Many on social media have protested that the BBC has reported Israel’s actions in too favourable a light, while some argue that many events and perspectives on the Ukrainian crisis have gone largely unreported. This should be of huge concern.

Vladimir Putin’s actions have come in for near universal criticism in Western media over recent weeks. The Sun has run a front page with ‘Putin’s Missile’ as the headline, despite the fact that an independent verification of events has yet to confirm his guilt. Much of the debate in our press seems to revolve around the issue of whether sanctions on Russia will be effective, not whether they are justified. Interestingly, this seems to mirror the view of many Western governments, despite what I have just mentioned and the UN’s refusal to yet apportion blame.

There is much evidence circulating on the internet that refutes the Western account of the attack on MH17. Of course, much of this evidence is far from reliable and we should be weary of conspiracy theorists with little expertise in these matters. However, it is important that alternative perspectives such as these are adequately presented in our dialogue on the conflict. We should also ask whether we can trust our media to be unbiased and well-informed.

Interestingly, the Guardian has reported that 82 percent of Russians believe Ukraine shot down the Malaysian airliner[1]. Firstly, this highlights that there has not been a total blackout on alternative perspectives (just disproportionately low coverage). Secondly, this shows the extent of the disagreement between Russia and the West. Similarly, it has been reported (although significantly more frequently) in our media that most Israelis support their armed offensive in Gaza, despite huge external pressure on them to cease their operations.

It does seem that Western media has turned on Israel in recent days, despite a perceived bias towards them. The Independent has run an article by Patrick Cockburn, under the Independent Voices section on its website, entitled ‘The secret report that helps Israel hide facts’[2]. This article claims that Israeli officials have received a form of PR training in order to publicly justify their military operations as less aggressive than they appear to be. It is, as the headline suggests, very damning for the Israeli government, but is just one of the many examples of criticism the administration has faced in Western media.

It is very informative to examine the contrast between Israeli and Western reports on the Gaza conflict. ‘Operation Protective Edge’ is widely used in Israeli press to describe their military operation, whereas in Western media it is simply labelled an ‘offensive’. This is itself an example of how the operation is seen as necessary rather than an act of aggression inside Israel, contrary to the Western view. Anne Bayefsky’s article in the Jerusalem Post entitled ‘Ban Ki-moon’s shameful message in Israel’s hour of need’, in which she condemned Israel’s July 20th strike on Shuja’iyya as an ‘atrocious action’, reflects a view that is by no means isolated in Israeli media.[3]

What is also very interesting is that this appears to reflect the position of Western and Israeli governments. Phillip Hammond, the British Foreign Secretary, has warned that Israel is undermining its support in the West, while US Secretary of State John Kerry has come in for heavy criticism in Israel for his diplomatic efforts in the region. Aside from this, the UN has also publicly condemned Israeli forces for some of its operations and is pleading for a ceasefire. Nevertheless, Benjamin Netanyahu has pledged to continue efforts as part of a ‘whatever action necessary’ approach to defending Israel.

What is clear is that Russia, Ukraine, Israel and Hamas can all be at least partly condemned for their role in the conflicts. What is less clear is how proportionally each side shares the blame in escalating them. This is where the role of media becomes an extremely important one. Neutrality is paramount if we are to allow people to critically decide for themselves what the truth of the matter is. Our media has had huge effects on our views of conflicts, but has also come under huge criticism in recent years for failing to adequately provide a non-partisan viewpoint on international events.

The horrors of the Vietnam War are seen by many as the first instance of presenting news to the public in a clear and uncensored fashion. This was arguably one of the most important reasons why it became such a contentious political issue in the US, leading eventually to American withdrawal from the conflict. By 2003 and the years following the Iraq War, Western media, particularly in the US and UK, was heavily criticised for allegedly biased coverage in favour of their governments’ positions, which were later revealed to have been heavily flawed. Media coverage of conflict can make a hugely positive contribution when it is done well, but a hugely negative contribution when done badly.

Press neutrality must be maintained in issues of conflict. I worry that this may not be the case at the moment.

 

References:

  • 1- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jul/30/mh17-vast-majority-russians-believe-ukraine-downed-plane-poll
  • 2- http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/israelgaza-conflict-the-secret-report-that-helps-israelis-to-hide-facts-9630765.html
  • 3- http://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Columnists/Ban-Ki-moons-shameful-message-in-Israels-hour-of-need-368415