Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Media Microscope: The "Dateline" Line-up

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Jamie Hyams

The “Dateline” Line-up

The SBS TV current affairs flagship “Dateline” tends to be a program on which the choice of guests and stories reflect the worldview of those who produce the show. That worldview could be described as anti-Western, definitely anti-US and anti-Israel, and sympathetic therefore to those opposed to US, Israeli and currently Australian government policy. They tend to reach that same destination from a variety of directions. Their stories and interviews over the last month give a perfect illustration of this well-established trend.

On June 20, Lebanon correspondent Sophie McNeill reported on an Israeli organisation called “Combatants for Peace”, a group of former Israeli soldiers and Palestinian fighters. There is no distinction drawn between the Palestinian fighters targeting civilians and the Israeli soldiers protecting them. Also, as usual, the Israeli peace activists are far more critical of their government than are their Palestinian counterparts, who in this report didn’t criticise their authorities at all. However, the main Israeli featured claimed, “During the second intifada, our actions at times bordered on, or crossed the line of, war crimes.” Ms. McNeill meanwhile managed to refer to Israel’s security barrier as “the separation wall”.

That night also featured a report by Thom Cookes about the history of Australian security agencies spying on the media, and fears that, in the war on terror, that may begin again. Cookes said, with considerable exaggeration, “to fight this war, our spies and police have been given almost carte-blanche.”

The June 27 edition featured a report by David O’Shea on Luis Posada Carriles, who has been labelled by some Latin American countries as one of the world’s worst terrorists, but who is living free in the USA. This, O’Shea claims, is because Posada was working for the CIA. There may well be a case against Posada, but it is hard to see “Dateline” reporting on any of the many known terrorists living free in Syria or Iran.

Then followed what would undoubtedly have been the highlight of the night for host George Negus, an interview with Palestinian propagandist Hanan Ashrawi. Parts of the interview were actually interesting, as Dr. Ashrawi noted that some in the Australian media had been more supportive of Hamas than she felt was justified. She said, “And I have read quite a few articles coming even from Australia trying to justify what Hamas was doing by saying it had to deal with a situation that was unruly or a situation of lawlessness. You do not correct one error by committing another.” She added, “Unfortunately there are some intellectuals who are trying to depict President Abbas and the new government as being in the service of the Americans and the Israelis. This is absolutely erroneous, misleading.” It appears she has been reading Ed O’Loughlin. However, she was soon true to form, stating, “I think from the beginning Israel wanted to separate Gaza from the West Bank, get rid of Gaza as a demographic and security threat and then lay territorial claims to the West Bank on an ideological basis by annexing Jerusalem, building the wall, building settlements… Unfortunately there are Palestinian factions who have played into the hands of Israel, even though Israel has created the situation of perpetual crisis and victimisation leading to this internal fighting.”

The following week, Sophie McNeill covered the siege of Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon, and exposed some of the oppressive institutionalised discrimination to which Palestinians in Lebanon are subject.

On July 11, Negus’ guest was Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA agent who has long been a strong critic of US foreign policy, and therefore of great interest to much of our media. However, perhaps the most interesting part of the interview was when Negus gave vent to his “blame everything on Israel” perspective. He asked, “Is it also possible that after all this time that [the] so-called Coalition of the Willing, and its leaders is still missing the point about what this is about, that’s it’s ultimately about the fact that the situation in the Middle East, Israel and the occupied territories, has not been resolved?” Negus unfortunately didn’t explain how Israel made Iraq’s Shi’ites and Sunnis hate each other so much. Scheuer didn’t bite and instead talked about alleged US support for regional tyranny.

The July 18 show illustrated “Dateline”’s idea of balance. Negus interviewed Dr. Kimberley Kagan, described as a “leading neo-conservative” and who supports the Bush policy on Iraq. However, before the interview, they played a montage of critics from the US Senate. Then they interrupted her interview to speak to CNN correspondent Michael Ware, who is also a critic of the surge strategy, before going back to her. Finally Negus followed up with an interview with Prof. Hugh White from the ANU who, surprise, surprise, also doesn’t think the surge will work.

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