Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Age Old Problem

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Jamie Hyams

The Age newspaper has, at times, been noticeably skewed against Israel. Recently, there seemed to have been some signs of improvement, but sadly, over the last month, it has regressed. For example, some time ago, it was common that phrases in stories by Fairfax correspondent Jason Koutsoukis would appear in the Age with an anti-Israel slant not present in the same report in the Sydney Morning Herald. Now the same is happening with reports sourced internationally.

The leading paragraph in a report from Dina Kraft and Toby Harnden of British newspaper Daily Telegraph appeared in the July 7 Age as, “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, was last night expected to come under pressure from US President Barack Obama to extend a 10-month freeze on the building of illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank” (emphasis added). However, in the original, the opening read, “Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Premier, will come under fierce pressure from President Barack Obama to extend a 10-month freeze on Jewish settlements in the West Bank.” No mention in the original of the West Bank being “occupied” or of settlements being “illegal” (which is a complex and controversial question of international law, not an issue to be adjudicated by an Age sub-editor.) Similarly, a Bloomberg report by Louis Meixler referred to “Netanyahu, whose Likud party supports Jewish settlement in the West Bank,” whereas the July 10 Age version referred to “Mr Netanyahu, whose Likud party supports illegal Jewish settlement in the occupied West Bank.”

Former Australian Ambassador to Israel Ross Burns wrote a letter to the Sydney Morning Herald expressing concern that Julia Gillard’s partner Tim Mathieson had a job with businessman Albert Dadon, founder of the Australia/Israel Leadership Forum and accusing Gillard of being “remarkably taciturn on the excesses of Israel’s actions in the past two years.” This was really just a predictably nasty letter from a consistent critic of Israel. However, both the Age and the Herald thought this letter was so important, that, on June 29, they made it a major news story, with the Age putting it on its front page. Neither mentioned that Burns was also an ambassador to Syria and author of a book on Syria. The Age version also added a quote from Peter Rodgers, another former ambassador often critical of Israel, complaining that successive Australian governments were too “unbalanced” and pro-Israel.

A July 1 Jason Koutsoukis’ analysis for the Age and also Sydney Morning Herald looked at the Israeli probe, headed by Justice Turkel, into the flotilla incident. He noted that military personnel involved in the incident would not be called, and continued, “The question is why the government wants to avoid an open inquiry armed with full investigative powers.” What he didn’t mention was that there was a parallel military inquiry which did interview soldiers and the findings of that probe will be available to Justice Turkel. The Age version also stated, “Another claim that passengers fired at the commandos has since been shown to be untrue.” In fact, two Israeli commandos suffered bullet wounds. The Israeli military inquiry subsequently found that one of the wounded soldiers was hit by a bullet of a different calibre than those used by the Israeli navy, and that there were bullet casings on the ship that weren’t from Israeli guns. However, the Age has not retracted this inaccurate and inflammatory claim.

In fact, a July 14 Age editorial was predictably scathing of the military inquiry’s findings. It claimed that a finding that the incident had not harmed Israel’s reputation as much as initially feared “alone undermines the credibility of the military investigation.” Clearly the Age can’t accept that others understand the Israeli actions, even if it can’t, or won’t. It claimed the “much wider failing” was that “Israel’s policy to cut Gaza off from the world is not sustainable.” Israel has a stark choice between keeping Gaza isolated or allowing Hamas to be as strongly armed as Hezbollah. Denying to Israel the right of every country to investigate its own military, the editorial claimed, “Only an independent inquiry can settle the truth of the matter,” and condemned the “stubborn refusal by the Israeli government to co-operate with calls” for an independent inquiry.

Even the headlines are slanted. A July 20 article about Tony Abbott’s pro-Israel speech to the Australia-Israel Chamber of Commerce was headlined “Loyal to Israel despite killings,” presumably because Mr. Abbott said the government had over-reacted to the flotilla incident. By contrast, the headline in that day’s Australian was the far more objective “Coalition staunch on Israel support”.

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