Through a glass darkly: bias in Western news

A report today published by Al Jazeera has highlighted the bias of the Western press in reporting the conflict in Gaza.

Habib Battah compares the photographs of two women, one Israeli and one Palestinian, that were published side-by-side on the front page of an edition of The Washington Post last month. He writes:

“As the Palestinian woman cradled the dead body of one child, another infant son, his face blackened and disfigured with bruises, cried beside her

“The Israeli woman did not appear to be wounded in any way but also wept.”

When the photographs of the two women were published on December 30, over 350 Palestinians had reportedly been killed compared to just four Israelis. Battah argues that the disparity between the suffering on the two sides has not been reflected in the US media which strongly favours Israel.

In Britain, the freedom of the press is seen as a bastion of our society, even if we do not always value it. We descry the censorship of oppressive regimes, yet the bias in Western reporting is far more pervasive and, in many ways, far more dangerous.

Since Bush launched his “war on terror” in 2001, the conflict between the Muslim world and the West has extended into the discourse of the media. Words themselves have become a battleground and the men that print them, the purveyors of truth.

One of the most notorious figures of the world-wide media is Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, who owns News International is one of the most powerful and influencial men in the world and provided the basis for evil genius Eliot Carver in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies.

He is also a staunch and outspoken supporter of Israel.

The News International empire, worth US $43 billion, spans the globe and includes The Washington Post, The Sun, The Times, Sky and Fox. It also is the majority shareholder in NDS, a digital technology company based in Jerusalem,  which has grown from 20 to 600 employees in the past decade.

According to the Jerusalem Post, News International was one of three US companies lauded for their support of Israel at the America-Israel Friendship League Partners for Democracy Awards dinner in 2001. Murdoch himself co-chaired the dinner.

While every person has a right to their political views, Rupert Murdoch is not any old person. Over the years executives and editors alike have criticised the level of control he exerts over his publications.

Last January, the former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil told the Lords Communications Committee that although he did not hold the title, Murdoch effectively acts as editor-in-chief of many of his newspapers.

When Murdoch bought The Washington Post in 2007, many feared that his particular brand of newsmongering would pervade the pages of one of the most highly-respected publications in the US.

One incensed blogger wrote: “Murdoch will defile it and turn it into another example of his legendarily low-brow offerings.”

Yet Murdoch is not the only guilty party. Israel has prevented journalists from entering the Gaza strip since the onslaught began more than 2 weeks ago, despite a high court ruling that ordered them to allow in foreign reporters. Al Jazeera is the only channel with a correspondent on the strip.

Israel has also begun to target news organisations in Gaza itself, bringing back memories of the American bombings of Al Jazeera in the Iraq war.

Journalists have been forced to rely solely on UN figures for information, which are based on reports from medical organisations on the ground. Out of the 854 people confirmed dead, the UN claim 25 per cent are women and children.

However, when this is reported in the Western press “women and children” has magically been changed into the far less specific term “civilians”. While not overtly stated, this implies that the rest must be militants.

The Gazan people, dying in their hundreds, have been cast as the agressors in our press. Conversely, Hamas claims that because there is enforced conscription in Israel, many of the Israeli figures claim that civilians are soldiers.

Robert Fisk in the introduction to Pity the Nation, which tells the chequered history of modern Lebanon, writes: “At best, journalists sit on the edge of history as volcanologists might clamber to the lip of a smoking crater, trying to see over the rim, craning their necks to peer over the crumbling edge, through the smoke an the ash of what happens within.”

We can only ever see the truth of what is around us through a glass darkly. Yet it is the responsibility of every journalist and ever reader to strain to see the light.

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1 Response to “Through a glass darkly: bias in Western news”


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