Wed, Sept 28, 2011 | By Rob Harris
Something is rotten in Reuters
With the comedy of the UN obsessing over Israel this week, and the Durban III Conference, where the acceptable face of racism will hold sway, it is perhaps appropriate to look at the anti-Israel bias of the biggest international news agency in the world, namely Reuters, which in its own small way helped bring Israel to this unfortunate impasse.
Reuters’ bias has been well documented. It features prolificially on websites such as Honest Reporting and Camera and manifests itself not in isolated circumstances but rather as a continual prejudice, which suggests it is endemic at the institution. As the primary news agency, Reuters coverage of international events is beamed across the world, and their articles feature in a vast number of media outlets. Even when not cited, the line they take influences the coverage of more local news organisations, as is often clear when comparing and contrasting articles.
If Reuters displays a consistent bias on a certain issue it has serious ramifications. Here are examples covering the Egyptian assault on the Israeli Embassy and the Palestinian bid for statehood at the UN.
An article on the 10th September 2011, features a peculiar effort to justify the violence against the Israeli Embassy in Cairo as anger over the treatment of Palestinians:
“Our dignity has been restored,” said Mohi Alaa (24), a protester who was speaking near the site of overnight clashes with police around the building that houses the Israeli embassy. … “We don’t want the Americans’ money,” he said, reflecting a growing readiness among many Egyptians to express anger at Israel and the United States over Israeli treatment of the Palestinians, after decades of pragmatic official relations.
Continuing this theme, the reasons for several states explicitly turning against Israel are whitewashed:
Israel is finding itself increasingly at odds with formerly sympathetic states in the region. It is already embroiled in a feud with Turkey, once the closest of its few Muslim allies, over its treatment of the Palestinians.
Principle blame is placed at the feet of Israel. By suggesting that certain previously “sympathetic” neighbouring states like Egypt have turned away from Israel over the treatment of the Palestinians, Reuters thinly justifies an extreme diplomatic hostility that could have a gravely destabilising impact.
The truth is that Turkey gradually turned away from Europe, which was frustrating their application to the EU. Turkey gradually moved into an alliance with Iran and Syria during the mid-2000’s after Erdogan came to power. These states have a very hard-line anti-Israel policy. Egypt never had anything other than a cold peace with Israel after Sadat was murdered. Mubarak honoured peace agreements but was hardly a “sympathetic” ally, nor was Jordan. Egypt became more explicitly hostile after Mubarak was toppled because the civilian populace is resolutely against peace with Israel. Thus the connection between Palestinian treatment and these former allies distancing themselves from Israel is weak at best.
Another example is two of the first three paragraphs of a report by the same authors on Friday the 23rd — the day of Abbas’ application for recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas asked the United Nations on Friday to recognize a state for his people, even though Israel still occupies its territory and the United States has vowed to veto the move. […]
His appeal to the council reflects a loss of faith after 20 years of failed peace talks sponsored by the United States, Israel’s main ally, and alarm at relentless Israeli settlement expansion eating into the land Palestinians want for a state.
The question of the land being “occupied” is of course quickly put to rest in the piece even though Article Six of the British Mandate, which is still in effect, permits close settlement. Melodramatic language such as “relentless” is used when most settlement since 1993 has been natural growth. Reuters articles can often sound quite unashamedly like the mouthpiece of Abbas, Fatal/PLO and the Palestinian Authority:
…he [Barack Obama] said only Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, not actions at the United Nations, could bring peace. “I am convinced that there is no short cut to the end of a conflict that has endured for decades,” he declared.
But the notion that more talks in the familiar format can succeed where so many have failed seems implausible.
So Mr Abbas, a moderate politician opposed to violence, sees no alternative but recourse to the United Nations, although Israeli and US politicians have threatened financial reprisals that could cripple his Palestinian Authority.
The authors implicitly blame Israel for the failure of the peace process, and then engage in what can only be mind reading when they judge that Abbas has experienced “a loss of faith” over said process.
By describing Abbas with wording such as “moderate… opposed to violence”, and variants such as “long opposed to violence”, is peculiar as the PA is still openly involved in inciting hatred and violence such as naming a Ramallah square after a terrorist that led an attack killing 37 Israelis on the same day in March that the Fogel family was buried. It can also be said that Abbas promotes terrorism directly, for example when it was discovered in January that a $2,000 payment was made to the family of a deceased terrorist in his name.
