Jul 2002 Journal

previous article:Memoir of an "out-and-out anti-Nazi"
next article:Central Office for Holocaust Claims

Is media bias all in the mind?

The Bishop of St Albans warns that a rising tide of antisemitism is sending a frisson of fear through the Anglo-Jewish community. At the same time, a London lawyer has compiled a 43-page report alleging BBC bias - mainly through omissions and a failure to place events in their proper context - in its coverage of the Middle East.

Are media bias and the undeniable increase in British Israelophobia interconnected? Need we absolve the BBC and the print media from the accusation of biased reporting? I think not.

The bias manifests itself in various ways. Arik Sharon is invariably painted in considerably darker shades of black than Yassir Arafat, although it was the PLO leader's spurning of Barak's offer that triggered the current seemingly endless slaughter. Likewise, the media tend to suggest that Arafat is too weak to curb the Palestinian extremists. The truth of the matter is that he released some of the most notorious of them from jail at the start of the current intifada. Furthermore, of late the PLO-linked Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigade has perpetrated as many suicide bombings as Hamas or Islamic Jihad.

The most crucial example of media bias is probably revealed in the plague-on-both-your-houses approach to the taking of lives in the current conflict. The action of Israeli soldiers shooting back at Arab teenagers who subject them to a hail of stones is different - not only in degree but also in kind - from detonating suicide bombs in cafes and discotheques frequented by Israeli teenagers.

Some weeks ago, Palestinian gunmen cut their way through the security fence round a West Bank settlement and entered a house, where they went from room to room methodically killing all the inhabitants, including two small children. That is the mindset of the sadists concerning whom the British media blithely write: 'One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter.' How many viewers or readers were made aware of the fact that the dozen or so most notorious gunmen released from the besieged Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and currently enjoying EU hospitality were killers who have literally waded in blood - not of soldiers, but of innocent civilians?

The blame for such woeful confusion between freedom fighters and fanatical sadists, as well as for the apparently widespread lack of revulsion for the godfathers masterminding the suicide bombers, must be laid at the door of the media. If the American man-in-the-street has a radically different take on the Middle East conflict, this must surely be due to the way in which the same news are reported - and interpreted - on either side of the Atlantic. In this respect, the Atlantic is really immeasurably wider than the Channel.

Of course, Continental Europe's readiness to censure Israeli actions is even greater than Britain's - which, pace the headlines about the Jenin 'massacre', was already considerable. In the case of the Continental countries, there may also be a hugely deplorable psychological mechanism at work. Put bluntly, it goes like this: if the Jews can be retrospectively perceived as villains, it diminishes the guilt of the Germans, French etc for having treated them so inhumanely throughout the centuries (especially the mid-twentieth).

Unhappily - or should we say happily - this interpretation can only apply to Britain in the most attenuated form. So let's give three cheers for the British fleet - and only two for Fleet Street!
Richard Grunberger

previous article:Memoir of an "out-and-out anti-Nazi"
next article:Central Office for Holocaust Claims