Public systematically misled on Gaza

Shoddy reporting means Britons have bought into one falsity after another

By Alex Brummer, February 12, 2009

Israel has paid a heavy price for the media’s rush to judge events in recent years. In 2002, it was deemed responsible for a “massacre” in Jenin, which a subsequent investigation found to be false. During the 2006 Second Lebanon War, it was alleged that Israel had caused large loss of life at Qana, a report which turned out to be greatly exaggerated.

In the recent Gaza conflict, the IDF was again condemned by much of the world’s media, particularly for an attack on a UN school compound in which 43 civilians were sheltering. A subsequent investigation by the UN’s humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem found that no such attack had occurred. The deaths took place on a street nearby after Israel returned fire following mortar fire from Hamas fighters taking shelter in a crowd.

It is always difficult in the midst of fighting to find out what is happening. But the initial condemnation of Israel by the UN Works & Relief Agency (UNWRA) and human rights groups has been hugely damaging to Israel’s international image and is partly responsible for the extraordinary build up of anti-Israel, pro-Hamas opinion in the UK.

Reports by independent monitoring groups have uncovered systematic misrepresentation in the British media. And now that the hostilities are largely over, much more is being learnt about the behaviour of Hamas.

Lists have, for instance, appeared on Palestinian websites of Fatah and Gaza clan members killed, wounded or maimed by Hamas fighters under cover of the Israeli assault.

Last week, The Times Online reported that the UN had halted humanitarian supplies to Gaza after Hamas forces seized an aid convoy.

The Israel-based website Honest Reporting, which keeps a close eye on non-governmental organisations operating in the region, focused on the activities of the Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert, who was being quoted on Palestinian casualties on an almost daily basis in the British media, including the BBC, Sky and The Independent. Among other things, Gilbert accused Israel of using Gaza as a “test bed for new weapons”. What HR points out — as did the JC in January — is that Gilbert has been involved with Palestinian solidarity work since the 1970s, he has been involved in Norwegian Communist organisations and he has criticised the aid organisation Doctors Without Borders.

Another monitoring organisation, Just Journalism, is critical of the BBC and broadsheets for a failure to tell audiences what Hamas is really about. Its analysis found virtually no mention of the fact that the Hamas Charter calls for the destruction of Israel and that it does not accept any previous peace pacts between Israel and the Palestinians.

Just Journalism found just 4 per cent of photos published in the first week of the conflict showed Hamas militancy and 75 per cent of cartoons showed Israel as the aggressor. Only in the leader columns was a reasonable balance found.

Just Journalism is critical of BBC Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen for his highly personalised reports — an impression confirmed by Panorama on February 9.

If these examples of shoddy reporting have a resonance it is because they match allegations made in a contested report by the Media Standards Trust. It charged that job cuts and the rush to put stories online had combined to heighten the risk of intrusion and inaccuracy in the British media. Public trust in the media had been badly holed.

However, if that were really true, it seems strange that the UK public would have bought into the Hamas/Palestinian media narrative so comprehensively.

Alex Brummer is City Editor of the Daily Mail

    Last updated: 11:29am, February 12 2009