In stark contrast Avigdor Lieberman is described as “far-right”, e.g. “Israel’s far-right foreign minister” which seems a little odd since one would think the label “far-right” (fascist by another name) would be better suited for a Holocaust denier like Abbas!
Our lesson in history, Reuters style!
A history section within the above quoted article demonstrates how prejudicial Reuters coverage can be
Two decades after Israel seized the West Bank, including east Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Middle East war, the Palestine Liberation Organisation effectively reduced its demands to a state on those territories.
Here we have no mention of the fact that three Arab states initiated conflict, which resulted in Israel taking said territory, and neither is there any mention that Israel has returned the vast majority of the land taken in that war such as in the historic peace deal with Egypt. The PLO’s demand for territories is also misrepresented, and given a positive spin. Although Arafat made some positive sounds, ultimately, by repeatedly fudging the issue, they did not amend their charter calling for Israel’s annihilation.
Also notable is the big jump in history from 1967 to 1993! There is no mention of the 1973 war against Israel, which led to the International Oil Crisis, nor the expulsion of the PLO to Lebanon that helped instigate a vicious civil war on a far more deadly scale than any conflict over Israel, the repercussions of which are still being felt today, where Hizbullah effectively rules a state within the State itself.
A 1993 agreement signed by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin set out a plan for Palestinian self-rule, which was never fully implemented.
Whilst it would of course be impossible to go into a lot of detail in such an article, it fails to mention even briefly why full Palestinian self-rule was never implemented. Palestinian terror attacks actually intensified substantially during the Oslo talks which the PA/PLO had been entrusted to prevent but systematically avoided doing so. Neither did they amend their charter calling for Israel’s annihilation, which was a key requirement in Oslo. Finally Arafat walked away from the 2000 Camp David talks and called the Second Intifada.
Israel has continued to expand settlements in the West Bank, although it dismantled them in the Gaza Strip.
The expansion of settlements only refers to the natural growth of communities. Israel hasn’t recognised a new settlement since the mid 1990’s during the Oslo process. Put in some perspective, settlement territory in the West Bank just constitutes 2% of the land.
Two Palestinian uprisings erupted in 1987 and 2000, but failed to end Israeli occupation or bring statehood closer.
These “uprisings” are justified as attempts to “end Israeli occupation”, presumably in the post June 1967 borders but that view is dubious at best. Moreover these “uprisings” intentionally caused high levels of death amongst Israeli civilians, which surely qualifies as terrorism, whether morally justifiable or not? The use of the word “uprising”, as a substitute for waves of Palestinian terrorism, is a persistent issue at Reuters where even Hamas’ activities are lumped in as part of the effort to gain Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza, even though Hamas repeatedly call for the full destruction of Israel. To quote Camera:
Contrary to Jukes’ assurances that his news agency’s stories do indicate Hamas’ stated aim of destroying Israel, Reuters articles in fact continue to falsely portray the terrorist group’s campaign of violence as part of an “uprising for statehood.” A recent example:
Israeli security sources said he was chief commander of Hamas militants in the northern West Bank and responsible for the deaths of dozens of Israelis in suicide bombings in a three-year-old Palestinian uprising for statehood. (“Israel Kills Senior Hamas Commander in West Bank” by Nadia Sa’ad, September 5, 2003)
In another example of a highly selective timeline, which seems to be something of a Reuters speciality:
1967 — In what it calls pre-emptive strikes on Arab states, Israeli forces seize rest of British-mandate Palestine, taking West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan and Gaza Strip from Egypt. Israel captures Golan Heights from Syria.
Of course Israel never possessed more than a quarter of the British Mandate, and to make such a claim illustrates either a remarkable dishonesty or a startling ignorance. Furthermore, Israel did not make “pre-emptive strikes on Arab states”. Israel only struck after Egypt committed an effective act of war by pushing UNIFIL peacekeeping troops out of the demilitarised Sinai, mobilising a huge number of troops to Israel’s border, and closing the Straits of Tiran. Note also the implied scepticism by using the words “In what it calls pre-emptive strikes” for what is a clearly a widely acknowledged historical fact!
December 2008 — After years of desultory talking, Abbas quits negotiations when Olmert launches offensive on Hamas-run Gaza.
In actual fact Abbas walked away from the most generous deal yet made by Israel, where Olmert promised effectively 100% of the territory the PA demanded with modest land swaps.
