As an avid follower of international and U.S. media, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks. Following more than a dozen papers throughout the globe, I can honestly say that the Israeli flotilla raid Americans have read and heard about is radically different than the one many throughout the world have been exposed to. The pro Israel prejudices endemic in U.S. coverage are replicated far less consistently in other countries, and substantive criticisms are far less available here than abroad. A brief review of the quality of coverage in the U.S. and in seven non-U.S. news organizations from across the world demonstrates this point unequivocally.
First up, the Israeli government’s secret document that demonstrated that the Israeli flotilla attack had nothing to do with “national security,” and everything to do with forcing regime change through collective punishment of the people of Gaza. Israel has long been opposed to the government of Hamas, which has expressed openness to recognizing Israel within its 1967 borders, but also engages in rocket attacks on Israel and formally supports its eradication in its Charter. The Israeli document in question discusses the embargo as motivated by Israel’s “economic warfare” campaign against Gaza, designed to terrorize the 1.5 million people living there into throwing out the government of Hamas. This story was originally picked up by McClatchy Newspapers, which reported in the Philadelphia Post Gazette on June 10th on an Israeli official’s admission that “economic warfare is intended to achieve a political goal” of strangulating the people and economy of Gaza.
An Israeli government spokesman said Wednesday that the economic warfare is intended to achieve a political goal [rather than a military one], and that Israel “could not lift the embargo altogether as long as Hamas remains in control” in Gaza. The admission that the “security” rationale is a fraud received virtually no attention in the U.S. in the week following the McClatchy investigation. The story of Israel’s “economic warfare” was referenced, however, in the Independent of London, a paper long known for uncompromising criticisms of Israeli aggression (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/israel-eases-blockade-by-letting-in-extra-food-items-1996142.html). The Independent’s reputation is well deserved in light of its reports from legendary Middle East reporter Robert Fisk. Fisk criticized Israel for pedaling blatant “propaganda” in regards to the flotilla attack. He was specifically referring to the rhetoric on the part of Israeli leaders that that peace activists in the flotilla were “armed” because they resisted Israel’s deadly attacks with their hands, in addition to ominous “sticks and knives” (http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/israel-navy-commandos-gaza-flotilla-activists-tried-to-lynch-us-1.293089). Fisk also wasted no time attacking Israel for its slander of Turkey as a terror state for allowing the Turkish charity group, the IHH, to attempt to break the embargo. The group has been framed by Israeli and American propagandists as allied with al Qaeda and Hamas, despite the Turkish government’s failure to find any links between the group and Islamist organizations and U.S. media and official concessions that there is “no known evidence of current links between IHH and ‘global jihad elements’” (http://www.fair.org/blog/2010/06/10/turkey-is-medias-latest-target-for-alleged-terror-ties/; http://www.newsweek.com/blogs/declassified/2010/06/04/was-the-gaza-flotilla-linked-to-terrorists-.html).
Media critics have leveled many criticisms at the British media in general for being biased in favor of Israel in the recent conflict. At the watchdog group Medialens, David Edwards and David Cromwell contrast the harsh British reporting on Iran’s detainment of British sailors in 2007 to the comparatively more sympathetic coverage Israel received when it boarded the flotilla ships (http://www.medialens.org/alerts/). Journalist Yvonne Ridley deplores the blatant pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian biases of the top brass at the BBC, such as Director General Mark Thompson, who opposed broadcasting a pro-Gazan charity fundraiser in the aftermath of Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” (http://www.counterpunch.org/ridley06072010.html).
A critical reader takes the lesson from the British press that its coverage has often been biased in favor of Israel, but that, relative to the U.S. there is far more room for substantive challenges to Israel (for more on the virtual blackball of critical voices in the U.S. “mainstream” media, see my recent piece, “Rogue State Politics,” http://www.counterpunch.org/dimaggio06042010.html). A similar lesson can be seen in relation to other national media. Dissent as exercised against Israel is tolerated on a far wider level across the board. The New Zealand Herald, for example, has attacked Israel for the “slaughter” of anti-embargo activists in the flotilla raid (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/world/news/article.cfm?c_id=2&objectid=10648805). In the Australian press, the national newspaper, The Australian, has been heavily biased in its coverage in favor of Israel. The paper promises that the Israeli “blockade will end when Hamas wants peace,” framing Israel’s illegal actions as a defensive response to Hamas’ all encompassing power (http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/opinion/blockade-will-end-when-hamas-wants-peace/story-e6frg6zo-1225876635908). Still, the Australian’s apologies for war crimes have been countered in the Sydney Morning Herald, where veteran global correspondent Paul McGeough personally reported from the scene of Israel’s crime, and was detained along with other journalists and activists in the flotilla raid. McGeough described the whole incident as rife with “intimidation” and as “appalling” (http://www.smh.com.au/world/paul-mcgeough-with-the–flotilla-in-gaza-20100529-wm9z.html?comments=29). In an editorial, the Sydney Morning Herald explained that Israel has “displayed blithe indifference to the consequences of its actions” in the flotilla raid (http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/editorial/israel-cannot-shift-blame-for-flotilla-deaths-20100601-wv4t.html?skin=text-only).
Media throughout the Muslim world have typically been critical of Israel’s actions. Outlets like Al Jazeera English are careful to report Israeli perspectives, but also heavily stress those of Turkey, as a state whose nationals were attacked in the incident (http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2010/06/201068165042815907.html; http://english.aljazeera.net/news/europe/2010/06/20106312530449379.html). The Nation of Pakistan has criticized the Israeli practice whereby anyone who criticizes its actions is condemned for supporting terrorism. It frames the occupation, in line with the global consensus, as illegal under international law (http://www.nation.com.pk/pakistan-news-newspaper-daily-english-online/Opinions/Columns/11-Jun-2010/The-flotilla-affair/1). Even Haaretz, the Israeli paper that has been thoroughly reliant upon Israeli propaganda, has published pieces criticizing Israel for aggression in the Occupied Territories and has promoted ending the siege of Gaza (http://www.haaretz.com/misc/comment-page/israel-aggression-continues-19.993390). In one candid editorial, Haaretz went as far as to admit that “The Israeli blockade of Gaza and all it entailed – the goods forbidden entry, the lies about how there was no humanitarian crisis there – was a form of collective punishment against an impoverished and oppressed population that cast a moral stain on Israeli democracy” (http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/opinion/hamas-1-netanyahu-0-1.295266). Such views are regularly condemned as “anti-semitic” and “extremist” in U.S. elite political and media discourse.
No one should romanticize coverage of the flotilla affair in any one national media system. Journalists in all countries are susceptible to government propaganda and spin. Conceding this point, however, doesn’t negate the reality that the U.S. media has been far and away the most closed off to open debate on Israeli aggression. Americans need to seek out international voices if they wish to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Simply following U.S. coverage is likely to encourage further indoctrination in favor of uncritical support of Israel. It will not lead news audiences to an expansive consideration of alternative arguments and points of view.
For those looking to become more educated about events in the Middle East, Anthony DiMaggio’s online journal, www.media-ocracy.com includes in its “top news stories” section stories covering international affairs from newspapers from across the globe. It’s one of the few places where views from more than a dozen countries can be found on one website. It also includes two to three articles covering issues of media, public opinion, social discourse, and current events per day.