New Media Realities in the
Middle East: reporting from a conflict where language is a weapon, "a camera is
as dangerous as a gun", and journalists are targets
Ibrahim Hilal via phoner with panellists. Right: Panellists (L-R) Rodney Pinder,
Shalom Kital, and Aidan White.
The following is the
transcript of a panel discussion that took place at The NewsXchange in Ljubljana,
Slovenia, 10-11 November, 2002. Participating were Nik Gowing of the BBC, Eason
Jordan, president of CNN, Shalom Kital, CEO and editor-in-chief of Channel 2 News,
Israel, Jonathan Baker, foreign editor of BBC news, Neil MacDonald, Jerusalem
correspondent, CBC, Prem Prakash of Asian News International, Aidan White, general
secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Belgium, Rodney Pinder,
video editor, Reuters TV (retired), Ibrahim Hilal, editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera,
Steve Edwards, chief editor, English News, Israel Broadcasting Authority, Tony
Maddocks of CNN, and Patrick LeCocq,* Redacteur en chef, France 2.
*Since the translation
of Patrick LeCocq's comments was not included on the recorded tape, we have eliminated
references to him in the transcript.
We felt we had to remind you very starkly of the violence, the bloodshed, the
tension, the often unexplainable events that so many of us and our colleagues
have taken enormous risks to report, record and above all to bear witness to.
Bearing witness, that after all is our business, whichever part of the news business
we're in. To allow us and our audience to know or have a terrifying if confusing
hourly, daily sample of the Middle East today. And it goes without saying, we
don't delude ourselves, this is neither the first nor the last gathering on the
Middle East and the problems and challenges of covering it. I'd like to suggest
to you that over the next hour and a half there are really five points to examine
on the Middle East in the areas that are central to the focus and the problems
we have. First of all, the pressures on the main media brands to conform or else,
the media brands who are well established and are finding it very difficult operating
in the Middle East for reasons that many of you know about already. Secondly,
the challenges from non-traditional media, especially internet and mobile phones,
particularly the newer brands in the Middle East and particularly the more radical
brands like Hizbollah TV, like others that are now part of that matrix of the
media in the region. Thirdly, what about the use of language and pictures, people
like me who are on the air day in, day out, what kind of language are all those
in that matrix using including those in the Internet and those in the Arab world
as well. Fourthly, the cost of bearing witness and fifthly, the IDF and Palestinian
attitudes to the media.
None of this is prescriptive
but we want to focus more precisely to get the best value from this session. Let's
get on to the first area, very precisely the pressures on the main media brands
to conform or else. It's a very delicate issue for many broadcasters in the region,
how much do we succumb to complaints from any side in the Middle East and modify
the editorial policy to accommodate them. This happened earlier this year when
CNN admitted a mistake in airing an interview in May with the mother of a Palestinian
bomber praising her son rather than another interview with Chen Kanan whose mother
and daughter were killed by the bomb. A technical mess up, not an editorial decision,
was what the CNN chairman Walter Isaacson made very clear in his remarks afterwards
it had happened. Then there were Ted Turner's remarks to the Guardian about the
Palestinians and Israelis being engaged in terrorism. The debate about those remarks
is now well aired, let's set it to one side. Let's examine what happened next
and the pressures on many of you, many of you senior executives as well as CNN.
The widespread perception that CNN then succumbed to massive Israeli pressure
and modified its editorial approach in the region - true or not? Let's remember
what Chris Cramer said right at the beginning of today, "Let us get to the uncomfortable
pressures that hit us all in this business. If we can't talk about them here,
then we can't talk about them at all."
Eason Jordan joins us
from Atlanta, he's CNN's chief news executive and president of CNN global news
gathering. Eason thanks very much for joining us here in Ljubljana. Ha-Aretz said
"CNN blinked first on this issue." Did you?
No not at all. To quote the former Israeli PM, he said this phrase many times
on CNN, "that's bullshit." We did not cave in to the Israelis, we've not caved
in to the Palestinians, we are here to just tell the news in a straightforward
way but there's always room for improvement in our reporting. But we're not here
to please one side or the other and in fact we do not please one side or the other;
we displease both.
do you say to the perception, Eason, that you did give ground on this?
it's certainly fair to say that CNN acknowledged some shortcomings in its reporting,
because for instance when you interview a women whose baby, her only child, and
her mother, were both killed in a suicide bombing and you tell that woman what
time the interview is going to air and then at the appointed time instead of that
interview airing you air a celebratory interview with the mother of the suicide
bomber, a mistake has been made. Now if acknowledging that mistake is in some
way caving in then we caved but that I think was the right thing to do. To acknowledge
that error and make sure we don't allow those things to happen again. We did not
cave in and perceptions are not always reality and I can tell you, the reality
is that we did not cave. We're very tough on the Israelis and we're very tough
on the Palestinians and will continue to be so.
there any commercial considerations in the changes you made to editorial policy
particularly because of the pressure you were getting from Fox on the Yes satellite
Really Fox is not a factor, commercial pressures are not a factor. CNN still faces
the prospect of being dropped off Israeli cable systems on October 31st when our
cable operator contracts expire there. I am confident however that Israel will
not be the fourth country in the world to ban CNN distribution especially when
the other three countries coincidentally are the "Axis of Evil" countries, Iran,
Iraq, and North Korea. Israel does not want to be put into that group when it
comes to CNN distribution. I am absolutely sure that Israeli people who watch
CNN will insist on CNN being made available to them.
