Australian media and Honest Reporting
There are two major sources of international news in print form available on the more populous eastern seaboard of the Australian continent – the increasingly far left leaning Fairfax Media newspapers (the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age) and The Australian newspaper, a Murdoch publication…writes Emily Gian.
The difference between each media outlet’s reporting of the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours, particularly since the commencement of the Second Intifada, has always been stark with the former taking a generally anti-Israel position while the latter is more balanced and nuanced with a wide range of reports on the conflict, some complimentary and some otherwise on each of the parties. It should be added that the Fairfax stable also includes the Canberra Times which often outdoes the SMH and Age as well as The Australian Financial Review, also known for its elements of bias against the Jewish State.
The difference in attitude between the two was never made more clear to me recently than in the way in which each treated the recent emotional story of the arrival and burial in Israel of the bodies of the four victims of the Toulouse killings in March of this year. Whereas The Australian produced a very moving piece on the funeral by its Middle East correspondent John Lyons, readers of the Melbourne Age received the news in a one-line footnote to an AFP story. It would appear that either the Jerusalem based head of the Age Middle East Bureau or her editors did not consider it necessary to file their own report on the funeral or even have someone attend even though, over the years, Fairfax media has covered the deaths of Palestinian terrorists (or “militants” as it prefers to call them) with sympathetic stories about grieving families.
It should be added, that a week earlier, the same newspaper provided its readers with a soon to be discredited Fiachra Gibbons’ Op Ed (taken from the Guardian) which speculated that the killer was a right winger who was neither an anti-Semite nor a jihadist. When the emerging facts exposed the Gibbons piece as being shockingly flawed, the Age remained outrageously silent in much the same way as it has, over the past decade, shunning stories on many of the major issues surrounding Israel and its warring neighbours.
I was in Israel during Operation Defensive Shield in 2002 and I was shocked at the malevolence and venom of the British media when Israel was falsely accused of committing a massacre in Jenin. The local Fairfax press was not far behind. There was no apology or explanation for the dishonesty of the reporting of the time and, on my return to Australia, I was in for some further shocks after joining the Zionist Council of Victoria at the end of that year. The Age Middle East Correspondent at the time was one Ed O’Loughlin who, in his five years with the Fairfax Media stable would constantly remind his readers where his sympathies lay.
At the end of O’Loughlin’s term and in his very last piece for the Age (which in the 11th hour was pulled from the Sydney Morning Herald), he came out swinging and stated of one incident, “And we knew from long experience that, whatever had happened, the Israeli Defence Force would deny responsibility”. There was of course, no credible evidence to support claims that the IDF was in fact, responsible. O’Loughlin added his own familiar footnote, “Since the present uprising began in 2000, close to 5000 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli action… Slightly more than 1000 Israelis were killed by Palestinians. In the first three months of this year, 11 Palestinians died for every Israeli citizen (see more)”.
O’Loughlin was always a numbers man. Even in the age of the suicide bomber and of terrorists who disembowelled Israeli mothers before the eyes of their children, somehow the Palestinian case automatically assumed the moral high ground if it produced a greater number of victims. Never mind that the other side was defending itself against groups whose written down charters swore to obliterate Israel and the Jews from the face of the earth, O’Loughlin had to trot out a scoreboard of the victim numbers. His crowning glory was a Dishonest Reporting award in 2007 for “Worst Moral Equivalence”.
When asked why he thought his swan-song had been left out of the Herald, O’Loughlin went on record to state “There has been an intensive lobbying effort to skew the Herald and the Age to a pro-Israeli position and I’ve had nothing but support until now. That’s why I’m surprised that they pulled my final piece” (see more).
O’Loughlin’s replacement Jason Koutsoukis was quoted by the Australian Jewish News prior to taking up his post as saying that “there’s two sides to every story and I think we’ve got to tell both sides. Perhaps we’ve only been telling one side.” To be fair, it was reported later in the Australian newspaper that “I was not quoted accurately… and it does not reflect my views”. Later still, at its November, 2010 Annual General Meeting, Fairfax Media Chairman Roger Corbett responded to questions from concerned shareholders that his “journalists and those that manage them do their very best to bring a balanced point of view” on the Israel/Arab conflict. Based on the output of his newspapers, the shareholders were entitled to remain sceptical.
