Monday 1 September 2014

Why Israel is a journalist’s utopia

I'd like to recommend a thoughtful post by former BBC Middle East correspondent Richard Miron, entitled Looking Back at Gaza (first published on his blog Foreign Daze.) 

Here's a (fairly hefty) extract from it:
During the recent Gaza conflict the Israeli authorities facilitated the movement of international journalists in and out of the territory. This allowed high-profile reporters and presenters to come and go during the conflict and for news organizations to rotate their staff during the hostilities.  (This contrasted with the Israeli decision to close off Gaza to foreign reporters during a previous round of fighting in 2008- 2009, and for which it was rightly condemned by news organizations).
The Israeli actions enabled high profile presenters such as Jon Snow from the UK’s Channel 4 News to anchor the programme from Gaza and then to return to London to further excoriate the Israeli authorities with passion and emotion during a news broadcast. That may seem unfair (and unprofessional), but it is also the price of having a free society.
It was also notable during the recent military conflict that Israeli military fire came close to the hotel where journalists were staying in Gaza (and from where some missiles were launched by Hamas) but left them unscathed. This reminded me of my own experiences as a correspondent reporting during Second Intifada in the West Bank and Gaza as well as at other times, when we would ring up the IDF to inform them of our positions to avoid being hit.
Journalists could roam through Gaza with relative freedom (considering this was after all a war zone) to witness the deaths and destruction wrought by the conflict. They cannot be criticized for reporting on what they saw – most especially the numerous civilian men, women, and children killed by Israeli army actions. I know from personal experience how difficult it is to remain detached when faced with the body of a young innocent killed in a conflict. The media are right to pose questions about the use of Israeli force, how it was deployed and how much care was, or was not, taken to avoid civilian casualties.
Israel must be held to account not in comparison to elsewhere in the Middle East but rather to other Western armies operating under similar conditions. And yet in reading and watching the coverage out of  Gaza it seems the media held Israel to an altogether different standard. Civilian casualties were often portrayed as the consequence of deliberate Israeli vengefulness and bloodletting.
I have seen for myself how Western armies operate during conflicts in the Middle East, the Balkans and elsewhere, and tragically there is no such thing as a clean conflict. I still have the photos I took in an Afghan village of what remained after a US air strike destroyed a family compound killing about fifty civilians in pursuit of one Al Qaeda operative. While there has been some questioning by the media over the extent of civilian casualties (numbering in their tens of thousands) in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere, it has been muted by comparison to Gaza.
Where Matti Friedman is entirely correct is in the failure of news organizations and their correspondents to point out the controls and ‘pressures’ both implicit and explicit exerted upon them in Gaza by the all-pervasive and tightly run Hamas media operation. This inaction can only be seen as – at best – moral cowardice by media organizations.
It was also notable in what remain unobserved. One senior BBC correspondent [Jeremy Bowen] wrote after a week of reporting in Gaza that ‘he saw no evidence.…of Israel’s accusation that Hamas uses Palestinians as human shields.’ This is a very strange statement to make. Firstly, just because the journalist didn’t see it doesn’t mean it didn’t occur, particularly when missiles aimed at Israel were emerging from built up areas inside Gaza. Secondly, knowing Gaza’s physical geography it’s safe to conclude that if Hamas operatives did come out from the territory’s packed urban confines, they would have been quickly struck by an Israeli drone or aircraft fire. If they weren’t in the open they were by definition sheltering in civilian neighbourhoods – thus they were using human shields (similar to the way other guerrilla forces  – such as the Taliban – operate).
The Gaza situation sits in stark contrast to Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, where Western journalists have become targets, and where danger severely constrains their ability to report. One only has to consider the monstrous murder of James Foley by crazed ISIS fanatics or the death by Syrian army missiles of Marie Colvin in Homs to understand how risky reporting from these areas has become. Word of journalists being abused and kidnapped in Iraq and Syria are kept quiet by media organizations, and I know of former colleagues exceptional in their bravery, who having suffered unreported close shaves now understandably choose not to return to these areas.
The openness and relative safety for journalists of Israel and by extension Gaza have made it the ‘convenient conflict’.  As a correspondent I benefited from the almost unrestrained access to report, excellent communications infrastructure (fast internet, well equipped TV studios, large local news bureau), short distances between locations (vital for breaking news), good air links between Tel Aviv and the outside world, as well as the decent hotels with well stocked bars. All these factors made this corner of the Middle East a journalist’s utopia.


  1. John Snow said this was pure manipulation by Israel for propaganda purposes, and complained that he wasn't allowed to speak with Hamas. Not BBC, I know, but he's on the same side. Meanwhile, we know BBC journalists have claimed never to have been manipulated or pressured by Hamas. Imagine that.

  2. One thing that concerns me is the increasing practice of the BBC of using local "stringers" who must be easy prey for people like Hamas, who use violent intimidation as a matter of course. Strangely for Israel itself they don't seem to use local stringers, not that I've noticed.

    Dan Read

    Dan Read


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