Monday, August 07, 2006

August 6 Media Critique: "Bold Distortions and Outright Lies"

Occasionally even Honest Reporting gets something right.

This time they note the controversy over a manipulated photo that appeared in a Reuters story. The photo was altered, with smoke added. Reuters issued a correction and pulled the photo. Doctored photos are a serious problem and HR is right to highlight it and request action.

But HR is rarely content with just the facts. There is no story about the media that can’t do with a bit of exaggeration and distortion to foster the world wide anti-Israel media conspiracy. The altered photo, says HR, ”is an outright lie”. That must mean it was a complete fabrication, implying something that never occurred. Was it? Here is the original and the altered version (below).

Well, as you can see there was an Israeli air-strike on Beirut and it did result in billowing black smoke, just a little less than the altered image shows. HR sees a conspiracy to “make damage in Beirut appear much worse than reality”. Does it really do this? There is no actual damage to be seen in either version, just smoke. Just like HR’s over-hyped claims.

In its opening paragraph, HR yet again goes for hype over facts,

Despite evidence that Israel is taking unprecedented steps to avoid civilian casualties, some in the media have accused the IDF of using disproportionate force against a harmless civilian population.
Where would anyone get such an idea that Israeli acts might be disproportionate? Well, what about here,
The Israeli government has blamed Hezbollah for the high civilian casualty toll in Lebanon, insisting that Hezbollah fighters have hidden themselves and their weapons among the civilian population. However, in none of the cases of civilian deaths documented in the report is there evidence to suggest that Hezbollah was operating in or around the area during or prior to the attack…………… Human Rights Watch urges Israel to immediately end indiscriminate attacks and distinguish at all times between civilians and combatants. – Human Rights Watch.

But wait, there’s more. Next we have some classic HR dishonesty. HRs ‘Media Critique’ refers to a National Review Online story by Tom Gross, which itself is discussing the CNN program ‘Reliable Sources (3rd hand is always good enough for HR!) CNN is interviewing one of its own reporters, Nic Robertson, about Hizballahs media management. Gross makes a bit of a hash of it, writing that,
Nic Robertson admitted that his anti-Israel report from Beirut on July 18 about civilian casualties in Lebanon was stage-managed from start to finish by Hezbollah.
If you look at the CNN transcript, that isn’t quite what Robertson was saying, and just in case that you have the impression that Robertson admitted his own report was “anti-Israel”, he didn’t , that was just Gross editorializing. In case anyone is a bit slow on the up-take, Gross is at pains to make clear his total commitment to objective journalism with the title of his article ‘Media Missiles: Working for the enemy’. (Psssttt!. Enemy= Hizballah/Lebanon).

But Roberston did have some interesting comments to make,

But from what we can see, there appear to be a lot of civilian damage, a lot of civilian properties….........That you have to point out to the audience and let them know that this was a guided tour by Hezbollah press officials along with security.
The last point is, of course, relevant. Journalists who are relying on a partisan source need to inform their viewers of this. Robertson’s explicit acknowledgement of this is deliberately ignored by Gross, who claimed that this demonstrates "how the news media allows its Mideast coverage to be distorted." Not only that but Gross tries to spin this as the journalist “letting it slip”, as if the activities of public relations officials in conflicts and how journalists deal with it, was some great mystery until now.

However, this does reveal a fundamental bias in media coverage. CNN acknowledges the potentially distorting influence of Hizballahs media management and HR is keen to highlight this. But what about the other side? What about Israels media management, or doesn’t this exist? For CNN, it doesn’t seem too, not that the National Review noticed this. Fortunately, Matthias Gebauer from Der Spiegel, recently wrote about this exact topic. From his experience, this is what the Israeli General Press Office does,

In Israel, reporters are on an all-inclusive package trip -- and are well looked after.

Well-thought-out story ideas including transportation, lunch and selected military experts -- all these things are offered without ever having to be asked for. Many journalists happily accept the offer. For days, images of Israeli artillery units flickered on TV screens the world over -- one reason of course being that the PR warriors always took the camera teams to the frontlines around sunset. The soft, warm twilight is favored by camera men and photographers.

An e-mail that arrived on Wednesday is a good example. It offers no less than 11 news stories. The Israeli refugees, perhaps. Or the problems with Arab Israelis? A feature about how an entire village has been dispersed across Israel? A report on people who had to leave their houses? Former hostages? Or a village that has been shot at for decades? It's all available.

There's no need to go anywhere.

Just a bit more than a guided tour. Imagine if Hizballah were providing whole story lines for journalists to use; HR would be apoplectic.

Any chance that HR will describe this as “media manipulation” by Israels GPO, as journalists having “misled viewers with selected footage from Israel”, or criticizing those who have been “taken around the damaged areas by Israeli government minders”?

Absolutely no chance.