Australian media and Honest Reporting

May 3, 2012 by Emily Gian
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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.

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.

Comments

10 Responses to “Australian media and Honest Reporting”
  1. As both Mandy Katz and Larry Stillman elect to be completely oblivious of realities on the ground, not to mention media, electronic popular access, education system all pert of a palestinian well designed assault on anything and everything Jewish, “occupation” in their book acquires a …legal and ontogenetic value. Thus arguments are allowed to venture into fallacies of the worst kind, diatribes devoid of any substance related to tangible events.
    Whatever term used and misused, FACT is that the entire behavioural complexities reveled by Mandy’s and Larry’s charges, their palestinian pals, demand corrections of the highest order. Almost NOTHING emerging from the so called “palestinian” mind-set is conducive to the most elementary notion of civilised behaviour. To be sure Israel is responsible for all criminal transgressions encouraged and perpetrated by the entire palestinian population and their supporters, up to Al Quida type. To this extent Israel is simply guilty for existing, for having the temerity of making simple existential claims.
    Larry, Mandy & co. should consider that the fundamental “objections” from the palestinian camp are not specifics meant to change an Israeli type behavoiur, but the complete erradication of any Jewish presence in the Middle East. Mandy and Larry seem to have not acquired the same kind of information media access as everybody else to notice the viciously anti Semitic nature of ANY uttering originating with their pals. Classicaly what they also miss that, in the conslusive wash, both Mandy and Larry …MAY fall into that cathegory of palestinian subjects of hate. I would be the first to extend my compassiinate services to Mandy and Larry by interevening with the palestinians in asking them to spare the two by telleing them that, in my view at least, they have abandoned what coiuld have been the object of their hate based on the : A Jew is not a Jew, a Jew a Jew by simply putting on a T-shirt with “Deus ex machina ” on it !

    Yes , from the comforts of badly twisted “reason” one could emerge as a detractor of reality. The medicine is called “comprehensive acceptance of circumstances “. Too much to ask the dedicated self satisfied pureveyors of “social justice ” !!!!!

    Just in case, Emily Gian IS comprehensively impecable.

  2. Larry Stillman says:

    Just one question. Why put “the occupation” in quotation marks? What is it then? I doubt there are many Israelis except those on the right who doubt it for what it is–a military occupation.

    • Shirlee says:

      That’s where your so-called “occupation” goes inside inverted commas, because unless you are an extreme left thinker, it’s not an “occupation”

      • Larry Stillman says:

        Even the US considers it an occupation. Or is the US too left wing as well?

        • Ben says:

          The US doesn’t recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. And the occupation is not real because there are no exclusive settlements connected by exclusive roads, armed thugs do not populate the settlements, there kis no barrier being build inside the West bank and there are Palestinians living under Israeli military rule.

      • Mandi Katz says:

        Shirlee – AIJAC has referred to Israel’s presence in the West Bank as a belligerent occupation in the course of comments in response to an article in The Australian by John Lyons on 26 November 2011 called Stone Cold Justice, concerning the treatment of Palestinian minors in the territories.

        AIJAC was defending the difference between the law that applies in Israel and the law in the territories, as articulated in the following paragraph by Lyons:

        “The central issue here is that Palestinian child prisoners in the West Bank are treated by Israel in a way that would be illegal in Israel itself. In Israel the maximum period of detention without charge is 40 days – for Palestinian children it is 188 days. In Israel the maximum period of detention without access to a lawyer is 48 hours – for Palestinian children it is 90 days. For the past 44 years a Palestinian was regarded as an adult at 16, compared to an Israeli at 18, but Israel recently lifted this to 18. About 83 per cent of Palestinian children before military courts are sent to prison, while 6.5 per cent of Israeli children before regular courts go to prison”.

        In response AIJAC said the following (see the full piece here – http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/don-t-throw-stones):

        “Under international law in general and Article 43 of the Fourth Hague Convention respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land and its annex: Regulations concerning the Laws and Customs of War on Land, 18 October 1907, in particular, there is no duty that the legal system governing the Area, under belligerent occupation, mirror that of the occupying power. In fact, the opposite is true, changes to the existing legal regime are specifically limited. Thus, it is appropriate and even natural that the legal systems should be different and independent”.

        Do you seriously dispute any assertion that Israel has had military control over the territories for 44 years? Of course ending this occupation is no simple thing and anyone who says it is naive and arrogant.

        But you’d have to have your head fifty feet buried in the sand to call it anything but an occupation. And we all know what happens to people who bury their heads in the sand.

