It’s too early to declare winners and losers in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Likewise, the time hasn’t yet arrived to pronounce conclusively on the outcome of the concurrent media war. Still, the various presentations of this campaign provide an opportunity to reflect on the state of the media vis-à-vis Israel and its regional neighbours.
In a sense, not much has changed. The usual people are saying the usual things about Israel and the Palestinians – on TV and radio, in newspapers and online. For the most part, the punditry class has remained true to form. Meanwhile, viewers, readers and watchdogs continue to call for media neutrality and equal representation, even though those ideals are nearly impossible to achieve, given the entrenchment of media partisanship. When the news is custom-fit to viewers’ particular political positions, media purveyors must wonder what benefit there is to offering another perspective – especially since it appears some viewers are concerned about neutrality only as it pertains to media outlets that don’t align with their personal worldview.
But there’s a difference between perspective and outright lying. In the first days of this conflict, the New York Times committed an appalling error, accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of silence in the wake of the murder of Arab teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir. In fact, Netanyahu responded almost immediately, and the Times was forced to publish a long correction. Still, the damage was done, and there has been little explanation why the mistake was made in the first place.
That sort of fabrication of fact has also been apparent on social media. Journalistic standards often get thrown out the window on Facebook and Twitter – perhaps that’s inevitable, but it’s a serious problem when propagandists pose as new media reporters and documentarians, as was the case with the #GazaUnderAttack online campaign. It took the BBC – a news outlet not usually all that friendly to Israel – to point out that many of the images posted to social media purporting to show the death and destruction wrought by Israel on Gaza were in fact taken in Syria and Iraq.
Misinformation has proven a potent tool for Hamas, achieved by muzzling reporters, photographers and videographers with threats of violence or death. One prefers to believe journalists would do their utmost to get the whole story, but maybe not when the personal cost is potentially so high.
Finally last week, video emerged showing the assembly and launch of a Hamas rocket from urban Gaza. Perhaps the work of the New Delhi crew behind that brave piece will embolden other journalists to report accurately and impartially. After all, it is their job.
By contrast, the Israeli press has been nothing short of magnificent during the war. All the major, and many minor, news outlets have committed to wall-to-wall coverage, while a tireless blogosphere and social media have added texture and colour from the front lines. Together, they have kept Israelis informed 24/7, and offered the rest of us an opportunity to get a real feel for what it’s like to be living in Israel – and Gaza – right now. Considering the deception and selective coverage emanating from Gaza, that’s a victory in its own right. — YONI