Sophie Barnett discusses the implications of integrity in journalism, or lack thereof, in matters concerning Israel and Palestine.
On November 18th, 2014, four Israeli men were viciously murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue in what can only be deemed as a hate crime. The worshipers were peacefully immersed in their usual morning prayers when two Palestinian men stormed into the holy place of worship with guns and butcher knives in hand. While many were injured, four were murdered and another policeman killed. The terrorists were also later shot by police . If the barbarous nature of the crime, along with the terrorist organization Hamas’ endorsement of the murders is horrifying, the media coverage — BBC, CBC, and CNN among them — was more so.
Hours after the terror began, a CNN broadcast released the headline: “Deadly Attack on Jerusalem Mosque.” This inaccuracy of the title of a well-respected news agency’s broadcast is shocking. Notwithstanding, CNN, in later submissions, corrected the inaccuracies. Unfortunately, one of their later headlines claimed that “4 Israelis, 2 Palestinians Dead in Jerusalem.” This headline implied that the two Palestinians were among the victims of the attack, rather than the perpetrators. CNN later apologized for its mistake.
CBC News’ initial coverage was even worse in that it did not even mention the victims of the attack. In a tweet, the media source noted that “Jerusalem police fatally shoot 2 after apparent synagogue attack.” What about the four that were fatally butchered to death prior to the shooting? Furthermore, what does CBC mean by “apparent” synagogue attack. Surely, with butcher knives, guns, and pools of blood, it would be obvious that the attacks were deliberate and vicious.
BBC News also followed the trend of questioning whether the events that took place were really a terrorist attack. A headline released implied that the police had called it a “terrorist attack,” and that the truth of the matter was left undetermined.
Despite the fact that many of the articles have since been updated or removed, these corrections are too late — the damage has already been done. With hundreds of thousands of views from around the world, the information, regardless of accuracy, has since been spread. While any news agency can easily delete a simple misconception from an already published article, they cannot control the spread of knowledge. Articles like these are dangerous and carry destructive consequences. Legitimizing extreme prejudices and initiating new ones, it could be argued that misinformed articles are interlinked with the incitement of targeted violence and hatred. Severe legislation opposing hate crimes are in effect in most countries whereby these big news agencies are based. News agencies responsible for such an incitement therefore should too face penalties for their actions.
It is important to recognize that despite widespread popularity in media coverage, Israel is not the only victim to these terribly distorted and too-frequent reports. There are other examples of purposefully tailored reporting aiming to please — not offend — any group. While a certain degree of bias is arguably unavoidable in any written work, these reports often show an extreme, unjust prejudice towards one group or prevent it against another.
In the latest news releases about the terrorist attacks, news sources appear to have adjusted their focus away from the event itself and more towards the reactions to it. Specifically, a lot of attention is being given to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to the massacre while little attention is paid to the terrorists involved in the attack and their supporters. The media has not spent any time examining the factions these terrorists belong to. It would be bad enough if this myopic explanation of the truth existed only in cases involving Israel, however, sadly, it also happens elsewhere. One case in point is Fox News’s reporting on President Barack Obama. According to Derrick K. Baker, columnist for the Huffington Post, “… it’s readily apparent that Fox News despises the president of the United States. The station’s on-air talent, “management, and guests almost universally appear to hate the man, detest the fact that he won the election, loathe his policies, dislike his appointments, abhor his decision to take his wife out on a so-called date night, and likely, are disgusted by the contour of his bottom lip and the length of his fingernails.” As such, Glenn Beck, one of the better known talents at Fox News, “Opined that he believes the deep-seated hatred for white people …”
While there was once a vast array of media outlets that each offered differing opinions in print, through television or on the radio, multinational takeovers now means that many newspapers, radio stations and television channels typically belong to the same media company. Rupert Murdoch, for instance, owns News UK, The Sun, The Times, The Sunday Times, and The Times Literary Supplement, to name a few. He is also the owner of Harper Collins Publishers and 70% of the newspapers in Australia, including The Australian, The Daily Telegraph, The Sunday Telegraph, Herald Sun, Herald Sun Sunday, The Courier Mail, The Sunday Mail, The Advertiser, Northern Territory News, Sunday Territorian, The Sunday Times, Perth Now, Mercury – The Voice of Tasmania, Sunday Tasmania, and Fox Sports.
The biggest question and cause for concern that a monopolist news industry raises is to what extent the owner’s view is reflected in their businesses’ reports. According to Ken Auletta, Murdoch is “operating on six continents, [and] is like no media mogul ever– one man controlling T.V., cable, satellite, movies, books, magazines, Internet access and newspapers.” Ranald Macdonald, Murdoch’s Cousin, further adds that Murdoch’s success comes from “… fighting against the establishment, [and] providing people with what they want.” By owning such a vast array of sources, the monopolist clearly has the power to depict any news-making circumstance he prefers in a particular light.
Given that the media now works very differently from when it began, perhaps it is time for some guidelines for fair and trustworthy reporting, with honesty being at the top of the agenda. A person who attacks innocent people, brutally killing them as they are praying, is not a militant, but rather, a terrorist. The media should be reporting solely the facts of a given topic, not the supposition. With regards to the ongoing conflict in the Middle East, rather than declaring that “the ceasefire has ended as Israel resumes its attacks on Gaza,” an honest headline would go something along the lines of: “After a barrage of rockets from Gaza, breaking another ceasefire, Israel resumes its attacks.” The mere implementation of factual truth has many undisputed positive implications for the integrity of a news report.
Sophie Barnett is a first year student studying International Relations at the University of Toronto.