Does anyone want to enter the discussion at this stage so we can move it forward.
Eason I gather you've getting up to 6000 emails each day. How much has that influenced
in any way the judgments you've had to make on editorial policy, particularly
when it came to what you did in that incident but since as well?
Well the email spam really is counter-productive and just serves to anger the
news executives who are the recipients of the email. There is some thoughtful
email amongst the thousands of unthoughtful emails and we value those very much.
We welcome constructive criticism. We know that we can do better in our reporting
and we will continue to strive to do better. But my email filter is working overtime
and I now have 8000 email addresses blocked out from people who like to send in
spam but it's not influencing our news coverage.
Kital, what's your view of what Eason's been saying in terms of your perception
of all let me speculate that the Israeli audience won't be banned from CNN's fine
news reporting. Of course, there might be criticism from a professional point
of view once in a while. I myself have criticisms, as I guess other audiences
watching my channel have criticisms. Nevertheless I guess that it will still be
on the air and in any case we at Channel 2 in Israel who are in contract with
CNN will continue to have the fine service of CNN and that's it.
OK, let's check that we're unbiased here. Jonathan Baker, foreign editor of BBC
news, Jonathan, what kind of pressures are we under at the BBC?
word, every frame, that we broadcast from Jerusalem is recorded by the Israeli
foreign ministry and scrutinized and they make their views plain to us if they
see something they don't like, which is frequently. Our current difficulty is
actually less about arguments over content and more about the logistical difficulty,
in that they are currently refusing to renew the accreditation of the non-Israeli
camera crews, which makes it extremely hard to go about our business at all because
without the accreditation you can't get through the checkpoints, you can't even
enter government buildings and the pretext for doing this is the government says
we should be employing more Israelis. However because the Israeli crews are banned
by law from entering the occupied territories, clearly they are not able to the
job that we require.
Is the BBC getting this level of emails and complaints that Eason has outlined?
at that volume I don't think. There is a constant traffic of emails, telephone
calls, messages, both in London and Jerusalem but not at that scale.
Eason, why do you think you've been targeted specifically. I mean there are Israeli
bumper stickers that say "CNN lies," the Israeli communications minister talked
about CNN as being "evil, biased and unbalanced"? You'll be familiar with all
well the Israeli government is making a mistake if it considers CNN the enemy.
CNN is just trying to tell the story of Israel, the story of Palestinian areas,
in a straightforward way. We're not trying to favor one side over the other. We're
not going to pull any punches in our reporting but the truth hurts sometimes and
it hurts both sides but it's a mistake to target the news media. We've had enormous
frustrations in having access to occupied areas of the West Bank and Israeli forces
on a number of occasions have shot at CNN personnel and in fact did shoot one
CNN correspondent; he was badly wounded. The Israelis say they're actually trying
to restrict our access to these areas and they say it's too dangerous for you
to be there and my response to that is that it wouldn't be nearly as dangerous
if you didn't shoot at us when we're clearly labeled as CNN crews and journalists.
And so this must stop, this targeting of the news media both literally and figuratively
must come to an end immediately.
We have Neil MacDonald from CBC joining us from Jerusalem. Neil, what is your
impression of the way certainly the Israeli government is treating different brands,
especially the international media brands?
I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I hear this business about how the US
networks are being accused of being anti-Israeli. If anything in my opinion the
American networks since 9/11 are more willing to accept the Israeli/Bush administration
line. That aside though, I should say that I think that a lot of Israelis have
just decided that the press at large is the enemy. You've mentioned the "CNN lies"
stuff. I've been sworn at after suicide bombings by people very angry, just "all
of you in the foreign press you're all a bunch of leftists, you're a bunch of
Arab lovers." CBC is the subject of a rather intense write-in campaign right now
because we did a story about how settlers are looting Palestinian olive groves
and the army is protecting them and ejecting the Palestinians from their own groves.
One would think the video spoke for itself but there's a lot of emails accusing
us of being one-sided. You know the one-sided accusation tends to come from people
who would tend to call you one-sided if you aren't constantly promoting their
side. We have been in the families of victims of suicide bombs, we have been in
the families of Arab victims of Israeli bullets and missiles. You try to do it
even-handedly but I have reached the conclusion that this is a tribally driven
conflict that is seen through the prism of ethnic nationalism by both sides and
I have given up even having a rational discussion with either friends of Israel
or friends of Palestine. I just don't think that it's possible. I think that ethnic
nationalism is a blinding influence and they are not going to understand us bringing
to bear western news values. So frankly I've decided that I'm not going to take
any lessons from anybody that is not living here and living through this on how
this should be covered.
Neil, we're talking specifically about the problems facing the main media brands.
Eason would you like to respond to what Neil has said about the perception of
American channels being too close to the Bush administration?
