Tuesday, November 30, 2010

covering (up) the news

With the release of information from Wikileaks, the world sees how what goes on at high levels is kept from the public. As important, if not more so, is how countries try to limit or spin the news being reported. What would you think of the objectivity of the New York Times reporting from the area if you knew all the reporters are Jewish, one is married to an Israeli, another has a son in the IDF. Does anyone speak Arabic? This is a primary reason you should be checking sources directly if you want to know what is happening.

Jonathan Cook is a reporter who has worked for several newspapers, reporting about the Middle East. On his blog he recently posted a lengthy but fascinating account of his history trying to get the news out in the face of suppression. For a sample, read the following excerpt then go to his site for the full story.

The basic principles of media management were developed early on by Israel, as Donald Neff, the Jerusalem bureau chief for Time magazine in the late 1970s, has described. In an article for The Link 15 years ago, he wrote about what he called his “epiphany” during three years covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, rather than a single revelation, his epiphany came as a series of insights that cumulatively undermined his belief in the Zionist narrative he had grown up accepting. His increasingly critical reporting set him in opposition to other foreign correspondents in Jerusalem and incurred the wrath of Israeli officials and lobbyists in the US. His Link essay is fascinating not least because of the continuing relevance of many of his experiences more than 30 years later.

One observation Neff makes, however, no longer applies to the current crop of foreign correspondents. He notes the difficulty he faced at the time of his posting in the 1970s in learning about the essentials of the conflict. In part, Neff suggests, he struggled to make sense of what he was witnessing because of a dearth of reliable information in English on Israel’s history and even more so on its then less than 10-year-old occupation. Without a proper context for understanding the conflict, he found himself vulnerable to the misinformation campaigns of Israeli officials, who claimed that the occupations of the West Bank and Gaza were entirely benevolent.

Neff admits he failed to heed the reports of the the United Nations, the one body regularly investigating and publicising the realities of the occupation. Like other foreign correspondents of the time, and those of today, Neff regarded the UN as a discredited organisation, chiefly because of successful smear campaigns by Israel. Neff paints a disconcerting picture that few Western readers could have appreciated at the time: of a press corps that, far from mastering the news agenda on Israel, largely abided by a part self-imposed, part Israeli-dictated news blackout.

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