Sunday, August 10, 2014

July-August, 2014: How the Press presents Gaza

The view you get of Gaza is determined by the reporters who send you news. Who are these reporters?
More important, how reliable is their reporting?
Here is an essay from a site called, The Tower Magazine. I cannot endorse this site. I know nothing about it. 
The essay is from ‘Issue 17’, dated August, 2014. It’s written by Mark Lavie. Here are excerpts. I have done some editing:
“Why Everything Reported from Gaza is Crazy Twisted”
You see civilians dying and suffering in Gaza. You see the destruction Israel’s military operation against Hamas has caused. You hear from Israel that Hamas is firing rockets from crowded neighborhoods, using helpless Gaza civilians as human shields, forcing them to stay in their neighborhoods in defiance of Israeli warnings to leave.
Why aren’t you hearing that from Gaza? Often, it’s because reporters are afraid to tell you.
True, in some cases, it’s anti-Israel bias. In others, it’s bad journalism. This is part of the scourge of 21st century “journalism,” with its instant deadlines, the demands to tweet and blog constantly, the need to get something out there that’s more spectacular than the competition, and check the facts later, if at all. Add to that the cruel cutbacks by news organizations around the world. It all means that fewer and fewer reporters have to file more and more stories, and file partial reports while they’re working. It’s impossible.
These elements are part of the reason you’re not getting the whole story from Gaza. But the most important element is intimidation of reporters on the ground.
It’s nothing new. I’ve experienced it for decades. Autocratic regimes threaten, attack and jail reporters who write anything critical of those in power. Other reporters get the message and just don’t do it.
Bringing this element of the Gaza situation to light entails some real dangers. It’s a saga that can’t be told directly in detail. If it is, and if specific reporters can be identified, people will be harmed. Not just the reporters, but their families, too.
News organizations make the safety of their reporters their top priority. Whatever it takes to keep them out of harm’s way — that’s what is done. I applaud that and I support that, though everyone understands that the policy can be and is exploited by tyrannical regimes to your detriment.
For example, in 2001, a news agency refused to release video it had of Palestinians celebrating the 9/11 attacks because Palestinian militants threatened the photographer and his family with murder.
A typical news report from Gaza a few days ago described the destruction, interviewed Gaza civilians who related in heart-breaking detail the deaths of their relatives and loss of their belongings, and listed the hardships and travail the people are facing because of the Israeli military operation. Halfway through the long story was a single paragraph that said that Israel claims Hamas fires rockets from civilian areas. This is how journalists protect themselves from charges that they didn’t tell “the other side.”
But in fact, they didn’t. They didn’t report from Gaza about where the Hamas rocket launchers were, where the ammunition is stored, where the openings of the tunnels are—if they mention the tunnels at all, which in this case, they didn’t.
A reporter for a European news outlet told a friend that he saw Hamas gunmen firing rockets from outside his hotel, but he didn’t take pictures, certain that if he had, they would have killed him. He told the tale only after he was safely out of Gaza. Apparently, his news outlet did not have a permanent local stringer there, or he would not have been able to speak even from the relative safety of Tel Aviv without endangering his stringer.
News agencies, newspapers and TV networks use local Palestinian stringers to do most of the work on the ground. In this era of cutbacks in my industry, there aren’t enough reporters, and those they send in are not fluent in Arabic and don’t know their way around.
Besides the budgetary limitations, news organizations often hesitate to send reporters into Gaza at all because of the constant danger, and not from Israeli airstrikes. In 2007, BBC reporter Alan Johnston was kidnapped by Palestinian militants and held for more than three months. Many other foreign journalists were kidnapped there and held for a day or two around that time. There have been no kidnappings recently, but the message was clear—foreigners are fair game. The message was heard and understood. For lack of an alternative, news organizations rely more and more on local stringers, giving the regime considerable leverage through intimidation.
On many occasions, frightened stringers have pleaded to have their bylines taken off stories. Some have been “evacuated” from Gaza for a time for their own safety, after an article critical of the regime was published or broadcast. Families have been spirited out for a while.
The West Bank, run by the relatively moderate Fatah, is no better than Gaza’s Hamas in this regard.
Back in 2000, two Israeli reserve soldiers bumbled their way into Ramallah, where they were lynched and murdered by a mob. The grisly photo of a Palestinian holding up his blood-stained hands proudly from a second-story window after the bodies of the soldiers were thrown out is seared into the memories of Israelis. Yet, an Italian TV network felt the need to apologize in public for the fact that there was video of the horrendous event — explaining pitifully that a rival network was responsible, and that they would never do anything that could reflect badly on the Palestinian Authority. That’s how “journalism” works in such places.
Also in the West Bank, a Palestinian reporter relayed an official Palestinian story from an Israeli army roadblock near Ramallah, where a pregnant woman had died after “heartless Israeli soldiers” refused to let her go through to the hospital. The reporter went to the hospital, where an Arab doctor confirmed the report. Uneasy, the reporter climbed on foot to the primitive encampment where the woman lived, and there, her husband refuted the whole story. The delay, he said, was getting her to the main road and finding a taxi. Once they got to the roadblock, he said, the soldiers cleared everyone else out of the way and sped them through to the hospital—but it was too late. The reporter then confronted the doctor, who admitted that he lied, “for the cause.”
Clearly, the abuse of reporters and perversion of journalism is not unique to Gaza or the West Bank. This is the situation all over the region, save Israel. During my two years in Egypt, I saw some of my colleagues beaten, harassed and arrested. Last December, the military-backed Egyptian regime jailed reporters for Al-Jazeera, charging them with belonging to or assisting a terrorist organization.
Some moves against journalists are quieter. A news outlet once pulled its photographer out of Saudi Arabia because the regime would not allow him to take pictures of anything. Local reporters know to steer very clear of controversial subjects.
Both Syria’s government and some rebel groups operating there kidnap and kill journalists in the worst case, and severely restrict their movements in the best case. Much of the “news” coming out of Syria is in the form of video clips made by one side or the other. Some are so clearly faked that they are almost humorous. Needless to say, local Syrian stringers walk a very careful line.
All we can do is keep this in mind: the world does not operate according to our [or Israel’s] democratic standards of freedom of the press. What we see in news from Gaza may not be the whole truth. In fact, you can be sure it isn’t.
The next time you see a reporter on TV declare that only a liar would tell you that reporters in Gaza are intimidated, remember this essay. It might help you understand how news really gets reported from Gaza.

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