Tuesday 14 June 2016

Analysing Trends in Mainstream Media Bias: RTE’s Coverage of the 2015 Quasi-Intifada – Part Two

This article provides an analysis of two RTE television news reports, during the Autumn 2015 period, when a sharp rise in Arab-Palestinian attacks against Israeli civilians, and security personnel, occurred. Broad issues of normative journalistic practice are also discussed. The preceding part of this series analyses, more broadly, a relatively large number of other RTE reports broadcast during the same period. RTE Player links of the principle daily television news programmes (Lunchtime News, 6.1 (6 O’clock) News, and 9 O’clock News) are only made available by the broadcaster for a limited period of time.

Carole Coleman reports

An 14th October Lunchtime News report by Carole Coleman, appears to have partly or indirectly justified the Intifada-esque conditions in Israel and the disputed territories of the Judea and Samaria/West Bank, as well as the Gaza Strip, by laying undue blame with the authorities opposing the then-resurgent bout of violence. Appendix One features an excerpted transcript of the news-report.

RTE-Player screen-grab, revolving news text,
RTE News Now channel, 14-October-2015

Israel’s security measures are described prejudicially in the report. In the introduction, the news presenter claims the security measures will “seal off” Arab neighbourhoods, while Coleman describes the measures as “blockades”, which misleadingly evokes the actions applied to Gaza. The revolving screen-text on the RTE ‘News Now’ channel also stated: “Israeli police to seal off Arab parts of Jerusalem”. However, the security measures were not remotely as draconian. Roadblocks and ‘stop and search’ measures were put into place. Residents were not being prevented from travelling outside of their communities, nor were people being prevented from travelling into the relevant neighbourhoods.

Coleman’s report features quotes from two individuals: an Arab resident who was hostile to Israel, and a representative of an anti-Israel NGO. Coleman did not quote an alternate perspective for the report.

An Arab man, identified as ‘Khader Ishkirat’, a resident of Jabel Mukaber, provided his views on the new security restrictions. He described these measures as “collective punishment”, and presented the restrictions as somehow contravening the pursuit of a two-state peace solution. However, Coleman’s report failed to note that the Jabel Mukaber neighbourhood is an Arab-Palestinian village in the environs of Jerusalem, which has earned notoriety, both as a flashpoint of violence, and due to a number of its residents having engaged in particularly vicious acts of terrorism, which include what was the then-current violent upsurge. Jewish residents have experienced substantive violence, due to their proximity to the village.

RTE-Player screen-grab, RTE Lunchtime News, 14-October-2015, Carol Coleman
 report, featuring Sari Bashi, of the NGOs Gisha & Human Rights Watch

Sari Bashi, identified as a representative of Human Rights Watch, also offered highly critical views on the security measures. Bashi however is better known as the co-founder and Executive Director of anti-Israel NGO Gisha.

Bashi does not have a reputation for presenting balanced critiques on the Israeli-Jewish/Arab-Islamic conflict. She defended the reputation of notorious terrorist Shawan Jabarin. Moreover, Gisha’s critiques erased the context of Israeli military actions as constituting reactions to Hamas’ rocket bombardments from Gaza. The NGO also baselessly charged that Israel was violating the rights of students from Gaza.

Misrepresenting the root causes of the conflict

The most problematic aspect of Carole Coleman’s report is the overt attempt to lead its audience into a simplified understanding of a protracted conflict, which stands in contravention with basic established fact, when choosing to blame the current spate of violence principally on settlements and the failure of peace talks, whilst ignoring the most pernicious religious sectarianism that has pervaded this conflict, which existed long before Israel became a reality. The report finds Israel blameworthy, despite the attacks being aimed indiscriminately at Jewish civilians, as well as soldiers and the security services.

This quasi-Intifada erupted following Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ intensive incitement, featuring false claims of an intent by the Israeli authorities to change the status-quo of the Temple Mount, and harm the al-Aqsa Mosque. The claims were echoed by the PA itself, for example, to quote a near-concurrent PA broadcast:
“The story of the Temple is nothing but a collection of legends and myths for political reasons. They [Jews] have set Palestine and Jerusalem as their goal, and have used the myths in the service of their declared goals of occupation and imperialism. In the spirit of the delusions and legends, they try to get rid of the Al-Aqsa [Mosque] and establish their so-called ‘Temple’ — the greatest crime and forgery in history.”
Mahmoud Abbas set the stage for the violence in his speeches, which were notably supportive of the increasing violence at the Mount. To cite a speech from the 16th of September:
‘His honor [Abbas] saluted the Murabitin (those carrying out Ribat, religious conflict/war to protect land claimed to be Islamic) and stated: ‘Every drop of blood that has been spilled in Jerusalem is holy blood as long as it was for Allah. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded, Allah willing.’ … and stated: ‘The Al-Aqsa [Mosque] is ours, and they have no right to defile it with their filthy feet.”’
Furthermore, the modus-operandi of stabbing terror attacks had been widely linked to several speeches by leading Muslim-Arabs.

