Over the past months, seven activists from Israel and elsewhere have been exposing online readers to scandalous yet accurate reports from media in Britain (violent drunk teens), France (high homeless mortality), Norway (serial child molesters), Finland (sexual harassment in parliament), Sweden (soaring suicide rates), The Netherlands (menacing Muslim unrest), Mexico (rampaging flood victims) and Los Angeles (drive-by killings).
The seven bad-news activists visit one another's online blogs and have incorporated links referring the dozens of surfers who visit their pages every day to sister-sites. Though they all act out of a desire to counter what they see as media bias against Israel, they operate independently and have little communication with one another. Some of them rely on friends to send them interesting bits of bad news.
"This project demonstrates how media coverage can degrade any country's image by using selective news without context," explains media analyst Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld from Jerusalem. His seminar last summer, entitled "Bad News about the Netherlands," became the kernel of his blog.
Gerstenfeld told Anglo File at the time that by maligning Dutch society he was "merely employing the methods of some in the Dutch media." Those parties, he said, habitually report only about Israeli aggression while omitting any reference to Palestinian violence, among other tactics.
The Netherlands' former ambassador to Israel, Bob Hiensch, indicated he found the project "simplistic and naive" - which hasn't stopped Gerstenfeld from updating the site every day. His blog attracts up to 300 readers a day.
Dr. Genevieve Benezra cites a sense of deep frustration in explaining what made her launch her bilingual Bad News from France blog two months ago. "For years I'd fume over bias in French papers and television," she says. Benezra, a retired jurist from Kfar Hayam near Hadera and veteran French immigrant, heard about the initiative from Gerstenfeld last year at a conference for child survivors of the Holocaust.
It was around that period the British blogger, who preferred to remain anonymous, joined the Bad News club. John (not his real name), who immigrated to Israel from Britain 12 years ago, heard about Gerstenfeld's pet project at a lecture. "We agreed we could make a very good one on Britain," he recalls. "I realize this can be seen as unpatriotic, but the truth is British society never fully accepted me. I was always a Jew there," says the 69-year-old academic. "You could say I have a chip on my shoulder, even though I love British culture in general."
David Silon, a Los Angeles are Jew from birth, runs Bad News from L.A. He says defaming his hometown - which enjoys some degree of glitz in foreign media - is only a means to demonstrate how easily media reports can be manipulated.
Appearing patriotic seems to be of little concern to Kenneth Sikorski, a Finnish non-Jew who runs both Bad News from Finland and Bad News from Sweden. "Even harsh criticism does not generally register as unpatriotic in Scandinavia," says the 48-year-old retired paper industry machinist. Sikorski, who was born in the U.S. and immigrated to Finland 20 years ago, has been monitoring the media for years. "I observed egregious errors in the reports about Israel. One major newspaper said the Separation Fence was electric instead of electronic," he says.
"I have written countless letters to editors," says Leif Knutsen, 48, who runs Bad News from Norway. "I usually received no response and my letters weren't published." Knutsen, a management consultant who converted to Judaism and immigrated from Norway to New Jersey 15 years ago, says the Norwegian press is particularly hostile to Israel. Part of this, he says, draws from Norway's strong peacenik tradition of the 1960s, which Knutsen thinks has resulted in "a simplistic world view where Israel is seen as the one remaining imperialist client state of the U.S."
Gerstenfeld would most like to see a bad news blog covering Belgium. "If it faced Israel's difficult position, Belgium would have disappeared long ago," he says. Benezra would especially like to cover the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec. "I may include it, though I don't know how helpful my blog is," she says. "At least it relieves some of my frustration."