A paragon of balance or slightly less even-handed than Hitler when having a bad hair day?
Reuters goes over and above the noble endeavour of merely reporting the news. Their coverage always adds a substantial component of opinion, which in reality is only fitting in opinion pieces. In an article published last Wednesday, featuring the prejudicial title “Obama tries to derail Palestinian U.N. bid”, and an unrelated picture of an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian in a headlock, Reuters Mid-East hack Alistair Lyon wrote:
Whatever happens at the United Nations, Palestinians will remain under Israeli occupation and any nominal state would lack recognized borders or real independence and sovereignty.
It is a measure of their desperation that they are pressing on with an initiative that could incur financial retribution from Israel and the United States.
Coverage of the conflict by Reuters can border on an appeal for conflict, as this aimless “will they, won’t they?” piece attests from the 18th of August, leading to the Palestinian statehood bid:
With faith in the peace process non-existent — Abbas himself says talks have hit a dead end — observers have for some time warned of a vacuum that could be filled by turmoil.
Mahmoud al-Aloul, a veteran in the Fatah party led by Abbas, confidently expects widespread protests in support of the U.N. bid. “It is a declaration of a loss of hope,” Aloul told Reuters. “This will lead to a continuous escalation. […]
On the ground, there are few signs of preparation. Headlines in Palestinian papers focus more on protests against the high cost of living and on the uprising in Syria than on any thoughts about Palestinians’ own possible demonstrations in September. […]
At the local Fatah headquarters, Abbas loyalists forecast a large turnout for protests when Abbas asks the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state. But they could not say what, if anything, was being done to organize that.
Such articles turn the conflict into a spectator sport. Yet again Lieberman is described as “far-right” whilst the article praises the notorious terrorist Marwan Baghouti, who is reputed to have murdered many people, five of which he was convicted in 2004 of killing, including three people murdered at a restaurant in Israel.
Marwan al-Barghouti, a charismatic leader in the last two Intifadas and now jailed for life in Israel, was among the first to call for protests to add popular weight to President Mahmoud Abbas’s bid to secure a U.N. seat for a new state of Palestine.
Reuters also blamed Israel for the Christian migration from the Palestinian territories. Reuters prolific “special correspondent”, Alistair Lyon, opened his article with this show stopping sentence:
Despairing of life under Israeli occupation, many Palestinian Christians are moving abroad, threatening their ancient links to Bethlehem and the land where Jesus was born.
It is well known that Islamic intimidation has resulted in towns like Bethlehem turning from Christian majorities to modest minorities while Israel’s Christian populace is larger than ever.
Reuters, as with other news operations, label all groups that express concern over Islam as “far-right” whether or not they strongly advocate religious freedom, and forcefully reject race-based prejudice. They are strongly linked with Israel and pro-Israeli views, probably as a smear, when put in perspective, the zeitgeist of today involves the genuine far-right aligning itself increasingly with Islam and the left in a spirit of anti-Zionism/Americanism that Reuters never address.
Reuters is not immune to the rushing-to-judgement media phenomenon either. For example, they blamed Israel for a 2010 border ambush by Lebanese troops.
It can be suggested that Reuters attitude toward Judaism is also problematic. For example, Reuters celebrated the work of pro-Palestinian cartoonist Carlos Latuff, who has scraped the barrel in terms of Holocaust themed propaganda. Many of his cartoons celebrate terrorism and often include a good dose of anti-Semitism.
Issues of anti-Semitism that arise with certain favoured individuals are downplayed, for example Hugo Chavez and George Soros oddly is described as a “Holocaust survivor”, when in fact he has acknowledged that he collaborated with the Nazis!
Reuters also give greater emphasis to the Islamic claim over the Temple Mount/Haram than the Jewish equivalent. For example, in an article covering the 2010 Muslim assault on Jews as they prayed at the Western Wall, Reuters described the Temple Mount/Haram as “the third holiest site in Islam in an area that Jews also revere as the site of their biblical Temple.” From that description one would think it was less important to Jews, not significantly more so! Of course Reuters couldn’t resist putting the boot in, even with a savage attack on Jewish worshippers! They glossed over the fact that Palestinians launched an unprovoked religious attack, whilst giving prominence to Abbas’ appeal to prevent Israel from starting a new religious war!