Arab members of the Israeli Knesset also led incitement drives, claiming Jewish people have no right of worship on the Temple Mount.

Likewise, a survey of concurrent Arab-Palestinian opinion demonstrated that most oppose the two-state solution, based on the principle of two-states-for-two-peoples. Only 30% supported a one-state solution where Arabs and Israelis possess equal rights. No less than 58% were against the recognition of Israel as a nation for Jewish people, that carried a mutual recognition of Palestine as a nation for Arab-Palestinian people.

Palestinian leaders rejected a two-state solution, and peace with Israel, in 2000, 2001 and 2008, the latter of which afforded near 100% of all Palestinian Authority territorial demands with mutually agreed land-swaps. If Arab-Palestinians were truly despairing due to a lost quest for their independence, they would instead punish their own leaders for repeatedly undermining that process.

The report ignores a phenomenon that led to a century of anti-Jewish Arab-Palestinian incitement at all levels of society. It led to pogromic episodes that began circa 1920 in Jerusalem, some 47 years before the Six-Day war. Likewise, the Second Intifada erupted following PA incitement over false claims of Jewish designs on the al-Aqsa Mosque. At the time Arafat believed a bizarre conspiracy, where Israel would engineer an earthquake to destroy the Mosque.

RTE-Player screen-grab, RTE Lunchtime News, 14-October-2015, Carol Coleman report,
captioned: "Palestinians also cite increased encroachment on the al-Aqsa..."

Reiterating sectarian propaganda

Most surprisingly, Coleman appears to endorse the Arab-Palestinian conspiracy that Jews are somehow undermining the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif, when she stated “Palestinians also cite increased encroachment on the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City…” She did not state that this is a disputed claim. Netanyahu has repeatedly asserted that there is no attempt to change the ‘status quo’, nor does there appear to have been any notable increase of visits to the Temple Mount. The prior year’s figures show only a marginal number of Jewish people being allowed access to the Temple Mount. Israel has done nothing to provoke such fears. The conspiracy is also supremely unlikely, since prior fears over the site were unfounded.

Coleman claims the al-Aqsa Mosque, and its environs on the Temple Mount, is holy to both Muslims and Jews. The Temple Mount is an extremely large site, which is of course holy to the Jewish faith, but the actual structure of the Mosque, and its environs (the al-Aqsa compound), is no more holy to the Jewish faith than that of any other holy structure to an unaffiliated religion. The al-Aqsa Mosque sits on the Mount to the far-south. It is of less relevance to the Jewish faith than the Dome of the Rock, (located in the middle of the Mount), since it was built in the area where the Jewish Temple once stood.

Orla Guerin, a former RTE journalist, also inaccurately claimed, at the BBC, that the Mosque itself is also holy to Jews. Such assertions may be borne of a lack of knowledge, but both journalists are noted for possessing strong anti-Israel viewpoints. This stance reinforces one aspect of the Arab-Palestinian conspiratorial narrative, namely that Jewish people supposedly desire to take over the al-Aqsa Mosque.

The Arab-Palestinian narrative on the issue is wholly implausible, with for example the BBC’s Nawal Assad fancifully asserting that the al-Aqsa Mosque effectively sits on the whole of the Temple Mount, and so the supposed desire to rebuild the Temple necessitates the destruction of the al-Aqsa Mosque.

Despite often invoking the notion of the Temple Mount ‘status quo’, RTE has failed to explain to its audiences what the term meaningfully constitutes. The ‘status quo’ is the denial of religious rights for the Jewish faithful on their holiest site, whilst ceding control of the Mount to the Islamic Waqf. To explain the conflict as substantively constituting one religious groupings resistance to another religious grouping’s assertion of their most basic of religious freedoms, would greatly undermine the claims of Coleman, Guerin, and so many others in the mainstream media, that the upsurge in violence was stoked by a desire for independence. This choice can be understood as an intentional manoeuvre, because it neatly fits RTE’s complete failure to report that the upsurge coincided with wide-ranging Islamic conspiracism, stoked by Abbas and other leaders.