I don't agree with that but I understand why people have that perception. It has
to do with 9/11 and that's really a whole other discussion. I would like to point
out that CNN and the BBC are in a category of their own on this one because you're
talking about the two major global news organizations in English that from Israel
and the Palestinian territories produce many thousands of reports a year. Just
over the past year CNN has produced over 5000 live and taped reports a year. Now
there is going to be some fodder in there for people on both sides to complain
and sometimes legitimately about what they perceive to be unfairness in the reporting,
but if you judge the reporting on the whole I think you'll find with both the
BBC and CNN that the reporting is fair. There's a difference between fairness
and balance because CNN's position which stirs up some controversy is that the
fair thing to do doesn't always allow for balance - allowing a terrorist to get
50% and the victim to get 50%. We believe that certainly all sides should be heard
but the perpetrators should not be given equal time with the victims of those
Jonathan Baker, do you agree with Eason on this, not equal time?
don't think we have a fixed policy to that extent but I think that clearly individual
stories are reported on the merits of each one so clearly a suicide bomb or an
Israeli incursion, the balance of each of those reports might be weighted more
one way or another. What you're looking for as Eason says is balance over a period
of time and hope that at least in the audiences there is a consciousness that
you are at least making the effort to do so and that you are not partisan.
My perception is that the large media here tends to accord to Israel the respect
of being a state and not accord that to the Palestinians. Last night on NBC there
was a report of the Israelis doing something in a daring raid on Ramallah. You
will never hear a network talk about a daring raid on the Palestinians. The language
is very important here. Since 9/11, everybody's a terrorist. In this country,
any Palestinian that attacks any Israeli target is a terrorist and often that
term is recycled by the Western media. You won't hear anybody apply that to Israel.
I'm not saying it should be applied but I'm saying that the language is very unbalanced
and I think it says a lot about our institutional biases and respects.
Shalom, do you want to jump in here?
just want to elaborate on one thing Neil said and I totally agree that the networks
changed their coverage of the Middle East after 9/11 and you should think why.
When the West realized that terror is very dangerous, very dirty, very ugly, then
they became maybe less balanced about terror, less tolerant of terror and started,
and I think as an Israeli rightly so, to look at it from a different perspective
because it's close to your door.
OK, let's move on to language. Neil, you've been looking at the way the incident
today has been reported in both the Israeli and the Arab media. Give us a taste
on this day of the kind of different language that's being used because I certainly
as a presenter become troubled about whether we should use "die" or "kill" and
there's other language and we can go right through the lexicon. What's your perspective?
Well, I think what you're talking about is the suicide bombing, and the suicide
bombing's been a large story here in the last couple of days. The Israeli government
has been putting documents before reporters about the government of Iraq funding
people that blow themselves up. They've handed out videos to reporters and the
video has been recycled. If we just take a look at some video we have now from
Al Manara TV in Lebanon distributed by the Israeli government and what we're looking
at here is pictures of a woman on the right watching pictures of herself hugging
her son before she sends him out to be a martyr. This is the anchor sympathizing
with her saying "Thank God, your son has been made a martyr." The woman then comes
back to the anchor and says, "Yes, thank God." I think what this sort of thing
indicates and this is Hizbollah, the hard core fringe TV, but there is an ambivalence
among the mainstream Arab media about suicide bombers. I think they are viewed
as the only weapons the Palestinians have against the Israeli tanks and you hear
them say that a lot. They do draw a moral equivalence between somebody blowing
themselves up in a pizzeria and the Israelis unloading a tank into a crowded neighborhood.
Even on Al Jazeera, even on the big ones, you will definitely hear the reference
to the man who blew himself up in Tel Aviv and killed a woman, you will hear him
called a martyr. Now on the other side, it is my perception that the Israelis
have taken up what the government has given them unquestioningly. We have some
video here as an Israeli broadcast the other night where not only has the business
about Saddam paying the suicide bombers been talked about heavily but the Arab
columnist for one of the big Israeli networks is talking about the document he's
been given that shows Israeli/Arab families shot by the Israelis have been given
checks, and here are the checks by the government of Saddam Hussein. I don't think
anybody stopped on the Israeli side to say 'So what?' These are people that have
been killed in violent clashes and this could be viewed as humanitarian aid but
the very fact that the money is coming from Iraq - there is no distinction between
money going to suicide bombers and money going to people whose children have been
killed or father has been killed in violent clashes or just walking down the street.
But when you insert Saddam Hussein into the matrix, as has been done here by the
Israeli foreign ministry and defense establishment, and you can understand why
people go for it. All Iraqi money must of course be evil and that I think resonates
with the American networks. Last night NBC had a report that wholeheartedly reported
the Israeli side and did not go to the Palestinian side to examine the issue of
money going to Palestinian humanitarian purposes. The vast majority of the $30
million that Saddam has given out has gone to humanitarian purposes to people
that have been wounded, had family members killed, or had homes destroyed. People
are looking at this through their own prism.
Eason, how much do you think the use of language has contributed to your problems
on CNN? Maybe loose language occasionally but we're all guilty of that, but do
you think this contributes to the perception problems you've had on CNN?
There's no doubt, the Palestinians get mad because we don't call suicide bombers
martyrs and the Israelis get mad because we don't call all suicide bombers terrorists.
There are all sorts of trip words here that can be problematic. We have a big
team based in Jerusalem, we have people in Gaza and the West bank, we have a big
team here, that spends an awful lot of time worrying about words and how we use
words in our reporting from the Middle East and there's no question that we get
tripped up every now and again and on rare occasions we use the right words but
we try to be careful about these things. For instance, we do think it's fair to
say that if someone gets on a bus in Tel Aviv and kills civilians that person
is a terrorist and we use that language very sparingly. We would not use it if
that attack took place in the occupied territories against an Israeli military
outpost. So we have very clear guidelines and we try to adhere to them.
think that a terrorist is a terrorist and this morning we heard about a dirty
bomb and I can tell every day in Israel there are dirty bombers even though they
don't carry a dirty bomb. I think here you cannot be impartial, you cannot be
balanced. A terrorist is a terrorist and if he kills civilians he's a terrorist
and it has nothing to do with the fair judgment of political rights, of social
rights, of human rights, which is a different dispute. Terror is terror.
