Socialist Worker

What the news doesn't tell you about Palestine

GREG PHILO is the research director of Glasgow University Media Group. His new research shows the extent of media bias in reporting conflict in Palestine. He spoke to Theresa Bennett.

Issue No. 1797

HOW HAS the media failed to inform audiences about events in Palestine?

WE FOUND there are a great series of gaps in the news relating to the origins and history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This has a huge impact on understanding of the conflict, particularly among young people who haven't lived through the events.

The people we interviewed watched the news and some remembered particular newspapers, but they had no particular understanding. People tend to see it as two warring sides arguing about religion or just being bad neighbours. Audiences realise there must be more to it than that but don't really know what it is. This is hugely beneficial to Israel. People simply do not know the Palestinians were pushed off their land and out of their homes in 1948.

People don't know the Palestinians moved to the West Bank and Gaza, and Israeli forces reoccupied this area after the war in 1967. If you don't understand there is a military occupation going on it is difficult to understand why the Palestinians are still fighting. People didn't understand that Israel has built settlements which are effectively military camps.

There is a huge argument over the way these are described. We have heard journalists being asked not to call them settlements, but to call them 'neighbourhoods' or 'Jewish neighbourhoods'.

The terminology is crucial, and Israel has invested an enormous amount of time, energy, money and effort into public relations. The Palestinians simply don't have that kind of clout in world politics, in terms of money or facilities for public relations. For journalists to say clearly what is happening or what happened in the past is extremely controversial. There is pressure on them to go with the flow and not stick their necks out.

WHAT IS the impact of this failure to present the whole picture?

It makes people turn away from the Palestinian conflict. I think audiences see it as a complete and utter mess. This is true of almost all the coverage of the developing world. Ask people about landmines in Angola and they say, 'Oh, yes, it's terrible, but Africans are like that-they can't run their own country.'

If people understand the history and the relationships behind the headlines they start to think that something can be done about it. The misrepresentation affects both domestic and international issues. People do not realise how much they are not told.

IS THERE a lack of proper scrutiny of the news?

LOOK AT the domestic issue of the budget. There will be all sorts of discussion about income tax and things like that. But I will be very surprised if the news actually discusses what the resources are in Britain.

The reality is that the top 5 percent of the population own in disposable wealth £1,130 billion-that is nearly half the disposable wealth. You wonder at what point someone on the news might just timidly ask, 'If the top 10 percent own over half of disposable wealth, why are the rest of us being bothered by income tax?'

£1,130 billion is a vast quantity of money. With £70 billion you could build a wonderful railway system. Now they are going to say, 'We'll increase tax to help the health service.' But are they really going to say who is paying what tax, and reveal how much you could raise if you did a property tax or a wealth tax, or land tax? They will not step outside the perimeters set by those who are in control of the budget.

Some media owners are well known for exerting pressure on the content of journalists' reports. The most obvious example is Rupert Murdoch. His newspapers and TV stations are often linked to political parties. Journalists work within the power structure of the society. They rarely challenge power relationships, or explain that they exist or what they are.

THE Glasgow University Media Group has produced reports on the free market and the media, and the reporting of international issues. For more information visit its website at www.gla.ac.uk


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Article information

Features
Sat 27 Apr 2002, 00:00 BST
Issue No. 1797
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