Koutsoukis took little time to follow in O’Loughlin’s footsteps. It was soon obvious that he was only filing two kinds of stories; those that portrayed Israel in a negative light and some completely ridiculous fluff pieces that had no relevance to the issues at hand (see more here, here and here). Whether or not he did promise to tell both sides of the story, he only delivered one of them.
An example of Koutsoukis’ sleight of hand in reporting was his coverage in December 2010 of anti-Arab riots in Safed where a mob of 60 ultra-orthodox Jews intimidated an Israeli Arab chanting ”kill the Arabs” outside his apartment. This came after an Ultra Orthodox rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu had issued a declaration, later supported by some other rabbis, suggesting that Jews should be given preference over gentiles when seeking to rent land. Koutsoukis quoted Israeli MP Ahmed Tibi who claimed that ”Fascism has raised its head in Israeli society (see more)”.
What Koutsoukis didn’t deign to tell his readers in this report was that this disgusting declaration was condemned in the strongest terms by most segments of Israeli society from the Prime Minister down and by concealing this, he altered the entire context of a story on the nature of Israeli society. And he remained reticent about the daily spewing of hate speech against Jews in the PA and Hamas controlled media and from religious leaders in mosques in Gaza and the West Bank, details of which are freely accessible to the media from sites such as MEMRI. So much for balance!
Unlike his predecessor Koutsoukis never won an esteemed Dishonest Reporting award, but a quick search through the Honest Reporting archives is proof enough of his form. Well after his departure from the post, he produced a piece which contained one Israeli’s reference to Israel as an Apartheid state. There are many who would disagree with that including former slave and South Sudanese human rights activist Simon Deng who writes,
“Is Israel a racist state? To my people, the people who know racism – the answer is absolutely not. Israel is a state of people who are the colours of the rainbow. Jews themselves come in all colours, even black. I met with Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Beautiful black Jews (see more)”.
As if that wasn’t enough, during this time, Fairfax Media also employed a special correspondent, Paul McGeough, who brought anti-Israel reporting to a whole new level when he travelled on the ill-fated May 2010 flotilla and produced an “eye-witness” piece about what happened on the Mavi Marmara even though he was nowhere near the ship when the fatal incident occurred. His so-called “eye-witnesses” were other participants and they were not exactly impartial observers but McGeough continued to roll out their lies even after a plethora of video and other contradictory evidence became available. His efforts somehow managed to win him the prestigious Walkley Award (Fairfax Media is a sponsor) in late 2010 but at least this was matched just a few weeks later with a Dishonest Reporting Award for the “Most Undeserving of Honour”.
In mid-June of 2011 it was announced that Fairfax Media had made “two significant editorial appointments designed to strengthen its coverage of overseas news (see more)”. Paul McGeough was appointed Chief Correspondent for both The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald and Ruth Pollard was appointed to the role of Middle East Correspondent.
At the time I felt that the appointment of a woman correspondent to the region might bring about a more balanced coverage of the region’s problems and that rather than vilifying one side, a practice that only serves to widen the gulf between them, we might see the type journalism that could actually help open doors to a resolution of the conflict.
Sadly, I was wrong and the result has been that Age and Sydney Morning Herald readers are now treated to only one narrative in which every story from the region must deligitimise Israel. Pollard seems obsessed with stories about Palestinian Human Rights whilst ignoring anything that might paint the Palestinians or their leadership in a negative light. There is little to no interest in the human rights of Israelis that are violated regularly by indiscriminate rocket fire over the border at Southern Israeli towns or abuses by the Palestinian leadership against their own, particularly in Gaza against women, gays and the dwindling minority Christian communities. The scourges of honour killing and female genital mutilation are nowhere to be seen in this world view.
