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Journalism In The Combat Zone

(AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian)
Last week we told you about Israel's military censor, and discussed the power she has over the press. Jonathan Cook believes that the full story of the conflict is not getting out – and as evidence he points to what he calls a flawed BBC report from Nazareth. "If anybody still doubts that Israel is shaping the news agenda of broadcasters like the BBC, here was as good as the proof," he writes.

Adds Cook:

Ehud Olmert's media adviser, Assif Shariv, told the [Jerusalem] Post that the international media were interviewing Israeli spokespeople four times as much as spokespeople for the Palestinians and Lebanese. Another government adviser, Gideon Meir, boasted: "We have never had it so good. The hasbara [propaganda] effort is a well-oiled machine."

Which may explain why we know so little about what is happening in Lebanon and Gaza -- and why we know so little about what is happening inside Israel too.

To remind you, I, like other residents of northern Israel, am under martial law. As are the foreign journalists -- and in addition they are required to submit their copy to the military censor. So all I can tell you, without breaking the law, is that you are not hearing the entire picture of what has been happening here in the Galilee.

We also told you last week about a group of Israeli journalists who quit the International Federation of Journalists when the organization rebuked Israel for bombing al-Manar, otherwise known as Hezbollah's television station. Al-Manar has been classified as a terrorist organization by the US government. Now Roy Greenslade, who runs a newish, must read "news, comment and aggregation" site for the Guardian, says the IFJ was in the right. "Leaving aside the argument about whether ALL journalism is a propaganda of sorts, it must be blindingly obvious to anyone connected to the conflict in the Middle East that each side views the other's media as purveying some form of propaganda," he writes. "Consider the intractability of the situation. The Israelis and the Arabs - of whatever nation, of whatever Muslim persuasion - have no point of agreement. They do not agree about ancient history let alone modern history. They both view each other as terrorists. Both sides see themselves as victims and both are convinced they are right. So it is quite logical that each should view the journalistic output of the other as a form of propaganda."

Continues Greenslade: "But whether it is, or is not, propaganda is a value judgement. For example, if a Hezbollah radio station devotes its news bulletin to haranguing the enemy and urging its supporters to mass on the border and fight, is this any different from an Israeli radio station devoting its news bulletin to warning its citizens of the enemy at the gates and urging them to support the nation by joining the defence forces? In a very real sense, what should underpin our journalistic view of both such broadcasts is the right of each of them to their freedom of expression. In other words, it is a press freedom matter, and it is wrong of any military force to deliberately target non-combatants exercising their right to freedom of expression (just as it was wrong for NATO to have bombed the Belgrade headquarters of a Serbian broadcaster in 1999)."

Finally, here's the opening of Lawrence Pintak's piece on "The Fog of Cable" in CJR Daily:

As someone who lives and breathes Middle East politics and media, I have had the bizarre -- and frustrating -- experience of watching the current conflict play out on U.S. cable television, and I am reminded once again why many Americans have such a limited -- and distorted -- view of the world.

I run a center for television and new media at The American University in Cairo, which puts me at the crossroads of journalism in the Arab world. For me, monitoring a crisis like this would normally mean the voracious consumption of Arab and U.S. media -- television, newspapers, Web sites and all the rest.

But for the first week of the war, I was on vacation in California with my family. That has meant catching glimpses of the conflict in bite-sized snatches on cable television between forays to Disneyland, trips to the beach and aquarium tours -- much, I suspect, like many other Americans this summer.

At times, the coverage has seemed as much a fantasy as Disney's Space Mountain, and the level of Middle East knowledge on the part of some television anchors only a few notches higher than that of the tattooed biker couple waiting in line for the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.