Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: And the loser is...

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Jamie Hyams

And the loser is…

Undoubtedly the media coverage of Israel’s war against Hezbollah could have been greatly improved, with the very honourable exception of The Australian. By a mile, the worst outlet in the electronic sphere was SBS-TV News.

What they didn’t say is often as important as what they did. Ross Cameron reported on July 29 that “UN peacekeepers have abandoned two more border observation posts...The first was abandoned when a UN soldier was wounded, the second after four UN soldiers were killed by an Israeli air strike.” The wounded soldier was hit by Hezbollah small arms fire, as the UNIFIL press release of July 28 explained, but Cameron neglected to mention this.

The UNIFIL release also mentioned “frequent incidents of Hezbollah firing from the vicinity of the [UNIFIL] positions” as have other UNIFIL releases, but Cameron did not see fit to mention this either. Similarly, Vesna Nazor covered the incident in reports on July 26, 27 & 28, but also failed to mention these crucial facts.

On July 24, the second story was UN representative Jan Egeland’s harsh criticism of Israel’s tactics. It featured footage of him in Beirut and several comments from him. The following day, Egeland harshly criticised Hezbollah for being proud that more civilians had been killed than fighters, and for “cowardly blending” among civilians. It seems this was never mentioned on any SBS bulletin.

SBS-TV News has made extensive use of reports from Lebanon by BBC reporters, which have focussed at great length on the suffering of Lebanese civilians and destruction of the country. They often make little or no effort to provide context for the Israeli actions by, for example, explaining that Hezbollah was firing rockets at Israel from the bombed areas. Indeed, at times they do the opposite. Ian Pannell, on July 23, surveyed the damage in the Bekaa Valley and stated, “the damage we saw was not to Hezbollah, but to the people and the economy of the Bekaa Valley.” Given the well-documented Hezbollah practice of hiding its weapons in and even firing from civilian property, it is hard to see how Pannell could possibly have been so sure.

Orla Guerin, long time and oft complained about BBC Middle East correspondent made a less than triumphant return. Walking through Bint J’Beil, site of the heaviest fighting of the conflict, she intoned, “The damage here is absolutely incredible. I haven’t seen a single building that isn’t damaged in some way. Many have been flattened, many have been singed. This town has really been wiped out. The more we walked, the worse it got…The international community may well ask how Israel can explain all this in the name of fighting Hezbollah.” Apart from this being blatant editorialising rather than journalism, Ms Guerin’s claims about the damage seem to be less than entirely true. The blog “Drinking from Home” reveals that a reporter from Britain’s Channel 4 filed a report from the same place on the same day, and where Ms Guerin could see no building that was undamaged, the Channel 4 reporter saw suburbs that were “pretty much untouched”.

On July 23, a report from David Wright of the American ABC alleged that Israel destroyed television transmission towers to stop the world from seeing what it was doing. 

Ross Cameron consistently referred to Haifa as “Israel’s second largest city” and on July 29 to Israel’s “two biggest cities, Tel Aviv and Haifa.” He apparently doesn’t accept that any part of Jerusalem is in Israel. On August 18, he said the Lebanese army is “not expected to disarm Hezbollah, as Israel wants.” This is of course the obligation under UN resolutions, not just what “Israel wants”.

In the wake of the tragic killing of the four UN observers, Kofi Annan told a press conference that the observers had been contacting the Israelis and asked the press to imagine the anguish of those UN members. He then said that he had received an apology from Ehud Olmert, and accepted it. Somehow, in Vesna Nazor’s July 27 report, Annan’s speech was stopped before he reached the part about the apology.

These problems with SBS-TV go beyond the Lebanon coverage. On August 14, Mary Kostakidis announced that Israeli operations in Gaza had killed more than 170 Palestinians, “more than half of them civilians”. However, an August 6 IDF release stated that 160 Palestinian gunmen had been killed, so clearly well over half of those killed have been gunmen. On July 27, Amrita Cheema described it merely as a “campaign to rescue an abducted soldier,” when in fact it is also to stop the incessant rocket fire.

Unfair reporting such as this is always frustrating, but when the culprit is publicly funded like SBS, it has a statutory duty to do better.

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