Western Media Opts for Israeli Handouts on Deadly Assault


Al Jazeera English Coverage Was the Best


By Siraj Wahab


Published in Arab News on Tuesday, June 1, 2010


The people of the Western world have been given a jaded perspective on Monday's unprovoked Israeli attack on an unarmed, six-ship relief flotilla on the high seas. The assault by marauding commandos has drawn condemnation from the United Nations, the European Union and NATO-member Turkey, but major US and British media outlets for the most part have opted to broadcast the Israeli government's official line, branding the foreign nationals as terrorists.

The Israeli naval forces disrupted maritime communication from the flotilla before the combined air-and-sea assault, and the less critical newsgathering organizations settled for handouts from the Israeli government. "They wanted to make a political statement," Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement aired by American news media. "They wanted violence."

A good comparison is the coverage between the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) and Qatar-based Al-Jazeera English.

At the Monday noon bulletin BBC ran the story as its lead and continued to air Israeli version of the gruesome attack. Not just that, it gave precious airtime to the Israeli spokespersons with little interruption or questioning from the anchor. One missed Nik Gowing in the newsroom. The Israeli spokesperson and Israeli sympathizers waxed eloquent on how the organizers of the flotilla were responsible for bringing the tragedy upon themselves. There was little or no mention about the fact that the attack had taken place in international waters.

Al Jazeera English brought in everything. In its 1 p.m. bulletin, the anchor led the story by mentioning that 14 people had died in the Israeli attack on the lead ship called Mavi Marmara. It then showed dramatic footage right from the ship that was under attack. Al Jazeera's Jamal El-Shayyal was on board the main ship — a sharp contrast to Tia Goldenberg of The Associated Press filing her reports from the Israeli missile boat INS Kidon, which took part in the attack.

"Two people have been confirmed dead," El-Shayyal reported. "The organizers of the aid flotilla have now asked all passengers to go inside. Israeli commandoes have descended upon the ship. The ship is still in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea. The Marmara has been surrounded on all sides by armed boats. We can still hear shots being fired — even after the white flag has been raised. There are all civilians on this ship. They include women, children and the elderly."

El-Shayyal's reports and the dramatic, shipboard footage explained it all. It was there in images. Al Jazeera then took the viewers to Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Daniel Ayalon who was reading a statement.

"We were attacked by those on board the ship. We regret the loss of life but the responsibility for this tragedy lies with the organizers of the flotilla. We told them not to enter Gaza. We told them to deliver the aid through appropriate channels. The organizers of the aid flotilla are the supporters of Al-Qaeda and Hamas. They were armed and trying to lynch our soldiers, and that is why we acted in self defense," he said.

Al Jazeera then brought in Murat Mercan, chairman of the Turkish Parliament's Commission of Foreign Affairs. "Ayalon is a liar," he said. "The ships were cleared by the Turkish authorities. There were no arms on board. Only people. There were so many ways of stopping the ship. Obviously, Israel wasn't interested in merely stopping the ship. This will have consequences. No country has the right to attack any ship, armed or unarmed, in the international waters. This is a serious violation. In the coming days, you will see how Turkey will respond," he said.

Back in Palestine, Al Jazeera took the viewers to Ayman Mohyeldin in Umm Al-Fahm which is where Sheikh Raed Salah, a prominent theologian, came from. He was also on the ship and was shot in the head by the Israeli commandoes. Mohyeldin also gave a sense of the people's feeling saying, "All the images being shown from the activists on board those ships show clearly that they were civilians and peaceful in nature, with medical supplies on board. So it will surprise many in the international community to learn what could have possibly led to this type of confrontation."

Anita McNaught, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Istanbul, was out in the streets of Istanbul gathering people's reactions. Turkish protestors carrying Palestinian and Hamas flags were swelling up in the town square to register their protest. "The Turks had a constructive military alliance with Israel and for many years they saw the issue of domestic terrorism as one they had to share information about," she said. "But since the Gaza war relations have nose-dived and it would be absolutely fair to say that this attack is the lowest point."

The best part of Al Jazeera coverage were the soundbytes from the erudite Palestinian leader Nabil Shaath. Very methodically, he called the Israeli bluff. "This is a murderous attack," he said. "All this talk about there being arms on the ship is absolute nonsense. One is reminded of the American drugs police who sometimes plant drugs on somebody just so they can arrest him. Nobody is going to believe Israel. Such excessive use of force indicates their nefarious designs. They went in to kill, and they did."

