Israel/Gaza: Where’s the bias?

01Jan09

When western mainstream media are often accused of universally biased coverage — pro-Israel, for example, whenever that country confronts, or is confronted by, its neighbours — the critics often have a point.
We have heard the same accusations during the current conflict in the Gaza Strip. Media are generally friendlier to Israelis, the argument goes. I’m not sure I agree, having read a few front-page stories that tend to:

  • Quote Palestinian civilians first, sometimes without talking to anyone on the Israeli side
  • Report civilian casualties on the Strip and sticking with that as the story, and
  • Play down any military retaliation on the part of Hamas or any other “Palestinian militant group”

I’m not saying this is always the case or that it is unfair, but just that it seems to be a trend.

Just a couple of days ago, though, Liberal activist Warren Kinsella, a presumably loud pro-Israel voice in his party, very colourfully denounced a Globe and Mail front-page piece from Dec. 29 for favouring the Palestinian cause.

His main concerns with reporter Patrick Martin are worth noting:

  • In the very first paragraph, we are informed that Israel commits acts of “carnage.” Just like that. No such pejorative gets applied to the hundreds of rockets Hamas has fired at civilians in Southern Israel for weeks.
  • At the bottom of that same paragraph, we are informed – as fact, not opinion – that said missiles “posed no existential threat to the powerful country.” Tell that to the Israelis – some of them existentialists – who have been forced to flee, repeatedly, to bomb shelters. Tell that to the family of the man killed last week.
  • Israel’s act of self-defence is, to the Globe’s correspondent, a “massacre,” and one which – to the correspondent – “should come as no surprise.” That is, acts of “carnage” and “massacres” are what Israel does. So sayeth the Globe.
  • Hezbollah is merely a “militant Islamic group.” Um, no. For half a decade, Hezbollah has been officially designated as a terrorist group in Canada (by Liberals, by the way, not Conservatives). “Militant Islamic group” does not quite capture the same meaning. And I don’t give a sweet damn what the Globe’s vaunted style guide says: style guides should reflect reality, not seek to change it.
  • Speaking of style guides, the front-page story violates one of the bigger stylistic rules repeatedly. Using flying quotes, Martin writes that Israel sought to restore “quiet” and that it had been relying on Israeli “intelligence.” Flying quotes are journalistic tricks, used to express doubt and derision. There’s nothing “quiet” or “intelligent” about them. Or this “analysis.”
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