We have seen a lot of terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of India and my view
is the same, that a terrorist is a terrorist. We have noticed several times in
Kashmir that the [inaudible] media have used the term 'separatist militants.'
There is no such thing because these guys have been known Afghans. Similarly,
in Israel there is no such thing as a freedom fighter. A terrorist is a terrorist
and I think that we should understand that after 9/11 any language that does not
describe this as terrorism compromises the civilized world.
I just say that I think that this is a real problem and it makes journalism almost
impossible because journalists that are trying their best to be professional and
that's a difficult thing in most circumstances anyway. But reporting what's going
on in Kashmir, reporting what's going on in the Middle East, even reporting what's
going on in Colombia, is well nigh impossible when the motives are constantly
being questioned and you cannot actually deliver what is a professional report.
The problem is we will never get the language right if all sides in the dispute
refuse to accept proper scrutiny of what they are doing, and if we're in the business
of trying to provide that scrutiny and trying to do a decent job in good faith,
we're inevitably going to fall foul of those who want to manipulate the media.
There's no solution on this. We can learn the skill of trying to get the language
right, we can learn the vocabulary of tolerance, but that in this situation is
As you stand back though Aidan, why should both sides not allow the word terrorism
to be used? Why can't Israel talk about terrorism by their own people inside the
believe that news organizations really must use language that is balanced and
reflects what they see is the situation and not make the mistake of moving toward
one side or the other in order to keep people sweet. The problem is that a lot
of what we do is not going to keep people sweet. We've actually got to do the
best job we can but when you have the sort of restrictions that are being imposed
and political pressure that's being imposed at the same time, there's effectively
paralysis being imposed on the news process.
do you ever have concerns that some of the things the Israelis do in the West
Bank and Gaza could be construed as terrorism and you should use that word too?
doubt about it. When Dr Baruch Goldstein massacred seven or eight years ago a
number of Arabs praying in Hebron, he was a terrorist and we called him that.
What about now?
doubt about it, and you can see it in our reports that a lot of activities by
Israeli fundamentalists are described in a very critical way.
got a confession to make, one of my best friends in my career was a terrorist.
He's called Nelson Mandela. The word terrorism now is being used in such an emotive
way, it's being bandied about by whoever is looking down the telescope. So it
depends what stand you are taking and where you're coming from and I think with
news reporting we'd be far better off letting the facts speak for themselves and
avoid trite labeling.
How do we avoid it? It's easy to say that and moralize about here in Slovenia
but how do we somehow make it possible not to be accused of being perceived to
be taking sides somehow? Can it be done, Aidan?
it can be done, maybe there's someone in this room that can do it but I haven't
seen it. You can't please everybody all the time in our business, it's just not
possible. We have to report what happened and events aren't always balanced to
suit all sides.
Eason, do you actually ban the use of any words?
don't think it's prudent to ban the use of words. Relevant to this conflict there
are no banned words but we do try to be very careful. But I do take issue with
the notion that terrorist or terrorism should be a banned word. I think that's
ridiculous. There is such a thing as terrorism and there are terrorists and I
think we need to be very careful about how we use those phrases but news organizations
that ban those words outright, really that is the easy and cheap way out and I
don't think that's the right way to report. Neil, what's your view given that
you live with this dilemma every day? Do you feel sometimes you're loose with
your language or might be tempted to take one side or another almost by default
when you're writing your scripts or particularly when you're doing a live interview?
There's always that danger but I think that we have to be careful to use non-emotive
words. Basically terror is violence we disapprove of. It's a highly subjective
word. I don't think it should be used. I want to quote a counter-terrorism expert
in Tel-Aviv who makes the point that we can easily arrive at a definition of terrorism,
'terrorism is violence against civilians to advance your own political agenda.'
I have no problem with that at all. Now there's also something called a war criminal
and I would suggest that fairness dictates that if we arrogate to ourselves the
ability to call so and so a terrorist then we have to equally take upon ourselves
the decision whether so and so is a war criminal. The wording on who is a war
criminal is right there in international law but mainstream organizations are
never going to do that in this place and for obvious reasons. So I would suggest
that we avoid using the word terrorist altogether. I do. Call it a fighter, call
it a bomber, call it a shooter, but something that describes what the person does.
But you know terror is not terror, and to suggest that it is you take upon yourself
the right to judge. By the way, the point that was made earlier about Baruch Goldstein
the settler that killed all the people at the Tomb of the Patriarchs - yes, he
was called a terrorist on the Israeli side. Most often these people are referred
to as suspected Jewish extremists and I would be willing to bet that like the
Iraqi case, the state of Israel is probably paying a pension to Mr. Goldstein's
OK, let's move on to the challenge to the main brands like CBC, BBC, CNN, even
the main players in the Middle East, from these new media players out there, the
Internet, the mobile phones, and stations like Hizbollah TV. Is this making our
life even more difficult because they are radicalizing the agenda by what they
say and what they show? Neil?
They are watched by many people in the Arab world. There's a huge audience for
Al Jazeera. I'm not saying that they're radical but I think that the western mainstream
media have a duty to look at conflicts through the prism of what we believe to
be western democratic values. I don't think they are too difficult to describe
and I think we have to stick to it and we have to not listen to the perorations
of either side, which can be very extreme depending on the ethnic and tribal outlook
of who you're hearing from. So to me it's not that complicated.
