|It is not unusual to hear Israel's British apologists accuse the UK media of anti-Israel bias in its coverage of the Middle East. No doubt this confuses newcomer to the debate, since those on the other side of the debate (including prominent journalists such as John Pilger, in his documentary Palestine Is Still The Issue) also claim that the news media in the UK is biased - only in favour of Israel.|
So where does the real bias lie? Bad News From Israel is a recently published survey conducted by Glasgow University Media Group which brought journalists, academics and ordinary viewers together to study the influence of news on public understanding. More than 800 people were interviewed and researchers examined around 200 news programmes, focusing on BBC One and ITV News from the start of the current Palestinian Intifada.
According to their findings, British television news on the Israel/Palestinian conflict “confuses viewers and substantially features Israeli government views. Israelis are quoted and speak in interviews over twice as much as Palestinians and there are major differences in the language used to describe the two sides. This operates in favours of the Israelis and influences how viewers understand the conflict…. On top of this, US politicians who support Israel were very strongly featured. They appeared more than politicians from any other country and twice as much as those from Britain.”
As a result:
“Most did not know that the Palestinians had been forced from their homes and land when Israel was established in 1948. In 1967 Israel occupied by force the territories to which the Palestinian refugees had moved. Most viewers did not know that the Palestinians subsequently lived under Israeli military rule or that the Israelis took control of key resources such as water, and the damage this did to the Palestinian economy. Without explanations being given on the news, there was great confusion amongst viewers even about who was 'occupying' the occupied territories. Some understood 'occupied' to mean that someone was on the land (as in a bathroom being occupied) so they thought that the Palestinians were the occupiers. Many saw the conflict as a sort of border dispute between two countries fighting over land between them.
“Because there was not account of historical events such as the Palestinians losing their homes, there was a tendency for viewers to see the problems as "starting" with Palestinian action. On the news, Israeli actions tended to be explained and contextualised - they were often shown as merely "responding" to what had been done to them by Palestinians (in the 2001 samples they were six times as likely to be presented as "retaliating" or in some way responding than were the Palestinians). This apparently influenced many viewers to blame Palestinians for the conflict…
“There were also differences in the language used by journalists for Israelis and Palestinians - words such as 'atrocity', 'brutal murder', 'mass murder', 'savage cold blooded killing', 'lynching' and 'slaughter' were used about Israeli deaths but not Palestinian… TV News coverage influenced some viewers to believe most deaths had been Israeli.”
Any chance this will stop people accusing the BBC of being overly sympathetic to the Palestinians, as I've seen happen on this very website? We can only hope...