So far, mainstream American and British news outlets seem content to take statements and press releases from the Israelis; the rest of the story remains unreported.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

good analytical piece on the hypocricy of western and murdoch media empire, so called masters of democracy and free media are the worst criminals, and they have nerve to lecture muslim world on democracy and freedom...

Siraj Wahab said...

Thanks. Well said.

Anonymous said...

Title: Protest over Israeli attack

Israeli Navy commandos attacked an aid fleet that was going to Gaza. More than 20 activist where martyred and over 60 injured. Violating international law the Israeli navy attacked the flotilla 65 km away from Gaza in International water.
I strongly condemn this barbaric attack. All the Muslims should stand together to protest strongly against this barbaric attack. They should also adopt joint resolution at the UN and other regional and International forums. The International Community needs to take cognizance of this inhuman act of Israelis. The Human Rights Organizations, Media and Civil Society should also record their protests.
Muslim Countries like Turkey, Pakistan and Iran should also ask for intervention by the US, UK and European Union in this matter.
It is a testing moment for President Obama’s Administration as Israel has a very strong lobby in USA and it would not be possible for him to take any punitive action against the brutal force which Israel displayed on the innocent people in the international water. There is every likelihood that the US and others in the West will protect Israel interest.
Our brothers and sisters in Palestine need our attention and support which we should not hesitate to extend. As a Muslim Ummah we should stand together with the Palestinians at this important moment.



Kind Regards,
Waqas Khan MAHSUD
Student & Social Worker
Hails from Tribal Areas FATA
based in
Karachi, Pakistan

Manal said...

Hi Mr. Wahab,

Great piece! It really is uncanny how western media outlets will look for any other way to spin the story, especially when it comes to their strongest ally in the Middle East. Time and time again this has happened and probably will continue to happen but because of journaslists like yourself and in the Middle East and Asia, people get the chance to hear the other side of the story.

Siraj Wahab said...

Thank you very much, Manal. I appreciate your sentiments. God bless.

Mohammad Rahat Sultan, Alkhobar said...

I watched the coverage of the Israeli attack on the aid flotilla to Gaza while on a visit to the holy city of Madinah. Our hotel did have Al Jazeera English. Their coverage, as reported by Arab News, was excellent. The question that everybody is asking these days is why can’t rich Muslim countries become as strong as Israel? We live in a world where only the fittest survive. There is no reason why Muslim countries cannot become strong. Let them put aside their differences and work for the common good. It is possible.

Tom Foxe said...

I am shocked by the bias shown on BBC online news, which said: "Israel to deport activists." You deport somebody who has entered your country illegally, but these people were taken to Israel by force — they weren't deported, they were freed. A more accurate headline would be "Kidnapped prisoners to be released." The BBC and others showed the IDF video but not the Al Jazeera one — how biased is that? And our government tells us that the UK is a democracy with independent media... LIARS and PUPPETS, all of them.

Harry Wolle said...

I can't believe what I've been reading. You pat yourselves on the back for the "best" coverage. Did you not see the video that the rest of the world viewed? Did you not see the pipes being used on the soldiers. Did you not pick up the news from Turkey where family members of the killed proudly explained that they (deceased) were looking forward to being martyrs. Can you really ignore that many members were from a banned Turkish terrorist organization. I am not saying it is a black and white operation, but as a news organization that wants to take itself seriously, you are failing miserably.

Ellie Light said...

Great report. But there's no way to spin the story in a way that will make the IDF look credible. It's the beginning of the end of the siege on Gaza.

Sherry said...

@harry ... when you don't know about something don't talk about it...the killed people's families are considering them martyrs that doesn't mean they were armed ... a martyr is the one who is dedicating himself for a good cause and gets killed by an evil force ... don't you "don't you see" because you have no ability to see anything!

Ozma Siddiqui, Jeddah said...

