Fear of abuse 'distorts' Middle East reporting

Philo says television news focuses on violence and eye-catching images

Television journalists covering the Israeli-Palestine conflict are “afraid” to put the dispute into context and their reports distort viewers’ understanding of the issue, according to a media academic’s survey.

Greg Philo, professor and head of the Glasgow University Media Group, claimed television journalists did not try to explain the conflict for fear of being called “Nazis and anti-Semitic”.

In his survey of TV news from the BBC and ITV between 2000 and 2002, Philo criticised reports on the conflict for “substantially” featuring Israeli Government views: Israelis were quoted and spoke in interviews more than twice as much as Palestinians, particularly on BBC One. There were major differences in the language used to describe the two sides, favouring the Israelis and influencing viewers’ understanding of the conflict.

The survey, Bad News From Israel, co-written with fellow academic Mike Berry, also asserted that the main news and current affairs programmes – with the rare exception of Channel 4 News – “used a distorted lens” in failing to tell the real story.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this week, Philo said many respondents believed Palestine held the Occupied Territories, while others thought Palestinians were “refugees from Afghanistan”.

“People don’t understand the origins of key world events,” he added. “In the case of Israel and Palestine, people simply don’t know that the Palestinians lost their homes and land in 1948.”

He said there was distortion because “television news focuses on violence and eye-catching images and the issue is all so controversial. As soon as you start to raise these arguments, there is a tremendous row.

“Journalists say they are nervous to raise these kinds of arguments because of so much abuse. They get hate mail, with people attacking them for being Nazis or anti-Semitic or whatever else.”

The researchers examined about 200 news programmes and interviewed more than 800 people.

By Wale Azeez

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