Thursday, February 21, 2013

Accuracy not advocacy

MediaCentral provides professional services for foreign journalists working in Israel, from useful contacts to finding stringers to having a convenient place to have a cup of coffee and chat with colleagues.  The Head of MediaCentral ( in Jerusalem, Aryeh Green, came to talk at AACI Netanya, and he emphasized the need for greater accuracy in the media rather than advocacy when reporting on the Middle East.  As he pointed out, we are not asking the media to be pro-Israel, nor anti-Palestinian, we are only asking them to maintain their own supposedly high standards and report accurately what is the situation here. 
This means recognizing that many of the terms being commonly used in the media, such as "occupied territory," "Palestinian territory," "illegal settlements," "right wing Israeli government" and so on, are highly prejudicial and inaccurate and to a large extent pre-judge the situation. Everyone recognizes that the Middle East is a highly complex area, yet simplistic solutions and phrases are often used as a kind of shorthand to simplify the situation for the uninitiated.  This of course excludes those who are deliberately pushing their own biased agenda, such as those who are anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and/or pro-Palestinian, and are not interested in presenting the true facts.
As Aryeh pointed out, most of the journalists he interacts with at MediaCentral are serious, professional journalists, who have achieved a high standing within their profession.  If it is pointed out to them that Israel has a perfectly legitimate claim to the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) that is independent of either a left or a right wing interpretation, they are quite interested to listen.  If a left wing Israeli states that he is prepared to give up the West Bank to form a Palestinian State, that does not mean that he doesn't accept that Israel has a legitimate claim to the territory. It only means that he agrees with a political decision that it would be better for Israel to give up that claim.  Others on the right might not want to give up that claim, but in either case, the fact is that Israel does have a claim on those territories under international law (exactly what that claim is has been discussed elsewhere).  So to call the territories "occupied" is a factual mistake, rather they are "disputed" territories.  Also, they have never been under Palestinian sovereignty, so to call them "Palestinian territories" is to prejudge any negotiated outcome. 
Similarly with such issues as "The Wall," that reporters on organized trips see for 95% of its length is a chain link fence and not a wall and is properly called "the Israeli security fence" or "anti-terrorist barrier."  Also, there is no doubt that under international law Israel is entitled to maintain a naval blockade of Gaza given the hostile actions from there, including firing of 10,000 missiles into Israel over 10 years.  In all these cases popular perceptions tends to overcome realities and MediaCentral exists in order to help foreign media to see the reality of the situation. 
In interacting with the foreign media, including BBC, CNN, NY Times, Wash. Post, etc., etc., there have been several documented successes when Middle East correspondents stationed in Jerusalem have accepted that their use of terms such as "occupied territories" are unwittingly biased.  Also, in cases such as China, where instead of dealing with hundreds of individual correspondents, there is only one agency for the whole of China, this makes the process much simpler.  Overall, MediaCentral's emphasis on accuracy over advocacy in the media has been a remarkable example of success. 


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