        • If more time and effort need be spent on the origins of such views one may conclude:

          - rigid constructs based on exclusive meanings of terms in select areas of use for the purpose of demonstarting a certain formal logic. Intentional digression from impending realities, their complexities and tangible impositions make for the apparent realistic use of the said terms. Yet the discourse is ostensively farcical.
          - at the subjective, self satisfaction level, the prommotion of eschewed reality in a literary neatly arranged manner, thus beccoming the seemingly acceptable views, however all but a clear transgression into absurdity oblivious to tangible events by the dedicated activist.
          - ambitions to elitism in a dedicated group while frustrations of luck of success by the use of traditional means and ideological content.
          - detachment from the traditional approaches with the intention of demonstarting “superiority”

          In a more conventional way, all conventions and laws, agreements and any other forms of formal , civilised approaches to the conflict originating with the palestinians and their supporters have NIL value since they do not, in the most obvious way, belong to the current era of civilised behaviour. One has to look at the way they have been ordaining their own societies, political structures, ethics, treatement of their own people and others to realise that they are centuries behind the level of inter-human raport western societes have established post WWII. For anyone to aduce the value of respectable ethics as units of measure for all involved in the palestinian cause is an offense to basic intelligence and, more so, a form of blatant disrespect for the principles claimed as universally applicable.
          As such, Mandy Katz , Larry Stillman & Co. operate in an ethical vacuum and should dessist from insulting those who are trully dedicated to a Jewsih existence, one devoid of the exacerbated hatred both above contributors support. Their “social justice” cause is only propping the virulence of social unjustice which defines everything associated with the palestinian cause.

          ( G-d only knows why I am being so nice to these two !!)

  3. Jacob says:

    I refer the honourable journalist to the tons of scholarly research which strongly suggests that judgements of media bias are usually bias in themselves. For example, Arab and Jewish respondents shown identical news footage of the 1982 Lebanon War both concluded it was favoured the other. Also, that, especially in the case of Israel/Palestine, there are a surfeit of “media watchdogs” from both sides who claim non-partisan scrutiny while in fact being highly partisan and again, judging identical coverage to be favourable to the other side. Honest Reporting fits perfectly into this category, thus it is amusing how often it is cited in this article. I also find it interesting that the journalist does not mention by far the largest feature on Israel that I have seen in Aus media in recent times. This was John Lyons’ report in the Weekend Australian magazine last year on convictions of young Palestinian boys for rock throwing. It had some frothing at the mouth in their claims of anti-Israel bias.

    It is certainly without doubt though, that Paul McGeough is very bias against Israel, just as his counterpart at the Australian, Greg Sheridan, is highly bias in favour of it. What’s new?

  4. JonS says:

    Very well written and researched. I have posted this on FB and encourages all my friends and family to read it and make up there own minds whether they should support these anti-Semitic newspapers. I certainly dont and would NEVER by The Age or read it !!

  5. Liat Nagar says:

    Emily,
    Your analysis of the Fairfax Media Middle East correspondents is spot-on. I have written Letters to the Editor in response to many of Ruth Pollard’s articles since she took up her post for ‘The Age’ – her writing is easy to rebut for the important facts she leaves out and the completely one-sided perspective she provides in regard to the Palestinians. Of late, her articles have included particularly emotive allusions, dramatising, almost in fictional narrative style, the plight of Palestinian women and children in particular. This is not to say that the plight of women and children is not important, it is to say that it should not be used melodramatically for the sake of her story. I am more than disappointed in the unprofessional nature of her journalism and the obvious bias. ‘The Sunday Age’ printed one of my letters relating to Israel and Jewish issues, but this was not associated with the newspaper’s correspondent/s’ accounts. Some of the ‘soft and fluffy’ bits and pieces Pollard provides are ridiculous, viz. the story of her walk with guides in areas of the West Bank some weeks ago. Koutsoukis was a very weak correspondent and his writing, while incorporating all that you spoke of, showed a very real lack of understanding for where he was and an ignorance of its history – this was apart from his bias; he was ignorant and not interested enough to gain knowledge. His dislike of being where he was was apparent in his writing. He didn’t last long, however Pollard is proving to be a poor replacement.

    It’s difficult in Australia to choose good newspaper reading, as there’s basically no competition, which is the case in most other areas as well. There are reasons I consider the Fairfax newspapers to be superior to Murdoch’s ‘The Australian’ , and for that reason I read them, however the coverage of anything involving Israel is a running sore and anathema to me. All I can do is fight back by responding in the way that I do. Your incisive and comprehensive discussion is an important one.