It is especially revealing that in Reuters own opinion pieces the prejudice against Israel reads like it was lifted from an extreme pro-Palestinian website, and in fact Reuters have also been found to promote dedicated anti-Israel websites.
Reuters has been involved in a number of minor and more notable controversies over anti-Israeli bias.
Last year Reuters cropped photographs of the conflict on the “Mavi Mariner” flotilla ship. In several photographs knives held by the activists were edited out of the pictures published by Reuters whilst the arms held by the Israeli troops were not.
The issue of doctoring photographs also arose during the 2006 Lebanon War, where a photographer called Adnan Hajj crudely photo-shopped images to worsen Israel’s portrayal. The manipulations were only discovered by internet bloggers due to the sheer crudity of the alterations. As a result a top editor was quietly dismissed. Reuters also published an image of a triple duplicated IDF flare which they then termed “missiles”.
In 2006 a Reuters cameraman called Imad Muhammad Intisar Boghnat, was caught participating in the direction of riots in the Arab village of Bil’in where there is violence each Friday after Mosque, that involves so-called pro-Palestinian internationals.
The owner of the Little Green Footballs website was sent a death threat by a Reuters employee who stated “I look forward to the day when you pigs get your throats cut.” The message was probably sent by Inayat Bunglawala, the Media Secretary of the Muslim Council of Britain, who has been prone to anti-Semitic outbursts in the past.
In 2009, during the war in Gaza, one of the Reuters own articles addressed the controversy over bias. The article used the old tactic of citing criticism from both sides as an example of how balanced they are, for if they are criticised by both sides they must surely be neutral? However, even in that very report the greatest blame is placed with Israel whilst Hamas is described as largely being on the level in allowing Reuters journalists to report unencumbered. Could this be because Reuters is well known to favour the Palestinian side of the conflict, forming a large element of the critical propaganda war against Israel?
An allergy to the word “terrorist”
Whilst the controversies flare up occasionally, it is the continual day by day bias in Reuters’ reporting which does the most damage to Israel’s reputation.
A highly selective use of terminology is a significant element of the complaints over Reuters’ bias. In particular, the word “terrorist” is always avoided when reporting on the Israeli Palestinian conflict.
After a terrorist attack on Jerusalem in March 2011 an article by Reuters stated:
Police said it was a “terrorist attack” — Israel’s term for a Palestinian strike
Reuters not only refuse to use the word “terrorist”, preferring misleading words like “gunman” and “militant” but it would seem they also pour scorn on the authorities that do, or at least in Israel’s case.
Whilst many seek to obfuscate the words terrorist and terrorism by entering into quasi-philosophical discussions on the meaning of terror, the definition of the word “terrorist” is clear enough. Terrorist activity is the use of or threat of violence in order to coerce for political motives. It is principally aimed at civilian targets and infrastructure. Obviously terror can have other meanings but the political definition is clear and not necessarily prejudicial. When a bomb was placed by a bus stop with the clear intent of targeting civilians, leading to the death of one civilian and also the injury of a large number, it is quite simply perverse in extremis to question its use.
In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, Reuters outrageous policy over terminology was made apparent. To quote a statement:
…in an internal memo reminding our journalists of our policy in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks, a statement was made that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” This wording caused deep offense among members of our staff, our readers and the public at large, many of whom felt this meant Reuters was somehow making a value judgment concerning the attacks.
The extremely callous comment in the memo was clearly a value judgement, regardless of what the statement asserts. It points to an underlying anti-Americanism which is often quite mild but nonetheless common in British and European culture. Readers have noticed this apparent anti-Americanism too which leads to the uncomfortable view that the attacks may have been seen as politically legitimate in some respects by a number of senior staff in Reuters shortly after the shocking images were relayed on television screens around the world.
Another revealing view into the Reuters thought process over word use occurred when CanWest, Canada’s largest newspaper chain, started altering some Reuters content published in their newspapers. The mild terminology Reuters used was replaced with words such as “terrorist”. David Schlesinger, Reuters then Editor-in-Chief, told CanWest to remove the writers’ names to conform to their guidelines for articles that make such changes. Reuters has also asked that CanWest add its name to that of Reuters as the source of revised articles, and to display such information at the end of the articles instead of the top. Alternatively, Reuters suggested that its name not be used at all! To quote the New York Times:
Mr. Schlesinger said he was concerned that changes like those made at CanWest could lead to ”confusion” about what Reuters is reporting and possibly endanger its reporters in volatile areas or situations.
