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August 12, 2014

Former Foreign Correspondent Critiques Gaza Coverage

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In a Washington Times commentary (“Hamas rules,” Aug. 6, 2014) Clifford D. May, president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, urges journalists to report more accurately from the Gaza Strip—or acknowledge the obstacles to doing so. He notes the limitations many reporters face in covering the region controlled by Hamas:

“Hamas restricts what journalists in Gaza may film, photograph and even write about. Hamas threatens and intimidates journalists who do not follow what might be called Hamas rules—rules designed to shape media coverage and influence perceptions around the world.

The problem, writes May—a former New York Times foreign correspondent—is that many in the news media fail to disclose to their audiences Hamas’ oppressive nature. This basic omission may leave readers, listeners and viewers to assume that coverage from the Gaza Strip is as reliable as that from countries that uphold press freedom, like the United States or Israel. May suggests journalists at least report on their personal experiences once they have left the Strip and returned home.

“Let me say this as clearly as I know how: The journalists covering Gaza are brave. I’m not saying they should be braver — much less reckless. I do think they should be honest with their readers and viewers about the conditions under which they are operating; namely, conditions of coercion, manipulation, restriction and censorship.”

He also notes that “on any day, any foreign reporter could be abducted, handcuffed and hooded, while their captors reviewed their dispatches. If not satisfied with what they see, that could be all she wrote — literally.”

If that’s the case then shouldn’t there be a discussion within the media about the overall accuracy of reporting from Gaza? Shouldn’t Hamas tactics of influence be something audiences are reminded of periodically? Reports from Gaza—or any society dominated by a single, anti-democratic party—may include not only the unintentional errors and distortions that can creep into news accounts anywhere but also propaganda presented as news, slanted or false information reporters are prohibited from checking adequately, let alone exposing.

May spotlights, among other examples of press intimidation in the Gaza Strip, the threat to John Reed of The Financial Times, “after he tweeted about rockets being fired” from near Shifa hospital and the warning to a television reporter who said he had seen rockets fired into Israel from near his hotel: “In WWII, spies got shot.”

On the other hand, May refers to NBC reporter Ayman Mohyeldi, first pulled out of the Strip after apparently one-sided, anti-Israel coverage, then sent back. Mohyeldi tweeted that he was “returning to #Gaza to report. Proud of NBC’s continued commitment to cover the #Palestinian side of the story.”

“How,” May asks, “to interpret that except as an admission that he covers only one side of the story? Can you imagine a reporter saying he was proud his media outlet was committed to covering ‘the Israeli side of the story’?”

May also spotlights what he calls hypocrisy and a double standard by some journalists:

“Finally, a few words on more subtle forms of journalistic bias: Early in the current round of fighting, reporters for The New York Times asked an Israeli military spokesman ‘about the repercussions of carrying out’ operations against Hamas ‘during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan’. If it occurred to these reporters to ask Hamas spokesmen about the ‘repercussions’ of firing missiles at Jerusalem during Ramadan, I missed it.”

Many journalists apparently believe that by their presence in the Gaza Strip they are providing—and audiences may assume they are getting—accurate coverage, balanced and in context. Reality is more complicated, the news picture more straightforward. The Gaza Strip is ruled by a terrorist organization; reporters are intimidated and comprehensive coverage is compromised. The press owes it to its audience to say so. -- Ziv Kaufman

Posted by ER at August 12, 2014 05:12 PM

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