The media is bias against Israel? – That’s a conspiracy theory of the highest order.
Before you all lynch me for saying such a thing, chill out.
I would happily describe myself as ‘Pro-Israel’, with the usual caveats of ‘I have a brain’, ‘I don’t support every action of the Israeli government’ and ‘my religion and culture have nothing to do with it’. I’m not Jewish, have never lived in Israel and have no motive for being Pro Israel and publicizing that ‘agenda’ other than I feel they’re the most misunderstood nation on earth and deserve some support.
Accusations against the media are commonplace within the Pro-Israel / Zionist movement. Barely a day goes by without an article, blog or Facebook status popping up telling me about how rocket fire on Sderot is deliberately being ignored by the Beruit Broadcasting Company (BBC).
Here’s a good example courtesy of StandWithUs:
I love StandWithUs but note the last sentence “share this because the media won’t”.
If you ask the average activist why the media don’t share that information the answer will be “because they’re biased against Israel”. “Why are they biased?” “Because they are anti Semitic”.
The conversation usually doesn’t get much better from there.
So let’s try a more even-handed approach.
The two key words in ‘the media is bias against Israel’ are ‘media’ and ‘bias’.
What do we mean by the media?
The media is a collective of many mediums. The BBC News Channel is one medium. The Jerusalem Post website is one medium. Sam Hailes’ blog on Times of Israel which is typically read by about 3 people is also a medium.
Do any of those three mediums report the conflict in the same way? No.
The media is not one unified movement. Each medium has its own biases. These biases will be different.
The Telegraph is bias to the right and the Guardian is bias to the left. This may sound simplistic, but its not really. What is simplistic is saying ‘the media is bias’ and assuming that hundreds of thousands of different newspapers, TV stations, radio channels, blogs and magazines are all sharing the same biases of hate toward Israel!
I’ve trained and worked as a Journalist for the past 5 years. I know a little about this subject. (I wrote my dissertation on how The Guardian is biased against Israel.)
But I wouldn’t dare lecture a surgeon on the rights and wrongs of their methods. Neither would I claim the architectural industry promotes anti antisemitism. For all I know, they may! But that’s the problem. I don’t know. I don’t understand their business.
You can consume all the media you like, but increased consumption does not result in increased understanding. The truth is most activists haven’t studied or worked in the media. They aren’t equipped with the tools to see what real media bias is.
The majority of people who write about media bias against Israel don’t understand how the media works.
Its true that the mainstream media in the Western World for the most part hasn’t reported rocket fire from Gaza into Sderot.
When Israel retaliated and bombed Gaza, the media did report it.
“Aha!” the media-bashing Zionists cry! “We told you the media was biased against Israel”.
Slow down, let’s take another look.
The reason the Gaza war was deemed newsworthy while the rocket attacks weren’t was because of something called ‘news values’. If you’ve ever uttered the words ‘the media is biased against Israel’ and you don’t know what news values are then you’ve already proved my point and your knowledge isn’t up to scratch for you to throw around accusations of media bias.
‘100 people dying in a conflict is more newsworthy than 1 person dying.’ – This is a news value. Its not pretty. But its a shared value among the mainstream media. And actually its understandable. So when Hamas kill one person with one rocket, it will not make the headlines. When Israel bomb the Gaza strip and many more people die, it is deemed newsworthy.
There are many at this point who scream and shout that when you put the conflict in context, you will see Israel aren’t randomly bombing Gaza. They are responding to years of attacks which many who watch the news will be unaware of. I share your frustrations. I’ve been to Sderot and you’re preaching to the converted! But this is not a problem with the media being biased against Israel. It’s a problem with how news works. People don’t watch the news for a history lesson, so the journalist has little (if any) time to explain the wider context.
News is by definition recent and right up to date. Journalists don’t lead with ‘Over the past two years X number of people have been killed by rocket fire’. They’ll lead with ‘Today X number of people were killed’. It has to be current. When only 1 or 2 people have died, it doesn’t make the cut. People are murdered all over the world every day, but very few of these stories hit the headlines.
There are 33 ongoing conflicts in the world today. Let’s ignore the major 8 (including Syria, Iraq and S. Sudan) where thousands of people are killed and look at the others. 4,413 people were killed last year in these 25 conflicts. Out of those deaths, approximately 30 were killed in Israel or the Palestinian territories.