”My goal is to protect our reporters and protect our editorial integrity,” he said.
Schlesinger’s statement amounts to an admission that they tow the line when dealing with extremists.
Journalist Jeff Golderb harshly criticised Reuters anti-Israel/US bias and selective use of terminology:
Those Israelis and their crazy terms! I mean, referring to a fatal bombing of civilians as a “terrorist attack”? Who are they kidding? Everyone knows that a fatal bombing of Israeli civilians should be referred to as a “teachable moment.” Or as a “venting of certain frustrations.” Or as “an understandable reaction to Jewish perfidy.” Or perhaps as “a very special episode of ‘Cheers.'” Anything but “a terrorist attack.” I suppose Reuters will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 by referring to the attacks as “an exercise in urban renewal.”
The bottom line is that when Reuters refuses to use common words which accurately describe certain activities (e.g. “terrorist”) on one side of a conflict, whilst using highly prejudicial terms about the opposing side, for example calling the IDF the “Israeli occupation forces”, or IOF as many vehement pro-Palestinians use as a substitute for the IDF, not only harms the truth, it aids militancy and terrorism by subtly legitimising it internationally.
The many examples listed should illustrate that Reuters, the media empire, is indeed rotten, and to extend the metaphor, perhaps to its very core! This has extremely serious consequences which are ignored most of the time. A major news agency that pumps news out all over the world should be the focus of interest if it is shown to display an intensive politically prejudicial bias over a serious conflict.
Whilst Reuters is the focus in this article, anti-Israeli bias has been apparent in the media generally, for a considerable amount of time. It has become something of a cultural zeitgeist, can be shocking in its extremism and occasionally blows into controversy, such as the intentionally faked death of Muhammad al Durrah for French TV that led to an outbreak of anti-Semitic violence. A few months later, senior BBC journalist Fayad Abu Shamala told a Hamas rally in Gaza that journalists and media institutions are “waging the campaign shoulder-to-shoulder together with the Palestinian people.” He had the misfortune of having his name listed on Hamas’ website, yet for all their apparently lofty journalistic values, the BBC declined to dismiss him!
Yet when these institutions are not sufficiently critical or carry a very rare piece which is supportive of Israel’s position, the cries of bias from pro-Palestinians are indeed loud, e.g. the Amnesty debate entitled “Complicity in Oppression: Does the Media Aid Israel”. An example is the BBC Panorama documentary Death in the Med which was critical of the Gaza Flotilla. This led to protests and charges racism, Islamophobia, and even criticism of its scheduling during the month of Ramadan!
Reuters, and much of the rest of the mainstream media, is doing more than reporting the news. They could be forgiven if they were reporting the news poorly. They could even be forgiven if the bias that manifests itself was merely an unknowing part of a common social prejudice. However, Reuters et al have been criticised strongly for this bias over the years. They have never seriously addressed it. In fact this prejudice is more evident than ever. One can only come to the conclusion that it is quite deliberate.
The issue of towing the line with extremists has been raised as one reason for bias at Reuters. However it would seem the core problem is not moral cowardice. Broadly speaking the media, especially with the increase in advocacy journalism, appears to be attempting to shape our understanding of reality itself with a quantifiably left-wing message which seriously hampers the natural societal discourse on politics. More gravely, with serious conflicts where the stakes are extremely high, this prejudice is being unashamedly directed in a fashion resembling obsessive demonisation toward one party in particular. Over several decades this has had a transformative effect.
The basic rules on journalistic balance should not be thrown out the window on a whenever it is incompatible with one’s own ideology or an inconvenience when dealing with extremists. Whether one is pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian, this should not be acceptable to anyone who cares about fairness and justice. If the Palestinian case against Israel is so strong there should be no need to distort and fabricate.
Ireland got a blast of these demonising forces late last year when the international media portrayed the Irish as starving soup-kitchen dependent leprechauns living in the 19th Century. It wasn’t pleasant but at least it was brief. With the corruption of the most elemental journalistic ethics, which has led to such a damaging precedent with Israel, surely the question should be “who on the media hate list next?”
Rob Harris contributes articles to several websites on music, certain areas of technology, and contentious political issues (not to be confused with the popular English novelist (1957-) of the same name). He blogs at eirael.blogspot.com. He lives in Ireland.