Tuesday, October 20, 2015

The Battle Behind the Headlines: Can we fix the media bias against Israel?


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"You'd be surprised to realize how much power you have  under your hands," says one expert in public diplomacy.

It's become a common trope these days: A terror attack takes place, but news outlets around the world write, "Palestinian killed by Israeli forces," failing to mention the attack or its victims.

Recently, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, MSNBC and the Los Angeles Times have come under sharp criticism for this and even issued apologies. But by the time the next attack happens, they revert to their old mistakes.

Why does this keep happening? The Jerusalem Post spoke with a media scholar at the University of Haifa, as well as an Israeli PR advocate who convinced a major newspaper to correct its story and re-evaluate their tactics.

Prof. Yariv Tsfati is a media scholar who is the chair of the Department of Communication at the University of Haifa. He said that a combination of time constraints and lack of resources is behind the seemingly insensitive headlines.

"They look at fatalities because fatalities are the indicators of importance in the story. ... Fortunately, there have not been too many fatalities on the Israeli side and more of the killed and wounded have been the attackers, the Palestinians."

In some cases, he said, the number of those dead or injured is combined together, leading journalists to confuse a dead attacker with his or her victims.

One of those who were shocked to see a biased story was Shay Attias, a leader in public diplomacy in Israel and one of the original founders of the Israeli Ministry for Public Diplomacy in the Prime Minister's Office.

He recently spotted a story in the Los Angeles Times that read "6 Palestinian teens die amid Mideast unrest." Attias wasted no time finding the email of the paper's editor. "Each one of those killed was a terrorist in the midst of an attack," Attias wrote in the original email.

This set off days worth of back-and-forth emails that resulted in the newspaper changing its headline, along with an apology that admitted they had the wrong information.

Even if they are rushed, Tsfati said, journalists must still be held accountable for their errors and should make a commitment to do better. He lamented that improvement takes time and commitment, and reporters "are always busy handling the next crisis in line. "That's why these errors are repeating and repeating."
Attias, however, said that even though many feel Israel is on the losing end of a PR battle, every citizen has the power to contact biased news outlets and try to make a change by contacting editors, foreign media desks and posting on social media.

"You'd be surprised to realize how much power you have under your hands."

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