Reporting the (bad) news
By FRIDA GHITIS
JERUSALEM -- Who can blame Europeans for hating Israel? In Britain, the University and College Union has just announced it has to cancel plans to boycott all Israeli academics and promote Palestinian views because the boycott, surprise of surprises, would break anti-discrimination laws.
To highlight at least one of the techniques used by European -- and some American -- news organizations, one Israeli has launched his own news parody. ''Bad News from the Netherlands,'' run by Manfred Gerstenfeld, reports on the Netherlands focusing exclusively on negative news. By the time you run through the clippings -- all real news stories -- the usually placid Netherlands sounds like the abode of the devil himself: Dutch soldiers suspected of torturing prisoners and killing civilians; soldiers beating an immigrant to death; Dutch politicians guilty of incitement against foreigners. The list goes on, with items pouring into Gerstenfeld inbox every day from his fans in the Netherlands and from the Dutch newspapers he reads.
His point? You can make any country look bad by the way you report about it. Focusing on the negative is one way to do this, failing to show context and willingly distorting facts or falling for hoaxes from one side of a conflict is another.
Journalists here insist they do the best they can to explain a complicated situation. But often you see the bias without having to look very far. A few weeks ago, Israeli forces uncovered a plot to send a suicide bomber to kill civilians in Tel Aviv during the Yom Kippur holiday. On satellite television I saw all about the incursions into Palestinian territory. Lost in the images of mayhem and devastation was the fact that a real plot to murder Israelis was, in fact, stopped. The suicide belt was found in an apartment only a few miles from my hotel.
Many times Israel does deserve a harsh spotlight. The country and its leaders make grave mistakes for which they should be held accountable. But, like anyone else, anywhere else, they deserve the full story be told before the guilty party is declared. Without that, how are passionate European activists supposed to know which side they should boycott?
Frida Ghitis writes on global affairs.
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