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Reporters without Borders (or standards)

August 5, 2009 – 6:10 pm8 Comments

by Jewin’ the fat.

Too often, a journalist is attacked for elements of a story which are out of their control – photos provided by the photographer, headlines composed by the sub-editor – it is a professional minefield.

But the following stories are clear examples where poor standards have proven to be the undoing of those responsible. As EU Referendum says with regards to this kind of reporting during the Israel-Hezbollah war in 2006:

“Whatever else, the event in Qana was a human tragedy. But the photographs do not show it honestly. Rather, they have been staged for effect, exploiting the victims in an unwholesome manner. In so doing, they are no longer news photographs – they are propaganda.”

And little has changed – Walter Conkrite may have passed on, but the bleeds still lead – except of course, when the bleeder isn’t considered ‘newsworthy’ enough for a by-line.

In the July 23 edition of The Sydney Morning Herald, the laughably titled ‘World Focus’ column announced the deaths of fifty-two Gazans. On the same day, headlines screamed the politics of building permits in Jerusalem, and stories on housing settlements garnered half a page. For the humanitarian in all of us, it is a merciless reminder of the insignificance of Palestinian lives: fifty-two people died at a wedding reception in Gaza and all the tragedy merited was thirty-four words.

The tragedy occurred when a bomb went off at a wedding reception of a relative of Mohammed Dahlan, former security chief in Gaza and now the Palestinian Authority’s new security minister. In Hamas-run Gaza, political opponents (namely Fatah supporters) are tortured or executed by Hamas for alleged collusion with Israel. So when a Fatah minister’s family fall victim to terrorism, why doesn’t it meet the standards of newsworthiness?

Sure, the big stories of the day, like municipal housing disputes or the long queues at security checkpoints, are valid and duly concerning, but the deaths of scores of innocent Palestinians should be a leading story. The question must be asked – where in the world is Jason Koutsoukis? Or does he only report on Gazan casualties when the perpetrators are Israeli?

Captions can make all the difference when reporting on the Middle East, as this photo proves (AFP)

Captions can make all the difference when reporting on the Middle East, as this photo proves (AFP)

AFP photographer Ahmad Gharabli was on hand during violent demonstrations by ultra-Orthodox residents of Jerusalem against the opening of a parking lot on the Sabbath, and against the case of an ultra-orthodox woman accused of child abuse. The photo he snapped [left] spoke volumes, and he captioned the photo as follows:

An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man gestures during clashes with Israeli forces following demonstrations against the arrest of a woman accused of child abuse in Jerusalem on July 16, 2009. Hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews clashed with police for a third day in protest at an ‘unjustified’ arrest of a religious woman and the opening of a parking lot on Saturdays, the Jewish holy day of rest. AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images”

The photo was used used by The Australian in their report to illustrate a July 20 story on US-Israel conflict over East Jerusalem construction. The caption read as follows:

“An Ultra Orthodox Jewish man gestures during clashes with Israeli forces following demonstrations in Jerusalem. Picture: AFP”

The only meaning readers draw from this provocative photo is that Israelis are brazenly defying the US, with one flip of the bird suddenly representative of an entire nation. Did you notice the “demonstrations” had nothing whatsoever to do with the published story? So how can the editor knowingly choose such an unrelated image and make the subtle association on the readers’ behalf – especially when the picture was front and centre on the world home page?

The truth is, new media can be especially murky. The space between comment and fact, the delineation between the skill or professionalism of the writer or journalist, and the unmoderated marketplace of reader talkback opens up a new can of worms.

Independent operations like New Matilda or ABC Unleashed are amongst those who deliberately blur the lines and present their case as news created by the people, for the people. But without moderation, comments on Middle East related pieces can and do descend into vitriolic, incendiary and largely offensive diatribes, prompting New Matilda to shut down their comment capabilities on Middle East articles, and bringing the debate to ABC Unleashed

Although they say ‘don’t believe everything you read’, opinion and knowledge of the Middle East is very much shaped by the media. A recent poll conducted by Roy Morgan highlighted this fact, with 49 per cent of respondents admitting to not knowing very much at all about “the situation” in Israel/Palestine (May 22, 2009).

So why is the media’s role in informing the public not made more concrete than simply an ethical code? There is a distinct lack of comprehensive regulatory standards when it comes to this kind of reporting, that gives credence to the axiom:

If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed.  If you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed.”

(Read a longer version here.)

