Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: Reporter or Activist?

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Jamie Hyams

Sydney Morning Herald chief correspondent Paul McGeough is the author of the book “Kill Khalid”, which has been heavily criticised for underplaying Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s terrorism and rejectionism. Further, McGeough often insists, despite all evidence to the contrary, that Hamas is prepared to accept a two-state solution. He has often written, as he did in the May 29 Herald, about what most regard as a bloody coup by which Hamas took control of Gaza, that “the Islamic nationalist Hamas movement took control of the strip in 2007, after the collapse of a US-backed move by forces loyal to the secular Fatah movement of Mahmoud Abbas to take control.” It was therefore no surprise to find him on board the Gaza flotilla, giving sympathetic coverage. In fact, in an interview on the May 31 Radio National “Breakfast” program, when asked to respond to a statement by Israeli spokesman Mark Regev that Israel was happy to take and deliver the humanitarian aid, it seemed McGeough had to remind himself he was meant to be a journalist, rather than one of the activists. He answered, “Well that’s not the point, I mean, in fact that proves the case, the organisers would argue that proves their case that Israel wants to control the movement of goods to Gaza.”

In a June 3 audio account for the Herald website, he claimed that Arab prisoners in Israeli prisons are generally mistreated and that “The Israelis still won’t even say where the attack on the flotilla took place because they don’t want to admit that it was in international waters.” In fact, by that stage, Israeli spokespeople had made many statements explaining why it was perfectly legal for the attack to have been in international waters.

The June 4 Herald and Age featured a lengthy account from McGeough of the Israeli action, in which the flotilla was carrying “emergency supplies” and the Israelis “hunted like hyenas”, while flotilla organisers tried to protect the bashed Israelis and guns taken from the Israelis were thrown overboard. Of course, the video images and injuries to the soldiers, including bullet wounds, contradict these accounts. In the Age version, McGeough gave accounts based on interviews with activists. He wrote, “Another of the dead was said to be an Indonesian cameraman, Sura Fachrizaz, who was shot in the chest. Also among the dead was a Malaysian doctor who, activists said, was shot while treating the wounded.” It subsequently emerged that eight of the nine people killed were Turkish and the other was a US citizen of Turkish extraction.

On ABC TV’s “Lateline” on June 4, McGeough sought to cast doubt on the Israeli account of the events. He admitted some passengers used angle grinders to sever metal spikes, but then said, “The Israeli government has put out video of an unseen person, which they say – who they say was being beaten by people wielding these spikes. They’ve yet to produce the person who was being beaten and there’s been no suggestion that they know who it was. Talking – I’ve spent a long time talking to people who were on the ship in question. You hear varying accounts. I’ve not been told of anyone wielding spikes to hit anyone. The first soldiers who were dropped from the helicopters, I’m told, were beaten with fists by a few people or a group of people… as they landed on the deck…”

In a June 5 Age and Herald article, McGeough complained that “the Obama White House called for an Israeli inquiry, the kind of response that placates Israel but erodes US credibility in the region.” He also lauded the flotilla as “a finishing school for almost 700 new and articulate ambassadors from dozens of countries for the Palestinian cause.” Presumably, they wouldn’t have actually joined the flotilla unless they had already regarded themselves as ambassadors for the Palestinian cause.

In the June 10 Herald, McGeough turned his airbrush from Hamas to Turkey’s governing AKP party, claiming “analysts” view it as a “moderate democratic voice.” In fact actual experts on Turkey, Soner Cagaptay and Ephraim Inbar, described it in separate articles in the June 9 Australian as an Islamist party that is pushing its country to become steadily more Islamist.

In the June 14 Herald McGeough continued his campaign, condemning Israel’s “gross over-reaction in killing nine protesters”. On Israel’s blockade of Gaza, he wrote, “If only in this humanitarian dimension, there is something grotesque about Israel’s insistence on a policy that has demonstrably failed – Hamas survives and is getting stronger in Gaza. And that the world has acquiesced amid so much civilian suffering and privation in Gaza is equally disturbing.” If there was a free and fair election in Gaza tomorrow, Hamas would lose easily. One wonders if McGeough would be disappointed if this were the outcome.

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