Mike Fegelman recently asked a large audience at Toronto’s Beth Tzedec Congregation if they believe the Canadian media is biased against Israel. A unanimous cry of “yes” echoed throughout the room.
Fegelman wasn’t surprised by the answer. As executive director of HonestReporting’s Canadian branch, he spends six hours a day reading and critiquing dozens of newspapers, watching television and searching online to put a magnifying glass on the media, “as they have been on Israel,” he said.
HonestReporting, which has affiliates in the United Kingdom, the United States, Brazil and Italy, was founded in 2000 and is now the world’s largest pro-Israel media watchdog.
There are problems with the Canadian media’s coverage of Israel, but Fegelman believes they can be countered and wants people to know what they can do to help ensure fair and accurate reporting of the Jewish homeland.
“With the power of numbers – we have close to 18,000 members – the more changes we can effect,” Fegelman told the audience at Beth Tzedec on Jan. 30.
Fegelman, a Carleton journalism graduate, showed part of a “Pallywood” video from seconddraft.org’s website (“Pallywood” refers to the staging of scenes by Palestinian journalists in order to present the Palestinians as hapless victims of Israeli aggression). The scene that the Beth Tzedec audience saw was raw footage, the kind that usually doesn’t make it into the news.
It depicted the “funeral” of a Palestinian man, with the “pallbearers” carrying the “dead” man wrapped in a sheath, on a stretcher. What the public wouldn’t likely see is that before the funeral, the pallbearers dropped the stretcher and the “corpse” picked himself up and got back on. They then dropped the stretcher again, and the “corpse” climbed on once more.
France 2, the country’s largest public television network, aired a news report that showed a Palestinian man firing a gun toward Israelis at a nearby factory. He is apparently shot in his right leg, and the ambulance magically arrives the next moment. Paramedics load the man on his injured leg. Pallywood’s extended footage – which didn’t air on France 2 – shows that the Palestinian man was actually firing into an empty room. The Israelis weren’t in sight, and there was no blood. “It’s a staged scene, but it aired as news,” Fegelman said.
He does not believe that all news is staged but does believe that there are people “manufacturing” the news. “People should report this, but they take quotes on surface,” Fegelman said.
The Toronto Star’s Oakland Ross, for instance, quoted a Hamas official on Jan. 22, who said that five Palestinians had died in a Gaza hospital because of the most recent fuel embargo. However, Ross failed to report that both Israeli and Palestinian officials denied this claim, Fegelman said.
Fegelman contacted the newspaper, and it printed a correction two days later. “This is fantastic, but how many people read the followup?” he said.
There are 500 news crews posted to Jerusalem, Fegelman said, the third-highest number in any place in the world. Since Israel has a free press, journalists can say anything about the Israeli government “without being murdered. Compare this to the Arab world in the rest of the Middle East,” he said.
“We don’t hear about the horrible oppression that Saudi Arabia is, hanging dissidents of the government about once a month.”
Fegelman said reporting on the Middle East is one of the most difficult jobs today, and part of the problem is that reporters are parachuted into the region without sufficient knowledge about it and are told: “Tell us the story now.” To deal with the language barrier, journalists rely on stringers or guides – people who take them to places they think are important. This does not happen only in the Middle East but also in Russia, and even in Canada.
Of the Canadian news media, Fegelman said he has the most correspondence with the CBC over the network’s media coverage of Israel. “It puts out the most content and has the most reporters posted to the region,” he said.
Fegelman said he has seen a change in the network’s coverage since Peter Armstrong replaced Neil MacDonald (who many people said had an anti-Israel bias as its TV news correspondent) in Jerusalem.
Still, the CBC’s coverage is worrisome at times. For instance, Fegelman said, the CBC continues to use reports made by Al-Jazeera, the controversial Arab satellite news service.
HonestReporting’s goal is to help people become ambassadors for fair and accurate media coverage of Israel, Fegelman said.
Canadians can write letters to the editors of publications. He advises people to be quick, polite, concise and specific in their letters, and to become as informed about the issues as possible.
“Just because we aren’t formal journalists, doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice,” he said.
For more information, visit honestreporting.ca.