What about you, Eason? The radicalization of the younger generation in particular
who are watching these channels, watching on the Internet for a different kind
of reporting that doesn't go through the same kind of filtering that we seem to
be used to?
Well, I think they're good and they're bad. It's a good thing to provide information
to people who want choice and sometimes I think there's not been a lot of choice,
especially in the Arab world. I think what's problematic is that many of these
outlets don't even pretend to be objective. They don't pretend to be fair. They're
pushing forward an agenda which can be a problem when it comes to the consumer
because not all consumers recognize that they're seeing something that is not
objective, that is agenda-driven journalism. And having said all of that and being
mindful that some of those outlets are given to incitement, which is a pity, and
having said all of that, it does bring more importance than ever to the responsible,
respectable, objective news organizations, because we're trying our best to walk
the straight and narrow. We're not perfect but were also not driving home an agenda.
So I think in many ways it makes what we do more important than ever.
say it's more important, but Neil, what about the fact that the younger generation
tend to be more radical anyway and they see a different form of reporting? Is
that making our jobs in the main brands more difficult as we try to secure an
audience and retain it?
If you're talking about the Arab world and the so called Al Jazeera effect that
has been proposed in the US, of mass incitement, I think that where there is religion
this is true and you have to be careful about it. It's a problem and I think there's
an underlying racist element there that assumes Arabs for example are more easily
incited than anybody else and I think that that underlies a lot of western news
reporting and I'm not sure that's true at all. In many ways they have a view of
this place that I'm not sure is valid. I hesitate to jump on any bandwagon that
says that people are being radicalized. I think that that is something that is
put forward by governments in order to justify measures that they want to take
or wars that they want to wage. You've got to judge people by what they do.
Neil and Eason, thank you very much indeed for joining us. Does anyone want to
join this discussion because these are critical areas in terms of the impact that
the journalism we're doing has. I have Ibrahim Halal, who is Editor in Chief of
Al Jazeera, joining us from Qatar. Let's hear from you about the challenge that
even Al Jazeera is having from something like Hizbollah TV, which is even more
radical than whatever you're reporting.
cannot tell you exactly what sort of challenge we are facing from Hizbollah TV
but, yes, they are doing a very good job of the quick news reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian
conflict. But they have an ideological background that is completely different
from what we are reporting. I can agree with Mr. Jordan that some governments
in the Middle East are claiming that the youth are being radicalized to justify
their actions against young people. But we are facing challenges from our governments
in the Arab world as well. Yesterday we heard that the Council of Information
Ministers in the Gulf area banned dealing with Al Jazeera because they thought
that Al Jazeera was attacking their governments and they claim that Al Jazeera
is a Zionist channel, is an Israeli channel, and they banned dealing with the
companies dealing with Al Jazeera. So I think we are facing the same challenges
you are facing in the West.
It's the case, isn't it, that you've been banned from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and
you can't work in Syria at the moment because of these problems?
I can confirm that we are not working in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in
Syria, Tunisia sometimes. Today we are banned from reporting the Algerian elections.
We sent a reporter from Paris to Algeria and he has not been given his accreditation
so we are facing a lot of problems in dealing with our own region. We're still
waiting for more windows to be opened in the minds of the governments.
just want to say to Ibrahim that the Jerusalem bureau of Al Jazeera is safe.
we talk about this radicalization? What's your perspective on the real pressures
in the field from these new more radical stations.
think the main problem is not the radical stations, it is more the Internet, which
is accessible to a lot of people especially young people, and carries a lot of
unbiased reports and garbage reports and a lot of the time you have to make decisions
when audiences get that sort of information from the Internet, either propaganda
or speculation. I'm not sure the news networks have found a solution to this problem.
You've introduced that problem. Let me just give you, those of you that might
not be familiar with what life can be like in the field, from what happened in
Jenin, the kind of thing that Shalom was talking about. I personally was getting
between 50 and 100 emails a day from inside Jenin or just around Jenin. But the
problem is what kind of credibility we give this very often emotive and subjective
reporting often from people who are not reporters at all. This kind of thing saying
that Israeli army reports that hundreds are dead in the camp. Eyewitness reports
of three truckloads of bodies being taken away and this kind of thing, "They surrounded
us and took over many houses. They scared the children. A big shortage of food,
water, milk and medicine" and the kind of claims about what was happening including
of course the role now of digital cameras inside, say, the Jenin refugee camp
with these kinds of images, which produces the problem of how true do you believe
these statements are? "Individuals including neighbors have seen bulldozers demolishing
homes and shelters in which there were still people including women and children."
All this at a time when the issue was one word - massacre. Should we have even
been using that word with the Palestinian concerns and the Israeli concerns about
how it was handled. And what do we do about something like this that certainly
appeared on my email at BBC World, an email of a video sequence of the murder
of a young Palestinian. What kind of level of credibility do we give this? We
have no time, we have no location, we have no date. We didn't even know if it
had happened inside Jenin or around Jenin but it appeared at that time with the
implication that the murder of this Palestinian had somehow been connected to
Jenin. This I think is a very troubling development. Add to this mobile phones
as well and where does that leave us all? Aidan?
think this reflects a big problem for broadcasters everywhere and the problem
is, we know as journalists that the quality of information is only as good as
the source you get it from and it'd impossible to verify the information you're
getting here. You need to find ways of corroborating the information you get.