The massacre aboard the flotilla taking relief supplies to Gaza seems to have become more a war of the media than anything else where, unfortunately, the casualty is innocent lives coming to an abrupt and tragic end. Interestingly, Turkey seems to have emerged as the hero of this macabre farce. And what is even more unfortunate for the Gazans is the lack of support from their own Arab neighbours. The US and Britain have maintained their stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and have unapologetically supported Israel throughout. This is nothing new. Perhaps it is their sheer audacity and ruthlessness at the way they have stood by their policy which is the only thing shocking anymore. But as far as the Middle East is concerned, more can be done to help the poor Palestinians by their more affluent neighbours. One fails to understand the virtual silence on this side of the border. No one dares to condemn the attack and instead has left it to the international community to protest at the outrage. Like other unfortunate nations in conflict or bordering on instability, Palestine's is a lost cause.

Fatima From Algeria said...

The coverage of Al Jazeera was brilliant and very professional. It gave airtime to the Israelis and the Arabs and the Turks and the Europeans on the ship. It showed us bloodied activists, some on beds. It showed Swedish activists with heavy bruises on their faces, arms and bodies. Shame on the BBC and CNN for giving so much propaganda time to the Israeli spokesmen. The Israelis committed the bloodshed at dawn when people were sleeping. They committed their crime in international waters. Like thieves they descended on the activists, shooting like blood-thirsty criminals which they are. Shame on those who justify Israeli crimes.

Amir Khurshid, Jeddah said...

Thanks indeed for accentuating the comparison between biased and balanced reporting. These sort of incidents should be quoted as case studies to the students of journalism. Frankly, the Western media have gone so prejudiced that I have lost respect for them. Mostly they are either distant/cynical, addressing a specific audience or just playing to the gallery. Their so-called objective and investigative reporting is only for certain selective, "politically safe" topics.

Anonymous said...

Readers of your blog may be interested in the following comment by the well-known writer Johann Hari. It was part of an article published under the title “When hands across the sea are tied.” (The Guardian, June 4, 2010):

“Several of the photos released by the IDF 'proving' there were other weapons there have already been exposed as old images that have been on the web for years. Some even still had tags on them identifying them as having been taken in 2003.”

M. Rajha, Alkhobar said...

Much has been said about Al Jazeera’s unbiased coverage of the massacre by Israel of the humanitarian activists bringing desperately needed aid to the starving people of Gaza.

However, I would like to point out that it was very frustrating and infuriating to watch the Al Jazeera interviewers interrogating the eyewitnesses and survivors from the ship as though they have to prove their innocence. Much has been made of Israeli statements and let’s not forget the Israeli footage of the attack being aired over and over.

With due respect to Al Jazeera, I feel that, knowing the history of Israeli atrocities and human rights violations, including war crimes and their contempt for international law and opinion, and with the Israeli officials, spokespeople and government being serial liars, why do we accept the Israeli statements and then force the survivors onto the back foot by having to prove their innocence?

This is playing right into the hands of the Israelis. They are diverting attention away from the real crime, which was attacking a humanitarian ship in international waters, opening fire on the activists, even before boarding the ship, and shooting people waving white flags, multiple shots on individuals at close range, including in the back as people fled from the trigger-happy commandos. These are indisputable facts as stated by eyewitnesses, proved by forensic examination of the dead and stated by distinguished MPs, award-winning journalists, and respectable individuals from over 30 countries whose only crime was trying to help the people of Gaza. Why should we not believe their testimony, that they were acting in self-defense and fighting for their lives, without question, instead of repeating the statements of a rogue nation who has no compunction in killing innocents and then covering up their crimes with propaganda, outrageous claims and blatant lies? Haven’t we seen this too many times before?

Come on Al Jazeera, it is one thing to be impartial, it is quite another to walk into the Israeli trap. If Israel was so confident of its claims, then why did it confiscate all cameras and mobiles from the ship, which might prove otherwise, and why is Israel refusing to allow an international investigation into the whole sordid affair? If that’s not proof enough of its guilt, then we are very naive. As the saying goes, fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me!

Sidhusaaheb said...

I think that the BBC always tries to present both sides of the story, which it has done in this case as well.

It continued to present the story as it unfolded, in accordance with availability of information through the resources that it had.

You may want to look at some of the coverage of the non-Israeli side of the story by the BBC at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/10206802.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/10229743.stm

Sidhusaaheb said...

Another report by the BBC, which is in the audio format and provides both sides of the story is to be found at http://www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice/news/2010/06/100607_gaza_walker.shtml .

It clearly outlines the divergence between the Israeli and the non-Israeli versions, without being judgemental.

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