Knesset Panel Summons Foreign Media Over 'Biased' Coverage

Angry journalists, who initially boycotted the session, describe subcommittee's claims to be part of a 'witch hunt,' and slam Israel's 'authoritarian' efforts to clamp down on the media.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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The CBS News headline on the story describing the stabbing attack by three Palestinians on Israeli border policewoman Hadar Cohen, at Nablus Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 3, 2016. The headline was subsequently changed.
The CBS News headline, later changed, on the story of the stabbing last week of border policewoman Hadar Cohen. Credit: Screenshot
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee called in members of the Foreign Press Association on Tuesday to discuss their reporting of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Along with the invitation to the session, FPA members received a questionnaire relating to the "biased coverage" of some of the media outlets.

Angered by the request to discuss the content of their reports, the organization initially decided to boycott the meeting. However, FPA head Luke Baker eventually relented after a conversation with MK Tzipi Livni (Zionist Camp), the head of the Subcommittee for Foreign Policy, Public Relations, and the Political Struggle.

In a conversation with Haaretz in advance of the session, Baker, Reuters' bureau chief, said: “We agreed to come and hear what they had to say, although on the face of it, this looks like an attempt at a witch hunt."

Members of the Government Press Office were also due to attend the session, which was convened because of a CBS News report on February 3. “Three Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on,” read the headline on an item related to the shooting and stabbing attack at Nablus Gate in Jerusalem's Old City. The three persons referred to were the assailants who killed border policewoman Hadar Cohen. The headline was subsequently changed following a protest by the government.

“A free and open media is the bedrock of a democratic society. Parliamentary subcommittee hearings that start from the premise that the foreign media are biased tend to look like poorly conceived witch hunts,” declared the FPA in a statement issued before the subcommittee session.

In its letter the organization pulled no punches, slamming the decision to summon foreign media to explain the manner in which they portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and declaring that the conclusions of the Knesset discussion were dictated in advance.

“Efforts to clamp down on the media – including sweeping allegations of media bias, state censorship and the detaining of members of the press – are the sort of actions usually associated with authoritarian governments in places such as Russia, Turkey or Saudi Arabia. Such conduct is unbecoming of a country like Israel, which likes to describe itself as the only democracy in the Middle East,” the statement said.

“We disagree with the premise of the hearing as it presupposes two things: that the foreign media are biased and that this supposed bias undermines Israel’s ability to quash terror attacks. We do not agree that the foreign media are biased, and the legitimacy of Israel’s campaign against terrorism is entirely determined by how Israel conducts that campaign. It has nothing to do with the foreign media,” said the FPA statement.

The organization also took the Foreign Ministry to task: “While the foreign media try to act with professionalism and balance, the Israeli Foreign Ministry took it upon itself last year to produce a YouTube video, suggesting that the foreign media were biased, ignorant and witless. After the blatant inaccuracy and imbalance of the video were pointed out, the ministry withdrew it immediately.”

In its letter, the FPA did concede, however, that, “There are cases in which headlines in the international media have been poorly chosen and failed to accurately reflect developments on the ground. These have been pointed out and corrected as rapidly as possible.

"Mistakes are made in all professions. Isolated mistakes – and given the vast coverage of this story, they are extremely isolated – do not constitute institutional bias. It should also be pointed out that headlines are never the full story, and are usually not written by journalists on the scene, but rather by editors sitting in New York, London or other headquarters.”

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