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MEDIA BIAS ON DISPLAY

COVERAGE BY three major international television news services, CNN, BBC and SKY TV, of the murder of Etta and Ephraim Tzur demonstrated once again the bias so prevalent in the media's handling of the Arab-Israeli story.

The victims - an Israeli mother and her son returning home from a holiday outing - were transformed by the networks in one cold moment into "two Jewish settlers", the outspoken implication being that, as settlers they were legitimate targets. (The fact that, to many Arabs, settlers ARE legitimate targets doesn't excuse journalists for promoting the same prejudice by their choice of language.) CNN decided the 12-year-old Ephraim was "a teenager". Earlier this year, when 16-year-old David Boim was shot dead while waiting for a bus, the "teenager" quickly became "a settler" at the hands of the foreign television channels.

The BBC gave greater priority to the question of whether Israeli would use the attack on the Tzur family as a pretext further to slow peace talks with the Palestinians than to footage relating to the shooting itself - the scene of the incident and victims' bullet-riddled car. Neither the BBC, CNN nor SKY NEWS bothered to screen pictures of the murdered mother and child.

A SKY TV newscaster introduced an item on the terror attack by announcing: "There has been another shooting in Israel", and went on to report the shooting of a Palestinian man at a collective farm elsewhere in Israel in the early hours of the morning after the Tzur attack. (The perpetrator, who said he thought the man was planning a robbery, immediately called the police and medical help, and was arrested.) Only then did the announcer move to the report on the Tzur killings.

This clumsy attempt to juxtapose the two very different incidents was marginally redeemed by the fact SKY's Israel-based correspondent Christopher Morris said in his subsequent report that the death of the Arab "appears to have been an accidental killing". Morris also did not hesitate to use the word "terrorists" to describe the perpetrators. In contrast, a BBC newsreader, interviewing Israeli government spokesman Moshe Fogel, found it necessary to say "these terrorists, as you call them ..."

Furthermore, none of the three news channels found it necessary to grill Palestinian Authority representatives on air, to coax out of them a clear condemnation of the attack, or indeed to demand to know why Arafat had refused to make one.

By comparison, when an Arab boy died under yet-to-be-determined circumstances in October after a security guard chased him for throwing stones, Israeli government spokesmen were questioned long and hard by interviewers who could barely conceal their contemptuous disbelief at what they were hearing.

Back to Middle East Digest - January 1997
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