I think that everyone who cares about Israel believes strongly that the mainstream media does not cover Israel accurately. We accept it as a given that almost all coverage represents an anti-Israel media bias that stems from either anti-Semitism, a liberal world view that sees the country in a negative light, or simply journalists who are ignorant of the complicated nuances of events here.
But Israel’s critics claim the media is biased in favor of Israel. Review some of the writing on sites like Electronic Intifada, and you would get a very different view.
Who’s right? Are we just taking our emotional attachment to Israel and making assumptions that anyone who does not see the country the same way must be biased? Is the truth somewhere in between the opinions of those who are pro and those who are critical of Israel?
I believe there are specific, objective criteria that can be used to show clearly that much of the mainstream media not only reflects an anti-Israel media bias, but is factually inaccurate.
But to effectively evaluate media coverage of Israel, we need to put our emotions, politics, and backgrounds aside. Otherwise it becomes just one of many political debates that journalists can effectively ignore.
Almost all mainstream media companies have mission statements that reflect above all else a commitment to reporting accurately and fairly, whatever the subject matter. If we can make the case that important elements of reporting are neither accurate nor fair, we can begin to change the way Israel is both covered in the media and perceived by the world.
We must reject the simple errors that creep into news articles and headlines. The demand for news coverage today is that it be fast above all else. Articles written mere seconds after an event has taken place will have errors. Nothing can change that. It is an unfortunate reality of the news business.
However, when we ask four specific questions about media coverage of Israel, we can determine — objectively — how accurately the media covers Israel.
The four questions are:
- Do the media refrain from using the word “terrorist” to describe groups and individuals that in any other part of the world would be described as such?
- Do references to the city of Jerusalem reflect only the current Palestinian narrative and ignore the historical context of the city?
- Are towns in the disputed territories referred to as “illegal settlements” as if this was an undisputed fact?
- Does coverage blame Israel for a lack of movement on the peace process and ignore the Israeli government’s repeated offers to negotiate?
For example, the Associated Press published this story on August 22. The article starts with a picture that has the caption “Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into southern Israel prompting the Israeli military to respond with airstrikes and tank fire on targets inside Gaza.”
In fact, it was members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad that fired the rocket. The article would convey different information if the caption had read “Palestinian terrorists in the Gaza Strip fired a rocket into southern Israel…”
It is not disputed who fired the rocket, just how those firing a missile at civilian targets should be labeled.
AP fails the first test.
The article also refers to “east” Jerusalem, including it in “territories they (the Palestinians) seek for a future independent state.” AP does not include any additional context about the city.
AP fails the second test.
Although the articles mentions “settlers,” it does not refer to “illegal settlements.”
AP passes the third test. (Although I question why the word “settlers” has to be used so often.)
Perhaps the greatest inaccuracy in the article is that it includes the assertion that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would be willing to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (if Netanyahu agrees to a series of conditions.)
Yet, there is no mention of the Prime Minister’s repeated invitations to sit down with Abbas without any pre-conditions. Instead, the AP writes that the “Netanyahu’s government is dominated by West Bank settlers and their supporters.”
AP fails the fourth test.
These three failures go beyond bias. They are clearly inaccurate representations.
You can write to the AP at firstname.lastname@example.org. They say they welcome feedback and comments. I sent them a short email. Let’s see what they say.
If we focus on these four specific areas, we have the potential to create real change in media coverage of Israel.
In future articles, we will explore how the four questions can not only be used to rate various news outlets, but that changes in these areas would be tremendously significant in improving the accuracy of Israeli coverage and reducing anti-Israel media bias.