Thursday, April 06, 2006

Israeli Bias: it's Official

I'm often astounded (and ashamed) at the level of ignorance British people show when it comes to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. Many know little if anything about this flashpoint, others believe the Palestinians are trying to capture Israeli land and a good dollop are convinced Israel has always existed, since time immemorial. A recent research study confirms I'm not "seeing things". Meanwhile, despite this clear pro-Israel bias, the Israeli government has accused the BBC of competing with (wait for it...) the "worst of Nazi propaganda". No, I kid you not...

Full article here. Scroll down for the part quoted below.

One of the most difficult tasks facing any journalist is reporting from, or writing about, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whenever I touch on Middle Eastern issues I receive scores, sometimes hundreds, of emails.

So my in-tray will surely be overflowing today because of a research study by the Glasgow University media group entitled Bad News From Israel, which is being published in book form this week.

Its findings confirm what so many impartial observers already know. The main overall conclusion is that there is a clear bias in television news bulletins in favour of the Israelis. The researchers discovered that there is a "preponderance of official Israeli perspectives", particularly on BBC1, where Israelis were interviewed or reported more than twice as often as Palestinians.

American politicians who support Israel appeared more often than politicians from any other country, and twice as often as those from Britain. There are also major differences in the language used to describe the two sides, with Israel benefiting from its official statist position and the Palestinians suffering as stateless rebels.

Most important of all is the lack of context and history. The research reveals that television viewers are largely unaware of the origins of the conflict and are therefore confused by what they are told and see in nightly reports. There are substantial gaps in their knowledge, with few showing any awareness of the 1967 occupation let alone the 1948 founding of the Israeli state on Palestinian lands. Many viewers told the researchers they saw the conflict as a border dispute between two countries.

One viewer said: "The impression I got [from news] was that the Palestinians had lived around about that area and now they were trying to come back and get some more land for themselves. I didn't realise they had been driven out of places in wars previously."

There was a tendency for viewers to see the problems as "starting" with Palestinian action and that the Israeli forces were therefore "responding" to what had been done to them by Palestinians. This apparently influenced many viewers to blame Palestinians for the conflict.

One 20-year-old interviewee said he thought the conflict was about Palestinian rather than Israeli aggression. He had no idea that the Israelis were occupying Arab-owned land.

The research illustrated the fact that Israeli rather than Palestinian casualties were more likely to receive TV news attention. A study of one week in March 2002, during which the BBC reported that there had been the greatest number of Palestinian casualties since the start of the intifada, showed there was more coverage of Israeli deaths.

There were also differences in the language used by reporters for Israelis and Palestinians: terms such as atrocity, brutal murder, mass murder, lynching and slaughter were used to describe Israeli deaths but not Palestinian. The word "terrorist" was used to describe Palestinians but when an Israeli group was reported as trying to bomb a Palestinian school, they were referred, on both BBC1 and ITV, as "extremists" or "vigilantes".

What is remarkable about the survey is its comprehensiveness, with researchers having examined 200 news programmes and conducted interviews with more than 800 people.

Greg Philo, who led the three-year project, says: "It was a huge enterprise which has pushed forward research by bringing together academics, journalists and members of the public in order to try to resolve key questions in really interesting and absorbing study groups".

Among the journalists were high-profile broadcasters such as George Alagiah and Brian Hanrahan from the BBC and Lindsey Hilsum from Channel 4 News.

Hilsum says: "We do face a continual problem in providing history and context because, given the length of our reports, we have to decide whether to include another fact to do with the contemporaneous event or put in some history. And, to be honest, one can't go back to 1948 every time.

"But the study does make valid points, especially over the use of the word 'retaliation' when the Israelis assassinate someone, because it's usually the case that Palestinian suicide bombers are retaliating too. I am now more careful about this".

The study shows the crucial importance of TV news in informing public opinion and the powerful influence it can have on how we see and understand our world.

It also shows too how news can fail to inform, and the researchers do suggest different and innovative approaches to improve the quality of news. The study also raises serious questions for broadcasters - indeed, all journalists - about their responsibility in trying to tell the truth to the public while maintaining impartiality.

• Bad News From Israel by Greg Philo and Mike Berry (Pluto Press, £10.99)

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At 10:54 PM, Blogger Oleh Yahshan said...

I am new to your site, although you already had a chance to visit mine, I will try to keep it civil (as you did posting on my comments).

2 things in this article that I found a little disturbing:
1. "the 1948 founding of the Israeli state on Palestinian lands" - not really true. Without going into the whole thing, the land was Never palestinian, it was a british Mandate, and Otteman before that ETC.

2. "But the study does make valid points, especially over the use of the word 'retaliation' when the Israelis assassinate someone, because it's usually the case that Palestinian suicide bombers are retaliating too." - ummm no, The Palestinian Terrorists (as opposed to the General Public), are constantly trying to send attacks into Israel, there are on average over 50 attempts to attack Israel at any given time. This is not retaliation, this is just plain out attacking. Israel has stoped retaliating as well. Since Homat Magen operation (after The Park hotel Bombing), Israel has constantly been going after those who try to hurt us. This accores thanks to Intel, and not as revenge.

At 6:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You should try one of these options.
Move to Gaza and start to live and coexist with the people over there.
Try to help them in such a way,or stop to spread B.S about something that you have no idea since you are just a puppet which read and understand whatever you want to.
Just spend a day over there,go to Gaza.

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Gert said...


Thanks for being civil. Other than that, we'll have to agree to disagree, I'm afraid.


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