You need to get your people there, you need to get some follow up. But the problem
is that the very idea of trying to verify or corroborating information is subject
to the tyranny of breaking news. We're constantly under time pressure to get something
out, often that means regrettably that this sort of material, which if we had
more time for editorial reflection, this sort of material would actually be less
important. We would actually be able to rely on our traditional sources. But there
are two problems: one is the tyranny of breaking news which forces us to be quick
and the other point is one made earlier about the difficulty of getting our own
people on the ground and this is making us sometimes, I think, cut unacceptable
All this appearing in a vacuum when journalists and humanitarian workers couldn't
This is not particularly new, of course. I remember being on the outside in the
first Gulf War when the Iraqis were occupying Kuwait and we were getting phone
calls on satellite phones from inside Kuwait all the time about horrendous massacres,
about babies being ripped out of incubators, of bodies being stacked high. And
once we got in there we discovered that most of these reports were absolutely
baseless. However there is a salutary lesson, I think, in this for authorities
that seek to keep journalists out of these areas. These reports circulated out
of Kuwait because no independent journalist had any access whatsoever. If independent
journalists are being shot at or shut out by censorship of access, which is now
happening in Israel, if we can no longer have independent access to journalists
on the West Bank, you'll see this multiplied by a hundred score and we'll have
no means at all of checking.
much is this a challenge to you? You had to monitor, Shalom, Jenin, day after
day. You got into a major spat yourselves at that time when you had pool access
and you decided to show it. So when you see something like that and the attitude
of the Israeli Defense Force, how much is that creating a new transparency which
they are not considering?
had our disputes with the Israeli armed forces and once in a while and including
this incident at Jenin when the IDF wanted to ban a report by our crew and we
didn't agree with them and we aired it. I think that there is not one single government
in the world which during times of war gives free access to journalists. It's
unfortunate but it's not specific to the IDF and I think that if the US is going
to attack Iraq we will see all kinds of restrictions by the government.
But this is a way round the restrictions?
way governments and armies try and restrict journalists is not to give them free
access. Once in a while when I have off the record discussions with the IDF and
Israeli officials, I tell them that from their point of view they are committing
a grave error. The best way to get the story out is to have a journalist. Even
a biased journalist on the spot is better than having rumors that blow up into
I just want to underline just who really are the media? In an operation like this
who really are out there? Are we actually looking at the issue of the media in
the Middle East through a very distorted and very one dimensional paradigm? Let's
look at a three-minute clip from a remarkable documentary which was done for the
Dispatches program on Channel Four called 'State of Terror' within Jenin on the
work of a forensic pathologist who went in well after the events in Jenin. But
the point here is that there was someone there who is an architect who lives in
Jenin who was providing images on her own camera of things that were being denied
at the time by the Israelis.
[Runs video footage.]
There is the fact that there were images that took weeks to get out but they were
there and there was evidence of what was happening in Jenin. Do we see this as
the new trend, Aidan, of what is happening inside an area of conflict?
I think we are. We are seeing the systematic denial of access to journalists when
there are incursions taking place. It's actually causing this problem where we
have to rely on amateur images, amateur accounts of what's going on, and inevitably
you get a growth in the importance of speculation and rumor rather than confirmed
information. Israel is the democracy in the region and certainly it never tires
of telling everyone but I think that Israel is very much the guilty party here
in restricting proper scrutiny of what's going on and I think this is extremely
difficult. If you look at the way the major news organizations are being effectively
denied access and resources particularly in the use of Palestinian assistants,
this is making life extremely difficult-the systematic de-recognition of all Palestinians
who work in journalism and the refusal of the Israeli authorities to recognize
that there is such a thing as a Palestinian journalist anymore. They take the
view that a person who is a Palestinian is a potential terrorist; there is no
longer any such thing as a Palestinian journalist. Now that's a dreadful state
of affairs if we're trying to get something half decent in terms of reportage
from the area.
Shalom, do you think that's a fair assessment of your government and its failings
on this issue?
not a spokesman for the government and I have my own dispute with the Israeli
officials but I think this is taking it to the extreme. Of course there are problems.
My channel uses Palestinian crews in Gaza and Ramallah and most of the time there
are no problems and they have free access. On the basic point I agree with Aidan:
an amateur tape is always worse than a professional tape but I think that what
we have seen here is a distortion because on one hand it's very emotional.
But it's evidence of a large number of Palestinians being detained.
evidence told by a Palestinian...
not saying the camera lied there, are you?
but the interpretation of the pictures: she knows they're not terrorists but the
Israeli soldier doesn't and he has to do his job. The emotion and interpretation
put into the tape is "well look what sorts of atrocities the Israeli army has
done there" - it is distorted.
Well let's get another perspective on this because Steve Edwards is joining us.
What's the position with you when it comes to operating as openly as you can?
of all I think there is an immense problem here of perspective of background.
If you take the kind of images that you have just shown, if you take the images
that document the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict in all its horror, I think
we are in a sort of chain effect where the atrocity of today is not necessarily
explained by the outrage of yesterday. The fact that a bomb went off in the centre
of Tel-Aviv this morning is in itself a horrifying event. This in no way excuses
immoral or nasty behavior in the areas of the West Bank and Gaza City, but there
is a perspective of an appalling, colossal bloodshed that has taken place over
the last two years between Israelis and Palestinians in which the principal victims
have been civilians on all sides and I think we have to be extremely careful of
using manipulative material or material that is honest which documents an event
but then the interpretation of that event without perspective and background often
bewilders, confuses, and leaves audiences world-wide with a very misleading and
inconsistent view of what is actually happening in this region.
about your operational problems at the moment?
