A headline by any other name…

A headline by any other name…
“ISRAEL/PALESTINE PEACE DEAL SIGNED”

newspaperThose words would certainly look great sitting together in the news headlines.

There may even be journalists out there who want to believe them and wish to tell happy stories about a real peace deal, but we know all too well that at the present time those words do not reflect reality, nor are they likely to do so in the near future.

Not as long as the Palestinian Authority is composed of parties warring with each other and one of those parties openly states it will never accept Israel’s existence. Moreover, the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority, who has moved into the eleventh year of a four-year term, has recently made it clear that he is not even prepared to sit down with Israel in order to achieve peace through diplomacy.

Yet, if one reads the media headlines, one might be forgiven for thinking that it was Israel and Israel alone which is at fault for the current state of affairs.

Whilst there might be some wishful thinking behind the above headline, it would be misleading to suggest that a peace deal can be brokered today between Israel and the Palestinians any more than one could in Syria, because nobody is going to make peace with ISIS or any one of the offshoots of al Qaeda that operates in the region.

These days, news headlines and the Middle East do not really reflect reality or the truth because many media outlets and their journalists are more interested in pushing their own agendas.

This is no better seen than in the way the current Palestinian “knifing Intifada” is treated. These days, if an Israeli is attacked by an armed Palestinian assailant who is then killed in order to prevent further attacks, certain elements of the media immediately seek to turn the story on its head. The assailants who today carry out potentially lethal stabbing attacks on Israeli citizens in the streets are suddenly and grotesquely transformed into the victims.

When 19-year-old border policewoman Hadar Cohen z”l was murdered in a terrorist attack in Jerusalem, the original headline in a CBS report on the event read “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on”. This was later changed to “Israeli police kill 3 Palestinian attackers” and then “Palestinians attack 2 Israeli officers before being killed”. The changes were made in response to criticism and claims of deliberate distortion, and yet the true story was still not reflected in them. Finally, CBS settled on “Palestinians kill an Israeli officer, wound another before being killed”, because the focus, it seemed, still needed to be on the Palestinians and not the victims.

Why does this happen?

The (soon to be former) editor in chief of the Age, Andrew Holden recently spoke to the Jewish community and commented that dead Jews simply are not news. Reflect on that for a moment while I repeat the gist of Holden’s message:

Dead Jews do not sell newspapers.

The statement reflects as poorly on Holden’s readership as it does on his newspaper’s reportage, but if Israelis dying at the hands of Palestinians is not the news his readers think important, then there is something more sinister than just dead Jews not selling newspapers at play here. It is not just turning the villain into the victim that should be bothersome but the whole decision-making process behind not telling the story the way it should be told.

Holden’s explanation confirms that you cannot put all this down to human error which is the often given excuse. When Israel is mysteriously replaced with Palestine on globes sold in stationery stores or maps in airline advertising, it rarely happens as a result of “human error”. These things occur too often at Israel’s expense alone for them to be simple mistakes. If you look hard enough, you will find that someone has made a deliberate decision to politicise a situation in order to reflect their agenda.

How often is this conflict presented as being solely one about “occupation” while ignoring the fact that Palestinian political and religious leaders routinely emphasise that they are fighting a holy war? How common is the complete lack of enthusiasm of these leaders for a political solution that recognises Israel’s role as a homeland for the Jewish people downplayed?

It would be bad enough that the agenda is reflected in headlines which often tell only part of a story for consumers of the media but it is far worse when the agenda is reflected in a journalist’s reportage of the facts.

This brings me back to the Middle East reporting in Holden’s Fairfax Media. I note that the last of its Middle East Correspondents, Ruth Pollard, has ended her stint as the bureau chief for the region without being replaced.

This means that there is nobody around to not write stories about dead Jews from the region any longer. For an area of the globe which seems to be so volatile and where hundreds of thousands have died in the past five years in Syria and Iraq at the hands of people other than Jews, the fact that there is no correspondent on the ground seems to say a lot about the state of such publications in these tough times.

I wanted to see what Pollard was doing these days and was interested to read her Twitter page wherein she describes herself as a “freelance journo, former Middle East correspondent, also tweeting about media freedom, Fellow at Columbia’s Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma”.

This, coming from someone who ignored the lack of media freedom under Hamas in the Gaza Strip?

I went over to the Columbia Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma and found it was “dedicated to informed, innovative and ethical reporting on violence, conflict and tragedy”.

Innovative and ethical?

Pollard wrote a piece during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 entitled “Grief grips Gaza” which won a Walkley Award for her effort. She was praised for her courage for spending time in Gaza’s Shifa Hospital and its morgue. Ironically, despite all of the time spent there, she was still able to omit the significant fact that the hospital’s basement was being used as the de facto headquarters for Hamas.

There have been no greater examples of the lack of media freedom than the number of instances that came up during Operation Protective edge of Hamas intimidation to toe its propaganda line, and of how many journalists only felt comfortable in writing about what was going on in Gaza once they were back in Israel or in their home countries.

Pollard never wrote of the bombs that went off right behind where foreign journalists were standing, or how missiles were cynically being fired from outside foreign press hotels, and being stored in schools, homes and mosques. The Israeli viewpoint was consigned at best as a mere footnote to her stories and at worst, it was completely left off her map in the same way Israel was left off the globe in Typo’s stationery stores.

As I wrote at the time of her Walkley win, if you omit or underwrite the murderous nature of Hamas, you are not courageous, you are weak and a coward.

It comes as no surprise that a media great which regards dead Jews as not being newsworthy should provide its readership with journalists who produce this type of news reporting.

If only there were more journalists like those from Portugal’s Syndicate of Journalists which last week rejected a complaint by the Palestinian Authority “about a reporter’s use of the word ‘murder’ to describe only victims of terrorist attacks and not their perpetrators.”.

When newspapers appoint people like Pollard to cover a region what hope is there for their readership to receive objective reporting of the news whether by the headlines or the content of their articles? And there is also the view that such reporting emboldens the Palestinian leadership to persist with their rejection of any possibility of establishing normal relations with their Israeli neighbour, thereby making the great achievement foreshadowed in my headline above a more and more remote possibility.

So as we farewell Mr. Holden and Ms. Pollard, we can only hope that their departures will usher in a new age for the readership and some real innovative, courageous and honest coverage not only of the headlines but in the totality of the news reporting from this troubled region.

Emily Gian. Israel Advocacy Analyst at the Zionist Council of Victoria and a PhD Candidate in Israeli Literature at the University of Melbourne ZFA.

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One comment

  1. Great article Emily.

    One factual error however … the Palestinian Authority ceased to exist on 3 January 2013 when Abbas issued this decree:

    “Official documents, seals, signs and letterheads of the Palestinian National Authority official and national institutions shall be amended by replacing the name ‘Palestinian National Authority’ whenever it appears by the name ‘State of Palestine’ and by adopting the emblem of the State of Palestine.”

    John Whitbeck – a legal advisor to the Palestinian team in negotiations with Israel – has written on the significance of this name change:
    “In his correspondence, Yasser Arafat used to list all three of his titles under his signature — President of the State of Palestine, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and President of the Palestinian Authority (in that order of precedence). It is both legally and politically noteworthy that, in signing this decree, Mahmoud Abbas has listed only the first two titles. The Trojan horse called the “Palestinian Authority” in accordance with the Oslo interim agreements and the “Palestinian National Authority” by Palestinians has served its purpose by introducing the institutions of the State of Palestine on the soil of Palestine and has now ceased to exist.”

    The Palestinian Authority has been buried by the PLO – and with it the Oslo Accords and the Bush Roadmap.