20 March 2009
Just Journalism Discussion Series
On Tuesday, Just Journalism hosted a panel debate addressing the question: Do the British media have an obsession with Israel? Chaired by Jewish Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard, Channel 4 newscaster Jon Snow, former Chatham House senior research fellow Robin Shepherd, Daily Mail city editor Alex Brummer and former New Statesman editor Peter Wilby, expressed a range of opinions and prompted lively contributions from an audience of more than 130 people.
Israel reporting: an obsession?
Robin Shepherd argued strongly that the media do have an obsession with Israel. He claimed Israel's treatment by British journalists is irrational and that legitimate criticism has morphed into demonisation. He also described comparisons made between Israel and Nazi Germany or Apartheid South Africa as fundamentally unreasonable, and contended that journalists failed to address Hamas' anti-Semitic ideology.
Channel 4's Jon Snow argued, 'if there were an obsession with this issue, we'd have resolved it by now.' He said that, in fact, the Israeli-Palestinian issue was neglected by the political classes, who were ultimately responsible for breeding hatred in the region. The media, he contended, 'are left to take the can'.
Peter Wilby made a wider point that the contemporary focus on images and casualty figures in news reporting gives the impression that there is a media obsession. He added 'this is an area in which everything is contested', concluding that the media 'can't win' in pleasing sympathisers on both sides of the conflict.
The practical realities for journalists
Alex Brummer explained how the competitiveness of the news industry places great pressures on journalists reporting from the region. Responding to a question concerning inaccurate reports about an Israeli attack on a UN school in Gaza in January, Jon Snow claimed that the nature of conflict journalism necessitates the difficult task of reporting events as they take place, despite the scarcity of facts at the time.
Jon Snow also made the point that Israel's decision to ban journalists from Gaza made some inaccurate reporting inevitable. Robin Shepherd disagreed, drawing a parallel with similar difficulties facing journalists reporting from Chechnya. He maintained that journalistic standards 'must not go out the window' in such conditions.
On the issue of sources used to corroborate reports, raised by Peter Wilby, Robin Shepherd argued against the use of sources exclusively from organisations that are known for holding partial views on Israel.
All the panellists agreed that journalists do not necessarily have a personal agenda to criticise Israel. Robin Shepherd argued that improper reporting is often the result of institutionalised attitudes that perpetuate within news organisations.
The extent of media accountability
Discussion about the recent pressures of reporting from Israel provoked questions about whether the mechanisms for maintaining the media's accountability are adequate. Jon Snow argued that one of the distinctive strengths of Britain's broadcast media was its accessible regulatory framework. He commented: 'I am regulated by it and I bask in it'. Alex Brummer added that editors take the available complaints framework very seriously.
This was the first in a series of discussions hosted by Just Journalism.
Read about the event in this week's Jewish Chronicle.
For more information or to contact us, please visit www.justjournalism.com
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