Opposition to basic rights infers that the violence is motivated by Israel’s existence as a predominately Jewish nation situated in the historic House of Islam (Dar al-Islam). Such violence was a feature of Israel’s existence before it took possession of Judea and Samaria, in a defensive war against Jordan and other neighbouring Arab-Islamic states. The violence that concurrently emanated from Gaza cannot justifiably be deemed to be a direct consequence of living under a claimed occupation.

Pro-Israel bias?

Raymond Deane, a leading founder-member of the Irish Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, publicly stated on his Facebook page that he complained to RTÉ about the radio-equivalent of the same programme. He accuses Coleman of having a pro-Israel bias, and asserts that the report presented a racist attitude toward Arab-Palestinians:
“On today’s News at One on RTÉ Radio 1 (14th October), your reporter Carole Coleman asserted that while “7 Israelis have been brutally murdered,” 30 Palestinians merely “died in the ensuing violence.”
This is not merely an unprofessional formulation, but a formulation so outrageously biased as to border on racism. To begin with, it omits context: the ongoing, daily violence of the Israeli state against the illegally occupied, colonised and besieged Palestinian people. Secondly, it decontextualises “the ensuing violence”, as though it just happened out of the blue without anybody being responsible. Thirdly, it fails to itemise the acts of “ensuing violence”, most of which constituted “brutal murder” by the Israeli security forces and by armed colonial settlers, whose presence in the West Bank and occupied/annexed East Jerusalem is illegal under international humanitarian law.
It is clear that Carole Coleman views the deaths of Israelis (which I do not condone) as a matter of far greater significance than the deaths of those oppressed, persecuted, dispossessed and colonised by the Israeli state – hence my sense that her formulation is inherently racist.”
However, Coleman’s formulation was largely accurate. The Israelis murdered were civilians who were going peaceably about their business. They were murdered solely for having an identity that their attackers disapproved of. As Associated Press reported on the 16th of October:
“Over the past month, eight Israelis were killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. In that time, 31 Palestinians were killed by Israeli fire, including 14 labeled by Israel as attackers, and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops.”
These clashes are often described in the mainstream media as ‘protests’. However, such events are in fact violent confrontations with troops and security personnel.

It would be prejudicial to conflate the unprovoked murder of one grouping, with the fatalities of another grouping that voluntarily chose to aggress, and by extension the associated deaths of the latter grouping, typically leading from protracted episodes of violent confrontation and riot. Interestingly, Coleman’s description strayed from the norm at RTE, for example, an October 20th Lunchtime News report features the sort of conflationist language that may meet with Deane’s approval:
“UN Secrteary General, Ban Ki-moon, is meeting Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas today, in an effort to calm tensions which have seen at least 42 Palestinians and 8 Israelis killed.”
Deane charged that the description of Israeli and Arab-Palestinian deaths ‘decontextualises “the ensuing violence”’, before making the charge of occupation, whilst invalidly claiming that Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria, contravene International Law. However, Deane takes the remarks on the death toll out of context. Coleman’s report does cite those very issues as causal factors, when she stated that the quasi-Intifada has been enacted: “…by Arabs upset by Israeli occupation”, adding that “The causes of the turmoil include settlements and the failure to achieve a Palestinian state.”

Deane claimed that he is not justifying the death of Jewish civilians, but his efforts to explain Arab-Palestinian violence as a result of the very worst of supposed Israeli actions, namely as reactions by the “oppressed, persecuted, dispossessed and colonised”, is a distinct apologia for terrorism, as might be expected given the extremism of many of his prior expressions of support for the Arab-Palestinian cause.

Deane’s criticism is without foundation. A significant amount of criticism of the media from anti-Israel voices, originates with a desire to see the Jewish State demonised to a greater intensity in the media, since such criticism is often directed at media sources that are explicitly pro-Palestinian, for example, the Guardian, and the New York Times, with activists creating fake bias apology editorials.

November’s peaks and troughs

RTE’s TV coverage of the conflict became more infrequent during the month of November. The rate of the ongoing attacks had declined significantly, but still occurred at an atypically elevated level, with 326 recorded attacks, of which 249 utilised firebombs. Reports were brief other than that of the 12th of November. Israeli undercover agents raided the Al Ahli Hospital Hebron, in the PA administered zone of the city, to retrieve Azzam Shalaldeh, a Hamas operative who had stabbed a Jewish resident two weeks earlier.

The event was the second featured story in morning bulletins. Revolving screen text for the ‘News Now’ channel stated: “Israeli agents shoot man in hospital”. The raid became the headlining story for the Lunchtime News show, and subsequent afternoon news bulletins, which featured a report by Brian O’Donovan. News-presenter Aengus McGreanna stated “Undercover Israeli soldiers raid a hospital in the West Bank and kill a Palestinian man” in the opening headline for the Lunchtime show. The 6.1 News also highlighted a very similar report.

