If it’s critical of Israel, spike the story!

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In the wake of a recent controversy sparked by the SA Jewish Board of Deputies’ claim that it had obtained assurances in the form of “concrete undertakings” from the SABC to address the “problem of anti-Israel bias within the organization," one wonders whether journalists realize that these type of “balancing deals” actually undermine press freedoms.

Since it is common within lobbying groups to campaign for their cherished causes, it is a different ball-game and quite reprehensible too, when emotional blackmail of the type associated with charges of “anti-Semitism” is used to curtail freedom of expression.

That such lobbying is expected from organizations keen to protect Israel from censure, does not necessarily mean that media institutions must allow themselves to have their lips sealed –” meaning in effect that whilst espousing press freedoms, they voluntarily surrender theirs in a misguided pursuance of “balance”.

My own experience attests to this. On numerous occasions producers of radio talk-shows would, after securing my confirmation as an invited guest, call back to apologise profusely for having to cancel. The reasons advanced are invariably that “opposing” voices are unavailable –” hence to proceed would lack “balance”. Fortunately, in most cases I have been able to persuade them not to deny me my media space simply because some or other Zionist official was either unavailable or unwilling to debate the question of Israel in public.

It’s a ridiculous notion to insist –” as some pro-Israeli propaganda outfits do –” that each time Palestine is discussed on radio or TV, an “opposing” voice providing an “Israeli position” be heard. To prevent being labeled as “one-sided” and “lacking objectivity”, many shows just do not see the light of day. The ensuing result is nothing less than censorship!

And no matter how often media practitioners talk about the evils of censorship –” it appears to escape them that in-house suppression of views and opinions is equally repugnant and can be viewed as censorious.

Newspapers in particular, have a notorious reputation in this regard. Editors for instance, argue about lack of space, yet continue restricting public interaction via letters-to-the-editor –” confined to a minute few centimeter columns –” while editorializing about the dangers of limitations to media freedoms!

The irony is that lampooning the political leadership of the country is acceptable and viewed as evidence of a free media exercising its right to provoke robust debate on matters such as the “succession debate”, “zumagate” and the fortunes of the Health minister; yet a similar approach to Israel is rather subdued.

Why? Is it fear of losing advertising revenue? Or fear of being stigmatized as anti-Semitic?

The paradoxes are blatantly inexplicable!

While of course there are honourable exceptions, media in SA seems to be caught in the same net as government’s foreign policy on Israel: an inane obsession with so-called “balance”!

This implies a refusal to consider the relevance of Palestinian rights under international law.

According to Howard Friel and Richard Falk in their study on how the New York Times misreports conflict in the Middle East, if media lived up to its responsibilities to be informative and impartial in its treatment of the Israel/Palestine issue, it would pay close attention to the connections between foreign policy and international law. “Its attentiveness would exert a constructive influence on the whole media climate.”

In their book “Israel –” Palestine On Record," they introduce a novel approach to assessing media integrity. Friel and Falk believe that the values of a democratic society and of a peaceful and equitable world order depend on a willingness by all political actors, especially those who purport to be world leaders, to shape their foreign policy with due regard for the restraints of international law.

Therefore, from this standpoint, the quality of news media coverage is evaluated by the extent to which it takes account of international law.

The indictment against media’s coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict relates to its unwillingness to acknowledge the degree to which the central Palestinian claims in the conflict are solidly supported by international law.

Hence, to be “balanced” as both government and media strives is in effect unbalanced!

How on earth can anyone claim parity in the ongoing struggle between an occupying power imposing its destructive policies for six decades on an abused civilian population and the resistance mounted by this population?

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