Paul Alster
Israel-based print and broadcast journalist

More media bias and misinterpretation

Emma Hurd, a long-standing Middle East correspondent for SKY News and a familiar face to millions of television viewers around the globe who take an interest in our region, rather startled me with her headline piece on her channel’s website, (later repeated on BBC World News), on Yom Ha’Zikaron (Memorial Day), that headlined, “Israeli General: No Nuclear Threat from Iran”. 

Somewhat taken aback by this apparently definitive stance reported by Ms. Hurd to have been taken by Israel’s Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz, I read on only a line or two to find that this was certainly not Gantz’s position. Indeed, Hurd herself says fairly early on in the piece, that despite her headline assertion “…Gantz said he was still making all the necessary preparations for “credible” military action against Iran.” 

So, having strongly suggested by her headline that Israel’s Prime Minister must be over-reacting when he warns that the threat against Iran is indeed a very serious one, and that conversely his senior military man doesn’t perceive any threat to be there, the conclusion would surely be reached, (unless you read on sufficiently), that Netanyahu and his Chief of Staff must be singing from completely different hymn sheets.

The truth is that, (as was made very clear in his interview with Ha’aretz), Gantz, while almost certainly not agreeing with every word Netanyahu says, is basically taking a pragmatic position in suggesting that the Iranian leadership is not ruled solely by hotheads and warmongers, and is almost subliminally urging the Iranians to very seriously look at the consequences of any further nuclear development they might commission. He suggests that if they do, they might well reach a more reasoned decision and step back from the brink in order to save themselves and the region as a whole a great deal of pain and suffering.

Gantz seems to be a man who thinks very carefully about his use of language and prefers to let his actions speak for themselves. The old adage of “speak quietly, but carry a big stick” springs very much to mind in the case of the Lieutenant General. His reasoned tone, seemingly misinterpreted in her headline by Ms.Hurd as dismissing the Iranian threat, clearly proved rather too nuanced for a Middle East correspondent who has been based in the region for many years but would appear to have little command of the Hebrew language.

There has always been concern amongst the Israeli media, public, and supporters of Israel abroad, that many foreign correspondents coming to the country are based primarily in ‘Arab’ East Jerusalem in the famous Colony Hotel. There, it is suggested, they  are welcomed with open arms by the Arab community and are allegedly offered a great deal of ‘help’ in finding new stories and ‘new angles’ by Arab and Palestinian sources, quite understandably leading to an often lop-sided picture of the reality on the ground.

Some correspondents, unwilling to carry the can for their own misguided reporting, have claimed over the years that any perceived anti-Israel bias isn’t down to them but to the editorial line being laid down by their bosses in newsrooms far away. But, as the late, respected CNN Middle East correspondent Jerrold Kessel, a journalist with vast experience of the region and a command of local languages to boot, and a man who reported it as he saw it and refused to be pressured by the agenda of anyone back at his station’s HQ said, “The less notice one takes of pressure, the less pressure one invites on oneself. If you get into a mind where the pressure is a factor, you get into the mind of worrying about what the effect of the pressure is going to be.”

It will always be the case that perceived bias is very much a reflection of which side of the fence you sit on when it comes to the Middle East conflict, (or any other for that matter), and what one side might consider accurate reporting, another will claim is a gross misrepresentation of the facts. This, to some degree, is fairly understandable in the case of local journalists embedded in the midst of a conflict.

The big problem arises when major international organizations like SKY News, the BBC, CNN, and others, who many remote observers are led to believe offer a thoroughly balanced view of the situation on the ground, allow ill-informed or sloppy reporting to inaccurately represent the true picture and, wittingly or unwittingly, help promote prejudiced and jaundiced views of Israel, in this case, to people thousands of miles away who have little or no other way of assessing for themselves the real truth of the matter.

Intentionally or unintentionally, slipshod or calculated, SKY’s Emma Hurd, (twice nominated by Britain’s Royal Television Society for ‘Journalist of the Year’, and awarded a Gold Medal by the New York Film and Television Awards for her coverage of the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000), has been around long enough to know better. There are plenty in this neck of the woods and beyond who feel that having failed to offer a genuinely balanced view for long enough it would be better for all concerned if she was relocated to concentrate her attentions on other areas of the world where her grasp of the situation in hand would not require her wrestling to interpret languages with which she has, apparently, failed to come to terms.

…And all this on the day that Britain’s The Guardian newspaper asserted that Tel Aviv is the capital of Israel!

About the Author
Paul Alster is an Israel-based broadcast journalist with a special interest in the Israel/Palestinian conflict and Middle East politics. He is a regular contributor to a variety of international news websites including The Jerusalem Report, and was formerly's main Middle East correspondent. He can be followed on Twitter @paul_alster or at