The report included numerous comments, and fact-based claims, by Arab-Palestinian individuals, but did not feature speakers presenting an alternate Israeli position. Despite a detailed report of the event itself, O’Donovan merely stated “There’s been a wave of violence in Israel, Jerusalem, and the West Bank, since the start of last month” as context for the concurrent wave of terrorist attacks and rioting.

O’Donovan’s report features footage of the detained Arab-Palestinian man’s brother, claiming that his relative, Abdullah, was shot dead for merely looking at the Israeli agents, after having been told to stay in his part of Azzam Shalaldeh’s hospital room. This assertion diverges with the claim by the Israeli authorities, that the relative was shot dead for attacking the operatives. The viewer is presumably supposed to believe the former claim, since similar reports on the 9 o’clock News programme, and the 11 PM news bulletin, excluded all mention of the Israeli assertion, whilst affording the brother’s account absolute credibility. O’Donovan stated:
“During today’s operation, the suspect’s cousin was shot dead, and his brother witnessed it all.”
The late exclusion of one perspective was made despite available reports that the Shalaldeh family had partially retracted the claim that Abdullah had not attacked the Israeli agents.

The report featured the director of the hospital, Dr. Jihad Shawar, stating (by translation) “This is a clear breach of international laws and ethics. It is well known that hospitals are a safe place for everyone.” The claim that it is against international law to detain any individual while at a hospital is an unusual assertion, but the claim was not challenged. The Third Geneva Convention ‘relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War’, is the most widely cited international statute on the matter of the fair treatment of prisoner combatants. However, the Convention, does not apply to illegitimate combatants, principally defined as individuals who do not follow the normative rules of engagement. It does not apply to those who engage in terrorist attacks, such as the intentional targeting of civilians uninvolved in a conflict. Moreover, Azzam Shalaldeh was not being held in custody by the Israeli authorities while in hospital.

The story was newsworthy, but it is difficult to account for such intensive media focus on what was otherwise a busy day for domestic news stories, when the same news editors had largely ignored the insurgent Arab-Palestinian violence for several weeks. The video footage of disguised Israeli agents might be newsworthy, and indeed O’Donovan introduces the report with the words: “A dramatic armed raid captured on CCTV”. Yet visually dramatic Arab-Palestinian attacks on Israeli security personnel were also caught on video during the same period, but they did not garner attention at RTE. The broadcaster’s interest in the hospital-raid story was so significant that two suicide bombings in Beiruit, which at the time were known to have killed in excess of 37 people, and wounded hundreds more, played second-fiddle in the later news programmes.

The BAI ‘Code of Fairness, Objectivity and Impartiality in News and Current Affairs — Guidance Notes’, July 2013 (pages 8 – 9), note that news material should be accurate, unbiased, and lack prejudgement. Unfortunately, both RTE reports featured have breached these principles to a very substantive extent.


An excerpted transcript of the 14th October Lunchtime News report by Carole Coleman:
Presenter Sharon Toban [RTE studio]: “Israel’s cabinet has authorised police to seal off Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem and soldiers have been deployed in response to a worsening spate of violence. Seven Israelis and thirty Palestinians have been killed in the past two weeks.”
Carole Coleman [narration and associated video footage]: “Israeli border police erecting road blocks in Arab East Jerusalem. They are stopping Palestinians for inspection — checking cars for anything that might be used to cause mayhem. The blockades sanctioned by Israel’s cabinet have been prompted by a wave of violence, stabbings and car rammings carried out by Arabs upset by Israeli occupation.”
“Many residents disagree with sealing off Palestinian areas.”
Khader Ishkirat, a resident Jabel Mukaber: “The collective punishment will not achieve the goals of the Israeli government. The only way to achieve the goals of a peaceful way of living between the Israelis and the Palestinians is to establish the two-state solution.”
Coleman continues: “Human Rights Watch fears the blockade will make things worse.”
Sari Bashi, Human Rights Watch: “Given the history of abuse and neglect by Israeli authorities in East Jerusalem, it’s only going to exacerbate tensions between residents and police. It’s exactly what we don’t need.”
Coleman continues: “Seven Israelis have been brutally murdered in the past two weeks. Thirty Palestinians have died in the ensuing violence.”
“The causes of the turmoil include settlements and the failure to achieve a Palestinian state. But Palestinians also cite increased encroachment on the al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, an area holy to both Muslims and Jews.” […]

Published at Crethi Plethi.

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