I think we have serious problems because as we've already heard journalists are
restricted from getting entry into very sensitive spots and this of course is
something that is difficult not only for the international media but for the local
media as well. I would like to point out, and I think that my colleague Mr. Kital
has already mentioned this, the local Israeli media is as fierce and as probing
as any international media organization. The headlines on BBC, CNN, Sky, or Al
Jazeera are carried on our news channels the same day. We are deeply concerned
by the events that are taking place in our own backyard and we are also concerned
as journalists for the democratic nature of Israel. We are also concerned for
the future of the peoples of this region. We are unfortunately also the victims
of that conflict and I think frequently Israel is portrayed as an almighty super-power
in the Middle East which is beating up on the poor Palestinian neighbors and in
black and white terms that is what it may look like. Unfortunately, the reality
is much more complicated. Israelis and Israel feel themselves victimized just
in the same way as our Palestinian neighbors do. When a bomb goes off in a hotel
or a supermarket or near a bus this morning, the nerves of Israelis across the
country are in a shambles and they are electrified and concerned and frightened.
Fear, misunderstanding, lack of dialogue are what marks this region and I feel
very strongly that media should do a lot and in many ways is doing a lot to try
and explain the way Israelis feel, the way Palestinians feel, and perhaps our
leaders should be feeling some of that as well.
Steve, thank you very much. Ibrahim, what's your response to that, particularly
about the role of the media and the responsibility of the media from all sides
to create the basis for dialogue and understanding. Do you feel you are able to
be balanced, accurate, or dispassionate in the way you are reporting? Do you feel
in your own way you are fuelling part of the problem?
tried six years ago when we started to participate in the dialogue between Arabs
and Israel because we were the first Arab channel to interview Israeli guests
and officials but unfortunately we couldn't change the mentality of Israeli public
opinion like that. We were always accused of fuelling the conflict, either by
Israeli officials or by public opinion in the Arab world. I think the most important
role of the media is explaining the context to any conflict. The context of this
conflict is that there is a state owning a very important military arm and there
is another state the Palestinian Authority, which doesn't own very advanced military
equipment. Yes, I agree that the suicide bombings are a mistake but at the same
time the context of the conflict is much more important. The context is that the
occupation is ignored by much of the media. When Iraq occupied Kuwait nobody described
the Kuwaiti resistance as terrorists, they were just resisting the occupation.
I don't want to make any similarity between Iraq and Israel but I want to draw
the attention to the fact that any occupation should be dealt with equally. This
is the most important point that is ignored by many in the Western media; when
we in the Arab media try to explain the context, we are accused of fuelling the
Ibrahim, how much do you have second thoughts about the language you use on your
channel particularly about martyrs and commando operations?
have explained this point several times. We are the only channel that opens 60
or 70% of the reality of what is going on in the Middle East. Let's encourage
this 70% of the reality, let's try to open it 100%. We are dealing with public
opinion which has been used for years to listen to lies and bad information. Encourage
Al Jazeera in its role to give accurate information. Sometimes we are 90% right
but it's a lot better than five years ago.
you very much, Ibrahim. For the last segment we are going to talk about the basic
tactical problems of many of our colleagues working in the Middle East particularly
in the West Bank or Gaza or Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, wherever there are serious
security difficulties, which is pretty much the whole area. I'm going to show
a four-minute video just to remind ourselves just how difficult it is for many
of our colleagues, many of whom have been hit both on the Palestinian side and
the Israeli side. But before I do, can I go to Steve Edwards. Steve, just as a
curtain raiser, what's your perception now of the attitude of the IDF, because
the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies began a study at the beginning of July
and you have a new chief of defense staff, Yalom, who has said "we have got our
media policy wrong" and there's a ten-point plan which is now being suggested
to the IDF? Do you see anything politically being accepted by the IDF in terms
of changing their attitude to foreign and domestic journalists?
think we have definitely been witnessing a hardening. It is more difficult for
journalists to get inside the West Bank in order to cover the story but again
this should be seen in the context of an ongoing highly dangerous conflict. It
is very difficult for a journalist in any conflict zone to move together with
forces at the height of a combat or incursion situation. I think that as far as
Israeli media is concerned there is a sort of ongoing understanding regarding
the nature of the military censorship. Military censorship takes the form of limiting
the information about ongoing or highly sensitive issues. Of course, there have
been many cases in which this kind of censorship has been circumvented. The entire
situation is very sensitive. We are able to get reporters into the field. We are
able to get reporters into areas like Hebron and Bethlehem and other places where
there is an Israeli presence. To go much beyond that can be difficult and dangerous
for journalists themselves.
you fear change in the political attitude, Steve, from the IDF, who are criticized
in this Jaffee report for not having an operational or tactical doctrine that
really understands the business of real time TV now?
I think that the IDF is a very slow moving operation and until these new attitudes
are actually implemented I fear that some time is liable to pass. Having said
that, I think that the right and the privilege and the necessity of Israeli media
organizations is to try and do as much as they possibly can to uncover the stories
behind the incursion, to cover the kind of decision-making process that is going
on behind the IDF, and perhaps some of the more unpleasant aspects of IDF operations
in the West Bank and Gaza and the IDF is reluctant to go along with this kind
of reporting. Military reporters have from time to time got into hot water and
will do so again because of the types of issue they are covering.
for joining us, Steve. Shalom, can I come to your view on this in a moment. Let's
just remind ourselves of the threat to our colleagues in the Middle East.
