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Book Review

Objectivity's Other Side
Reviewed by Maqbool Ahmed Siraj

Bad News from Israel

Greg Philo and Mike Berry, Pluto Press, 345-Archway Rd., London N6 5AA. Pages 315. Price not stated

Censorship is not the only way the media and message are controlled. Not all facts are deleted. When ignoring certain facts, distorting certain others and supplying a convenient perspective and background to news stories could effectively do what the deletion achieves, why incur the infamy of censorship. Western powers have less to worry when media moguls vie with each other to appease them and go beyond the desirable in applying self censorship.

There are umpteen numbers of critics of state of the freedom of the media in the Middle East. But rarely ever the tyranny of the Western media is dissected. Given their monopoly on the news across the globe, the objectivity of the MNC-controlled media seldom comes under the scanner. Bad News from Israel is a mild attempt to censure the media attitude in reporting news from Israel and Palestine and the events that bedevil the course of peace in West Asia.

The media is central to the exercise of power in a society. Objectivity is a colossal casualty when the media sets its own agenda behind the news stories it chooses to highlight. It also has the capacity to limit its readers or watchers’ comprehension of the issues and problems by restricting the flow of information.

Bad News from Israel is a study of TV and newspaper coverage in Britain during Intifada in occupied areas of Israel during short spells in 2000 and 2001. The terminology employed by the media is symptomatic of the way the British media would like to view the events i.e., Palestinians always ‘pressing the trigger’ while the Israelis ‘responding’ to the provocation. The Israeli action of destroying the Palestinian villages was always described as ‘retaliation’ against Palestinian attacks. In the formulaic reporting, the Israeli perspectives are highlighted in terms of causes, motives, and outcome. They are projected as confron-ting ‘unreasoned terror’.

Given that so many did not know that there was a military occupa-tion of Palestine, it is not surprising that the consequences of it for the Palestini-ans were little understood. Western news channels show settlers as vulnerables and resisters as terrorists.

The key point is that the use of the word ‘terrorist’ can actually obscure the proper consideration of causes and possible solutions. On the news, confusions over how people are described are symptomatic of a larger problem in explaining the motivations of those involved and history and the nature of the conflict. The sheer number of terms used to describe Palestinians does seem to indicate this. Israeli forces were described as ‘soldiers’, ‘troops’, and in one case ‘brothers in arms’. Words applied to Palestinians included ‘activists’, ‘followers (of Hamas)’, ‘guerillas’, ‘militants’, ‘extremists’, ‘assailants’, ’gunmen’, ‘bombers’, ‘terrorists’, ‘killers’, ‘assassins’, ‘fundamentalist groups’, ‘attackers’, ‘self-styled Palestinian martyrs’ and ‘fanatics’.

As far as Palestinians are concerned, such labels can obscure what for them is central. That this conflict is a war of national liberation against what they see as brutal military occupation gets completely eliminated from the verbiage. It does seem that there is reluctance and or an inability in TV news to talk of the nature of the occupation and Israeli military control and the reluctance to discuss these issues as motives for Palestinian action. This is not to say that there is no sympathy expressed by scribes for Palestinians or indeed for those who are presented as the innocent victims on both sides of the conflict.

Certain facts central to the Middle East conflict are conveniently ignored. For instance, the US is invariably projected as broker of peace, but rarely does one refer to the fact that Israel receives $3 billion in US military aid annually, arming it to the teeth and thereby contribut-ing to Israeli obduracy. It is common knowle-dge that illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank are strategically perched over hills while Palestinians are corralled in the valleys. Yet BBC termed them ‘vulnerable’ on the hill-tops. Similarly, Israelis are always shown as keen for negotiations, while Palestinians are dubbed as ‘interested in stalemate’. Israeli claims are endorsed, while Palestinian claims are reported. The difference is evident when a journalist says that “Palestinians call it a massacre” and stating that there was a massacre. In the second statement you assume a perspective.

Logistics also play a part in tendentious reporting from the Occupied West Bank. It was revealed that most journalists lived in West Jerusalem which is part of Israel. Israelis were nice to them and had an efficient public relations machinery to provide all the justification for their tyrannies. They ate, dressed and behaved like the Westerners. They could produce reams of statistics legitimizing their action at the slightest hint of inquiry. In contrast, the Palestinians were boorish and incoherent and did not know how to handle the media. On an average, a media bureau receives 75 e-mails from the Israeli government and legions of pro-Israel lobbyists while Palestinians could transmit only five a week.

It is often easier for journalists to be content with what is fed by the official machinery rather than engaging themselves in generating independent material and build context for the happenings. It is often hazardous, expensive and even time-consuming to do personal investigation.

Bad News from Israel comes very close to identifying the massive Zionist and Jewish clout in the Western media. AIPAC’s (American-Israel Public Affair’s Council) extraordinary influence on the US foreign policy, in part by convincing and in part by implied threat, has found some, though insufficient, expression in the book. For a general reader, a more concise edition of the opinion surveys and content analysis would make facile reading.

(M.A. Siraj can be reached at [email protected])