Media Opinion

Israel news being reported by unqualified journalists

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News comes flooding out of Gaza, but how much can be trusted? (Screenshot via YouTube)

In an era of misinformation and media bias, news from media sources about the war in the Middle East needs to be carefully scrutinised. Rosemary Sorensen reports.

WHO CAN BE TRUSTED to write about Israel?

Buffeted by wave after wave of awful news followed by the bilge of propaganda telling us what to think, you might be tempted just to switch all that off, go online instead to check the football scores or order a new pair of shoes. Every story and every post about Gaza now needs to be filtered through a series of questions: is this media outlet reliable? Who is the writer of this story? Why are they writing this?

There is something exhaustingly ridiculous about those stories in the “not quite up to speed with the tragic ruination of media ethics” outlets (looking at you, ABC) that insist on including a sentence about 7 October in every account of bombings, starvation, blockades, brutalities.

As reported by ABC News in March:

‘The war began with Hamas's 7 October terrorist attack that resulted in about 1,200 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to Israeli figures.’

Why is this sentence there? Still? It appears that 7 October is the sticking place and it’s where supporters of Israel’s Netanyahu Government are screwing their justification. As the weeks pass and as Israel’s response to the Hamas attack hardens into revenge and then into murder, pure and simple, so media here in Australia, too, are screwing their courage to the sticking place so they aren’t seen to be failing those whose influence is strongest and, apparently, of longest standing.

The ABC, as we’ve noted before, is increasingly short on experience when it comes to both international affairs and competent analysis. John Lyons, valiantly trying to cover the shortfall, made up some ground with the Four Corners episode filmed in Israel, which aired soon after he had said publicly he was embarrassed by the ABC’s response to Antoinette Lattouf's sacking.

That documentary was horse’s-mouth stuff — face-to-face interviews with Israeli officials who stood firm against accusations of brutality (but who also blamed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the escalation of the war).

Despite this being first-hand reporting by a journalist who has lived in Israel and written books about it, there would have been, no doubt, repercussions. Lyons has been accused before of writing critically of Zionism’s influence in Australia — in retrospect, that debate about who has the right to criticise Israel is now thrust into the cold, hard light of Israel’s Gaza war and Lyons' discussion of the influence of the “Israel lobby” backed by a great deal of evidence.

And yet, someone has called the Four Corners episode sanctimonious, apparently therefore unfair, denying (yes, you know what’s coming here) Israel’s “right to defend itself”.

That this accusation came from a journalist who had accepted a sponsored trip to Israel is dismaying — but to meet with such opinions should not be a surprise.

We see and hear what we expect and want to see and hear, as George Bernard Shaw (and countless others) proved when they accepted the hospitality and briefings of Stalinist Russia in the 1930s, returning home to write with energy and conviction of the excellence of the monster and his benighted people.

The refusal to see the corruption behind the facade has plagued communist ideologues ever since. Remember with what hysterical tenacity The Australian newspaper sought to discredit Manning Clark’s legacy as an intellectual because he was accused of being a Soviet “agent of influence”? It was as intense as the search for Moby Dick, trying to prove the historian used to wear an Order of Lenin medal on his tweedy lapel.

There’s no doubt that facing up to a weakness in the hitherto shiny image of a famous writer undermines not just the reputation but also the credibility of that person. I guess that was the point of the Manning Clark attack and maybe it’s left dents in the historian’s legacy. But Australia’s intelligentsia is not a big pool, nor, beyond a tiny self-reflective group, do most of the stoushes reach beyond the fringes. We are, however, now seeing how strategic, patient, ruthless and effective such campaigns can be.

I don’t pretend to be in any way an expert, or even a well-read amateur on the history of Australian communism or Russian history, but one of the things five months of Palestinian suffering (or rather, the intensification of 70 years of Palestinian subjugation) has prompted is a necessary attempt to know at least a little about the history. And also about history, tout court.

As overwhelming as the news is, as difficult as it is to sort the propaganda from the truth, it must be attempted, for sanity’s sake. The accounts of dire events and the endless disingenuous justifications by the commentariat can be managed by reading history, both as background and as proof that men like Netanyahu and compromised writers like those who accept oily invitations amid a humanitarian disaster have precedents — unfortunately.

Martin Amis is in the news at the moment, the shadow of the writer at least. His Zone of Interest is the book on which the film is very loosely based. Amis’ early novelistic endeavours were inflected with his tedious masculinity, but the blokeiness also gave rise to an interest in (maybe obsession with) Soviet Russia and the grotesqueries of the Terror.

In the 2006 novel House of Meetings, set in a gulag, the narrator says: ‘Something strange was happening in the Soviet Union, after the war against fascism: fascism.’ We’re seeing commentary right now where such a sentence might appear, but with “Israel” in the place of “the Soviet Union”.

In 2002, Amis published Koba the Dread, a book that grappled with the question of why his father, Kingsley, and friend, Christopher Hitchens, both lent into Bolshevism — Kingsley until 1956, Hitchens almost all his life.

Hitchens apparently believed he could distinguish between the violent revolutions inspired by Trotsky and Lenin and the hideous annihilations instigated by Stalin. These men were big personalities, ferocious thinkers and, like George Orwell, now fair game for retrospective criticism.

Koba the Dread (Stalin’s self-applied nickname) is unsatisfactory as history, but (or rather, "and") to read it feels like ripping the band-aid off a raw wound. As contemporary writers say about Trump (and Putin), cruelty was the point and while we have daily proof of this in reports out of Gaza, the information does not bring with it much more than despair and dwindling hope.

Amis was trying to understand his father and Hitchens (and George Bernard Shaw and, maybe, Manning Clark), their belief in the ideals of revolutionary communism and their willingness to postpone recognition of what it had become.

Alongside all the different accounts of Israel’s Palestinian assaults, picking through the minefield of vested interests, propaganda and commitments, it’s useful to read Amis describing those who were obstinate in their adherence to a faith — whether religious, cultural or ideological. So, we’ve been here before and not so long ago. What can we learn from that?

This brings us to all those politicians and journalists who have accepted hospitality from Israel right now, at this point in this history. Surely, they feel some sense of uncertainty that it’s the right thing to do.

We see and hear what we want to see and hear but, knowing that, our moral obligation is to challenge power and its insidious pressure on public opinion — which makes the willingness to say “yes, please” to such an invitation truly unacceptable.

Rosemary Sorensen was a newspaper, books and arts journalist based in Melbourne, then Brisbane, before moving to regional Victoria, where she founded the Bendigo Writers Festival, which she directed for 13 years.

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