Chronicle and Guardian, Jan-Feb 2011
A lively spat, following the Guardian’s publication of the Palestine papers in partnership with Al Jazeera, a vicious attack appeared in the JC – five hostile pages and a leader headlined “the Guardian’s shame”. The JC denounced the Guardian’s behaviour as “simply shocking” because of “the distortions, the bias, the agenda, the spin and the breathtaking arrogance”.
7. Israeli PR machine won Gaza flotilla media battle
Antony Lerman, Comment is Free, 4 Jun 2010
Reporting by mainstream media on the Gaza flotilla attack in 2010 was unbalanced and dominated by Israel’s edited version of events. “What the world has been watching since the [seizure of the Mavi Marmara] is either edited video shot by the Israelis or other video shot by activists, confiscated by the Israelis and subsequently edited and made available through Israeli sources.”
8. More Bad News from Israel
Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Pluto Press, 2011
A new edition of the seminal Bad News from Israel (Pluto Press, 2004), this examines media coverage of the current conflict in the Middle East and the impact it has on public opinion. In the largest study ever undertaken in this area, the authors illustrate major differences in the way Israelis and Palestinians are represented, including how casualties are shown and the presentation of the motives and rationales of both sides.
This new edition includes studies of how television covered the Israeli attack on Gaza in December 2008 and on the Gaza flotilla in 2010. It shows the very sophisticated level of public relations now offered by Israel and how news has often reproduced this without offering an alternative perspective from the Palestinians. The impact on public opinion is explored through new audience research which greatly extends that of the first edition. It includes new findings on how the impact of even the most terrible images of war can be reduced by controlling audience beliefs about the origins of violence.
The case of the BBC
1. The leaning tower of BBC — which way does it tilt?
Lesley Docksey, Global Research (2013) and Muhammad Idrees Ahmad, CounterPunch, (2009), JfJfP 24 Mar 2013
Docksey on why the BBC Trust needs to hold a Public Inquiry into whether there is pro-Israeli bias at the BBC; Ahmad focuses on the BBC’s refusal to accept a DEC (Disasters Emergency Committee) charity appeal for Gaza.
There is a list of a dozen further articles on the BBC and bias at the end of this post.
2. BBC bias? Reporting on Israel and the Palestinians
Hilary Aked, openDemocracy, 10 Dec 2012
“[T]he mere fact that supporters of both sides find much to complain about does not mean we can conclude that the coverage is probably therefore fair, accurate, ‘good’ journalism.”
A careful and thorough analysis, concluding that “The BBC is inherently conservative and, more to the point, anxiety about being accused of ‘anti-Israeli’ bias seems to have been firmly instilled in at least the higher echelons of command”.
3. BBC is ‘confusing cause and effect’ in its Israeli coverage
Tim Llewellyn, Guardian, 23 May 2011
A review of More Bad News from Israel. This “controversial book” concludes that the Corporation still fails to present a fair and balanced picture of conflict.
Followed by a brief BBC response which concludes: “Although Tim Llewellyn was indeed a BBC correspondent some years ago, we note that he subsequently was active for a period with the Council for Arab-British Understanding (CAABU)”. So that explains it…
4. JfJfP joins other organisations in protest to BBC 14 Jun 2013
The documentary, Jerusalem: An Archaeological Mystery Story, was due to be shown on BBC Four. Publicising the programme, the BBC’s Radio Times magazine wrote: “… evidence revealed [in the programme], suggesting that the Jewish exile from Jerusalem in AD 70 may never have actually happened, has…severe ramifications for relations in the region.”
The programme disappeared from the schedule at the last minute. Despite a number of organisations writing to the BBC in protest, there never was a half-way decent explanation…
How the Israeli media report the conflict
Haggai Matar, +972, JfJfP 13 Feb 2011
Interesting account by journalist and activist Matar of how an Israeli television crew portrayed the weekly Bil’in demonstration “as a battlefield between two Israelis: Matar and the officer, and between us the fence… What does it matter that those who cut the fence that day, those who were hit the hardest by the gas, those who gave the most powerful speeches to the soldiers and the cameras – were Palestinians? What does it matter that the lands – on both sides of the fence – are fully theirs? That the demonstrations and the creative ideas they employ are theirs too?”
Balanced reporting: CAABU produces teaching materials