Socialist Worker

Greg Philo: 'Media support for Israel isn’t about bias. It’s about power structures'

Professor Greg Philo from the Glasgow Media Group explains how and why the mainstream media favours Israel

Issue No. 2415

Protesting against BBCs coverage of Israel

Protesting against BBC's coverage of Israel (Pic: Guy Smallman)


We tend not to use the word “bias” when talking about media coverage because it implies a sort of personal commitment. I don’t think it’s about that. I think what we’re talking about really is commercial interests, political structures and relationships between government and states. 

And if you think about the position of Israel in the world, it’s very close to the US and its allies, including Britain. There is a process of interaction between states and politics and political life.

The power of public relations and pressure on the media are part of the explanation for coverage. But it’s also about the actual power structures that underlie that.

On the most practical level, at the last election 80 percent of Conservative MPs were in the Conservative Friends of Israel. The structure of political, commercial and military interests is very much in favour of Israel. 

The Palestinians don’t have any kind of power to match that in society as a whole or in terms of their ability to get their voice across. Journalists working for the BBC, for example, are formally committed to “balance” and impartiality. 

But because of the structures in place it’s extremely hard for them to stick their hand up and say, “We should give the Palestinian view more”. The Palestinians think they are living in a brutal apartheid regime. 

Tens of thousands of Palestinians have been arrested. They are under a blockade and military rule, and are trying to overthrow it. Yet that perspective is simply not on the news.

Suffering

You can see that the journalists are often intensely sympathetic to the suffering of the Palestinians and are moved very deeply by it. But they won’t give the Palestinian perspective. 

So they tend to show Palestinian suffering and then “balance” that by giving the Israeli perspective on why it’s all happening. You get masses of material saying “Hamas is doing this” and “This is terrorism” or “Israel is under attack and responding”.

But you don’t get the Palestinian reasons for why the conflict is occurring and that is the greatest problem with the media coverage. There was a perfect example on a BBC Radio 4 news programme recently. 

An Israeli spokesman said they had three possibilities for actions. One was to napalm Gaza. The second was to do nothing and “continue to be under attack”. 

And the third was to do what Israel is doing now—which was presented as a careful attempt to take away terrorists and reduce civilian costs as much as possible. The journalist had a perfect moment to say—actually there’s a fourth option. 

You could stop the military rule, you could stop the blockade of Gaza, you could stop the occupation. But that’s not what she does. At that point they stop, and that’s the problem.

Even Channel 4’s Jon Snow stops too. He does a commentary essentially on whether the Israeli response is proportionate or reasonable. There is a power in that argument at a common sense level.

What is missing is questioning how there can be peace if you have a continual struggle from people who experience military rule and occupation every day of their lives.

Greg Philo has co-authored a number of studies on media coverage on Israel including Bad News from Israel. They are available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Go to bookmarksbookshop.co.uk or phone 020 7637 1848 https://bookmarksbookshop.co.uk

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