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  • eli says:

    Unfortunatley media reporting in the middle east rarely has anything to do with facts. Most of the Australian press media simply follow the news leads provided by syndicated stories. Its cheaper than having your own reporter. In fact its the sub-editors for the most part that write (create news items) if they deem the original not to be attractive enough to put to press. Out goes the independence of the reporter and in comes the bias of those in control.

    More importantly unless Jews or Israeli’s are responsible or some way implicated in the death of Palestinians, then the story has no merit, it wont sell the morning paper. It is no longer just a coincidence, that this occurs. It is not paranoia as some might accuse,but years of similar and consistent misreporting only confirms that the media has no moral compass except to the value of the bottom line.

    The sad fact is that for most of the readership of the daily trash that gets published,their opinion is formed by print bytes of headlines and photos. Our attention spans are now so short that the longer a story is the less chance it has of bieng read.

    As they , don’t the facts get in the way of a good story

  • Chaim says:

    I have to say that I love the photo!

    It may be misrepresented but it is what we should say and express to the US right now.

    Nice article- essentially these days people only read the news only they are interested in, in the opinion they want to hear anyway – thanks to the internet.

    Instead of broadening coverage and opinion – it really allows us to be even more narrow in our education and knowledge.

    Where do we all go for Israel news?

  • Chaim says:

    todays news:

    “Hizbullah Media Goes Worldwide, To Broadcast in Australia “

  • don'tpublishthis says:

    it’s interesting that people still perceive news outlets as producing some sort of ideologically unencumbered narrative of truth, as if journalists were (supposed to be) the conduits of what really is.

    while i don’t know, i suspect that this will be historically tied up to modernist romanticisation of the press as the “fourth estate” in democracy.

    regardless, i would be interested to see this sort of acidic scrutiny applied to some other media outlets – the australian jewish news, for example. and i would be very surprised if any reporting would similarly pass the jewin’ the fat’s test for “balance” “accuracy” “context” and content syndicated from other sources.

    the question perhaps is what comprises “balance” “accuracy” or “context.”

    but regulatory standards? you may wish to have a quick look over http://www.theaustralianpresscouncil.org.au

  • There is no such thing as independent reporting any more. The left read The Age and watch CNN, while the right read The Australian and watch FOX (and also read The Age and watch CNN to see what the anti-semites are saying and complain about it).

    Media is a product targeted to a specific audience. It is in the business not of delivering news but of building readership, and then harvesting revenue through advertising. When you put it in those terms, any advertiser would much rather know as much as possible about who the audience is, so it makes plenty of sense for the picture painted by the news to be as targetted as the advertising in it.

  • Chaim says:

    having said that – the article and the picture should match.

  • jewinthefat says:

    dontpublishthis is right. As a former journalist, I am all too aware of the strange professional responsibilities and practices of the media. All too often, ones personal ideology is put aside to pander to your editor/advertisers, or alternatively, your personal perspective bleeds through the ‘fair and accurate’ print on the page.

    Lets not kid ourselves -objectivity is a useless term, full of idealism, but redundant in a post-modern reality.

    FYI, the Media Entertainment Arts Alliance, which governs journalists and media, have in recent years changed the first commandment from “objectivity” to “Report and interpret honestly, striving for accuracy, fairness and disclosure of all essential facts. Do not suppress relevant available facts, or give distorting emphasis. Do your utmost to give a fair opportunity for reply.” (to read more, check out this link: http://www.alliance.org.au/media_alliance_code_of_ethics/_ )

    And he is also correct in that the same scrutiny should be applied too ther news media organisations – regardless of their origin or affiliation. I suppose the reality is that people will choose to read what they will, and the “fourth estate” is a chance to hold not only the rest of society up to a mirror, but to reflect similarly on the reporting standards of one’s peers (http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,25197,25704896-5013404,00.html ).

    I have no qualms about acidic analysis, AJN or not. It is vital for journalists to be able to use it themselves, and likewise to be held to the same standards when they themselves fall foul of the society and readership they represent. Regardless of the power of the advertising dollar, if a reputable media organisation is found to be lacking in integrity or professionalism, there should be consequences. The question is: do we value the service the media provides enough to call them out when they misrepresent or misinform? The Dura case in France comes to mind as a singular example.

  • On this subject, how about the hysterical, sensationalist article in “WA Today”, August 4, 2009, entitled “Perth woman jailed for Palestinian eviction protest”, by Fairfax journalist Chris Thomson, which reports on the arrest of Perth “Friend of Palestine” Sarah Haynes, 36.

    The article is a complete beat-up. see http://jiw.blogspot.com/2009/08/fairfax-hysteria.html for more details, complete with links to the original article and Sarah’s own Blog report, which contradicts the journo’s hyberbole.

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