[Runs video footage.]
Now, Rodney, when you hear that last remark, "Don't come to us. It's your own
responsibility," is that acceptable?
No, it's not and it's a remark we've heard time and time again in similar conflicts.
When he says the media is not the main issue, I would respectfully submit that
in a democracy the media has got to be the main issue because if there is no freedom
of press then there is no democracy and this has just been batted sideways by
this conflict. I remember Shimon Peres and it is a pity he wasn't here today because
I would have liked to ask him about his comment in the press conference at the
UN just after the start of the Intifada when he said that a camera was as dangerous
as a gun, and this to me surely helps set the tone for everything else that has
Aidan you analyze this on a daily, weekly basis, can you compare the Israeli attitude
to journalists to the Palestinian attitude to journalists? Is there something
we're missing from this comparison?
tendency to look for balance means that we say that the Israelis are a problem
but so are some of the Palestinians and I think that's right, but there is no
question at all that 90% of the problems have come from the Israeli authorities
and their approach and I think it's deadly in terms of how counter-productive
it is. By seeking to eliminate the capacity of the Palestinians to report on themselves
and be part of the media process, they are inevitably encouraging extremism, more
rumor, more speculation and deepening the nature of the conflict rather than contributing
in some sense to a better understanding of what's going on. The fact is that 70%
of the Palestinian people watch Al Jazeera. They're not watching Hizbollah TV,
they're hungry for decent news coverage, and suppressing the Palestinian journalist
community, which is what's happened over the last couple of years, is a desperately
sad part of the process.
Jonathan Baker, from the BBC's perspective, what is our relationship with the
Israelis in terms of the number of times our colleagues have been fired at and
indeed one of our drivers was killed in south Lebanon two years ago.
and our appeal to the Israelis to carry out a full inquiry and reach some conclusions
on that case are still ongoing. We're not making any progress at all. But there
was an incident more recently here. Orla Guerin and her crew were shot at in Bethlehem
even though they were standing in the open, clearly marked as press, and wearing
their flak jackets. This isn't just specific to the BBC. I think, as Chris Cramer
was saying this morning, journalists are no longer considered to be neutral observers
but very much targets and in fact Danny Seaman couldn't have made that more obvious
just now. This is not just a phenomenon in Israel: we've seen it in Afghanistan,
in Zimbabwe, even last week in the Ivory Coast.
Tony Maddocks CNN, you have the responsibility of dealing with this on a day to
day basis. What happens when you approach the IDF press office or the government
press office or whoever?
I'm just going to refer to a case that you're familiar with, Aidan. It was the
death of the Italian photographer Raffaele Ciriello, who was shot dead earlier
this year. This is a picture of him with Arafat just before it happened. But the
very clear impression from the IPI was that there's a belief that the price for
taking out a small video camera out of his pocket is that you get killed for threatening
a military operation. And the IPI's view at the time was that this was part of
a concerted strategy by the Israeli army to control reports on the surge of armed
hostilities. Is that your perspective, Aidan?
have to say that the Ciriello case raises quite horrifying questions. It was supposedly
investigated by the IDF. They made a report that report was scandalous in its
failures to take account of the eyewitness accounts that were available in the
incident and it basically said, in confirmation of what Danny Seaman said, "If
you're there and you're not supposed to be there, that's tough." There wasn't
even an acknowledgement that it was Israeli bullets that killed that photographer.
And so this complete denial of the circumstances is extremely worrying and it
cannot but confirm an overwhelming impression that there is a ruthlessness in
the IDF in dealing with media to the extent that there may be examples being set
in order to teach lessons to the media. Now that would be horrifying if it were
true and could be substantiated but one cannot look away from the clear evidence
of the disregard in terms of the investigating and reporting on such a case as
was shown by the IDF. Certainly, it shocked us, it certainly shocked our Italian
colleagues and so on, and the whole case reinforces the view the Chris Cramer
talked about this morning, about the real need to take safety seriously and risk-awareness.
There is no doubt that Ciriello was traveling with people with whom he might have
got into trouble but it raises serious questions.
Shalom, final word. You're one of us, a fellow journalist, a senior executive
in an independent broadcasting operation. Do you think these accusations, the
kinds of things that have been revealed in the Jaffee Centre study are fair and
that the IDF should take a more balanced and reasonable understanding for what
is needed for handling the media for what for Israel remains a war of national
doubt about it, and I think that the approach of the IDF spokesman is incomprehensible
because not only does it endanger journalists, and let me here make a strong condemnation
of what Danny Seaman said about Palestinian journalists. As I said earlier, a
terrorist is a terrorist and on the other side a journalist is a journalist whether
he is Israeli or Palestinian and I cannot accept as a journalist or human being
this kind of approach. So I think that the question is (a) to let the free press
do its job. On the other hand, I think that from an Israeli point of view, the
Israeli perspective would be better served if there is free access to journalists.
There's a lot of criticism we're hearing here from Rodney and Aidan and others
that doesn't do any good for the Israeli information. To be balanced my operation
has five injured camera crew and correspondents over the Intifada, so we are suffering
the same thing.
Thank you everybody. TBS