We aren’t playing with huge numbers here! And if the media isn’t regularly reporting on the Mexican drug war where well over 10,000 people were killed last year, why do you expect it to cover rocket fire from Gaza which last year killed 0 people?
Dog Bites Man vs Man Bites Dog
[While we’re at all this – have you noticed activists complaining that the media is obsessed with Israel? ‘More people are dying in Syria – why don’t the media report that?’ they say, while at the same time complaining the media isn’t reporting rocket fire from Gaza and there’s some kind of cover up. Either the media focuses on the conflict too much, or its ignoring it. Can we really have it both ways?]
Another example of pseudo media bias is the terrible murder of the 18 year old Israeli soldier Eden Atias.
As the Times of Israel reported: “An Israeli soldier died after he was stabbed multiple times in the neck Wednesday morning by a Palestinian youth on a bus at the central bus station in Afula.”
The rest of the world’s media ignored the tragedy.
This led TrendingCentral to write:
“When one of our own, off-duty, British soldiers died by a knife-attack on the streets of London, the world’s media focused on the terrorist incident. And rightly so…The global media, and not just our own, reacted with the relevant outrage at the incident in question.
“It was splashed on the front pages of numerous papers from around the world, and media commentators were discussing it for weeks after it happened. In a way, we still are.
“But somehow, and I feel very bad for this, I don’t think Eden Atias will get the same attention.
“In failing to report on the incident effectively, the British media is again proving that it is not an objective source for information, and it shames the memory of both Private Eden Atias, and of Drummer Lee Rigby, that due respect and attention has not been paid to this cowardly attack.”
Again news values clear up this mess.
Every media outlet in the world has a bias to its own geographical region. At the time of writing the BBC and all major news outlets in the UK are leading with the Mark Duggan inquest. The New York Times is leading with a story about a governor I’ve never heard of. The Times of Israel is also leading with internal political news.
So no, I wouldn’t expect the British media to pick up on a murder in another country.
Why then did the world’s media pick up on the Drummer Lee Rigby story?
Because people don’t normally get hacked to death in central London with a meat clever.
Do people usually get stabbed on buses in Israel? No, its not a regular occurrence. But what’s more common? Violence in Israel or violence in the UK? The statistics on this are sadly irrelevant. We’re dealing with public perceptions. The worst possible outcome for the BBC is to lead with a story on the 6 o’clock news that the majority of the country shrug their shoulders at, turn to each other and say ‘how is this news?’
Like it or not, a young Israeli being murdered by a Palestinian in the Middle East is not news for a UK audience. The public perception here is that although its tragic, incidents like these are commonplace.
To put it another way, next time you see a story about Israel which you think deserves international attention, ask yourself the question “Is this Dog Bites Man or Man Bites Dog?”
Dog Bites Man happens every day. It isn’t news. It won’t get reported.
But Man Bites Dog is unusual and the media love an unusual story! Rocket fire from Gaza is Dog Bites Man. Terrorists killing people is Dog Bites Man.
Expert on Israel ≠ Expert on the media
Don’t misunderstand me. Sometimes the media is biased against Israel. But sweeping generalizations do not help our case because those of us who work in the media will see through these slogans for what they’re worth (not much).
I’ve barely scratched the surface of news values in this blog post. There’s much more that can be said. So how’s this for a radical idea? If you’ve no real interest in studying or working in the media and you’re not an expert on news values, why not save your moaning? Let others who understand when and where bias is taking place speak out.
We have to choose our moments. Hit hard when the media are guilty, but steer clear when hard working journalists are just doing their job and following their outlet’s news values. When mainstream sources such as the BBC are accused of being Pro Zionist as often as they’re accused of being Anti Zionist, it’s usually a clue that overall they do a pretty good job in some very tough circumstances.
All this comes with a very real warning. The Pro Israel movement is already in danger of being written off as full of loonies and fruitcakes in some sectors. If you’re the kind of person who likes to write scathing letters to the BBC before they’ve even broadcast their ‘biased report’ then please stop it. Our whole cause is damaged when people get their facts wrong on this vitally important issue of media accuracy.