In a recent effort published on Good Friday, Pilgrims rent a cross to walk in Christ’s footsteps, Pollard was able to mount an obligatory attack on “the occupation” and even informed her readers that there “are 160,000 Palestinian Christians in Israel and the Palestinian territories”, but omitted to mention that the number of Christians in the West Bank and Gaza is dwindling rapidly whilst growing at an increasing rate in Israel proper. She therefore spared herself the necessity to mention the reason for this phenomenon or the uncomfortable fact that Christians under Hamas and the Palestine Authority is becoming more and more uncomfortable. On matters such as the firebombing of churches, Pollard remained equally shtum.
Pollard’s “fluff pieces” always contain a sting in their tail at Israel’s expense, such as this story about female, Palestinian racing car drivers “the speed sisters”, which managed to weave in the usual propaganda about Israeli occupation, prisons and the security barrier.
The number of important subjects not covered as a result of this obsession grows on a daily basis.
The rifts within the so-called unity government of Hamas and Fatah are given short shrift. The Hamas Covenant is ignored and the focus is never on the Palestinian terrorist (usually called “militants”) breaches of international human laws by indiscriminate firing of missiles at civilian populations. Recently, when Southern Israel was bombarded by over 200 rockets in a number of days and Israel responded by taking out specific terrorist targets, Pollard chose to focus on the regrettable death of a 12-year-old boy, reportedly killed along with 16 terrorists. At the time I noted that while his death was extremely sad, “by omitting to characterise the majority of the dead as war criminals bent on murdering innocent civilians on the other side, her piece paints a false picture of what is happening in the current conflict”. Two days after Pollard’s story went to print it was revealed that the boy was not killed by Israeli strikes, but by an errant bullet at a funeral procession, fired by Palestinian terrorists (see more). The Age failed to follow up this part of the story, yet again leaving its readers without the means to understand the truth about the clashes between the two sides.
We live in a world where social media is becoming the norm and Pollard, like many of us, tweets these days – @rpollard. Her disclaimer, like most journalists on twitter is that “all views are my own etc”. All fine and nice, but if she routinely tweets negative stories about Israel and only Israel, then you have to wonder how objective she can be in her every day reporting.
And this brings me to the Age Foreign News Editor, Maher Mugrabi. Following the release of Gilad Shalit, the Age published an Op-Ed from Mugrabi entitled “Prisoner swap unequal to task”. After reading that piece (and others like it by Mugrabi), I’m puzzled by the Fairfax Media claim of providing balanced news from the region and wonder if this explains the body of what should be important news stories from the region that never see the light of day in the Age.
A recurring theme that demonstrates the bias of Fairfax Media journalists over the years has been the “footnote gambit”. In their writing, they will sometimes proffer a disclaimer, usually in the form of a footnote to a story; presumably to give it some context. It might be to the effect that Israel is illegally blockading Gaza to explain to the dear gullible reader why the so called “militants” are firing missiles at Israeli civilian targets (as if this somehow justifies the commission of war crimes).
No disclaimer is apparently necessary to advise the same readership that these “militants” are guided by a formal charter that calls for the destruction of Israel and genocide against all Jews and that these “militants” routinely fire their missiles from heavily populated civilian areas therefore putting innocents including their own children in the line of fire themselves or that this itself is a crime against humanity.
The events stemming from the “Arab Spring” have highlighted the poor judgment of those in the media who turned a blind eye to the tyranny, the corruption and the lies of Arab dictators who treated their own people with contempt. Assad continues to murder his own in Syria and many consumers of the news from this region are only now coming to understand that Hamas and the Palestine Authority are equally corrupt and dishonest. Yet there are those in the media who continue to provide cover for thugs who stand in the way of peace between Israel and the Palestinians and in doing so they are treating their readership with contempt.
In the case of this media organization, its readership is dwindling and profits are falling so allow me to offer my footnote.
Fairfax Media treats its readership as fools and routinely fails to live up to the words of Chairman Roger Corbett who says his newspapers are supposed to bring a “balanced point of view” to the table.
Emily Gian is the Israel Advocacy Analyst for the Zionist Council of Victoria in Australia and is a PhD Candidate in Israeli Literature. A regular J-Wire contributor, she wrote this article for Israeli media observer Honest Reporting. J-Wire pu blushes it with their permission.