The press in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere in the region has often been accused by some western governments and their media as being a state-controlled organ which exists solely to promote the state’s agenda. Not surprisingly, most of these allegations began after the September 11 incident, and the majority of such charges originate in the United States.
For what its worth, let me assure my readers that as a writer I am not controlled by any organ in my government which pays me to pump out false information. Neither am I shackled nor restricted as to what I can or will write about. I do not falsify facts and release misinformation on behalf of others, for that would immediately end my writing passions. And I speak for just about all I know who chose to go into this field in Saudi Arabia.
But from the land where most of the accusations originate, the same cannot be said to be true. In their leading newspaper, the New York Times, the motto on the left hand corner of the daily front page states: ‘All the News That’s Fit to Print.’ There has been enough evidence over the years to distinguish a definite slant in reporting, especially when it comes to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Whether it is intentional or otherwise, part of the problem lies with the newspaper’s selection of American Jews with Zionist leanings as their correspondents and bureau chiefs in Israel. Now these are the people who are supposed to evaluate the situation on the ground and report the facts and nothing but. Unfortunately, personal and religious affiliations play a major part in the distortion of news that has today come to represent the US media.
In the case of the New York Times, there has been more than one situation that suggests that indeed their reporting of Arab-Israeli issues is often distorted and slanted in favour of Israel. Take the case of the previous New York Times bureau chief in occupied Jerusalem, Ethan Bronner. Two years ago, the Electronic Intifada, a non-profit and independent and online newspaper whose aim is ‘combating the pro-Israeli, pro-American spin’, disclosed that Bronner’s 22-year-old American son had joined the Israeli Army. Naturally a father would be sensitive to his son’s activities and in the case of Bronner, many would argue that the stories emanating from occupied Jerusalem since did indeed do injustice to the Palestinian angle.
When the news first broke out, the paper’s public editor Clark Hoyt admitted that dispatches from that region could be compromised. He stated, “Bronner is a superb reporter... But, stepping back, this is what I see — The Times sent a reporter overseas to provide disinterested coverage of one of the world’s most intense and potentially explosive conflicts, and now his son has taken up arms for one side. Even the most sympathetic reader could reasonably wonder how that would affect the father, especially if shooting broke out.” Yet despite Hoyt’s reservations, Bronner remained in his post for another two years! One just wonders how many in mainstream US media drew from his reports during that period and flashed them on to the unsuspecting US public.
In another case substantiating the Times’ apparent affinity to appointing Zionist sympathisers to report from the region, Alex Cane, an editor at WorldNet disclosed the issue of concealed relationships this time involving Isabel Kershner, the Times’ reporter based in occupied Jerusalem. Kershner has often been taken to task for her biased and misleading reporting, which to many has become a reflection of the paper’s bias towards the Israeli version.
Cane discovered that Kershner is married to Hirsh Goodman employed by the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), one of many think tanks sponsored by and funded by Israel and operating on US soil. These organisations employ committed individuals who are tasked with shaping a positive image of Israel in the media regardless of the facts. Kershner in her dispatches out of occupied Jerusalem to American readers heavily relied on data provided by her husband’s organisation. Between 2009 and 2012, 17 articles were written or dispatched by Kershner in which officials from the INSS were quoted with their version of events, which led many to doubt the fairness and accuracy of such reports.
Media ethics expert Kevin Smith, the chair of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee commenting on Kershner’s case called it an ethics issue. “Repeatedly going to that agency for information still raises serious questions... The relationship that develops here is not healthy for unbiased news coverage. It’s too awash with personal connections.” He added that “at the very least, disclosure is demanded... You cannot expect trust or to maintain credibility from the public when, before they read a word of your copy, you have engaged in an act of deception by not disclosing your potential conflicts.”
For whatever reasons, many western journalists covering the Israel/Palestinian conflict are entrenched to Israeli society through religious or personal bonds which lay the framework for an unfair and biased coverage of the conflict. And perhaps not so surprising to most of us here, the New York Times chose not to disclose the personal link between Kershner and the Israeli spin organisation to their readers.
Meanwhile the spin continues. In all fairness, the New York Times motto should be changed to: All the news WE THINK is fit to print!
Tariq A. Al Maeena is a Saudi socio-political commentator. He lives in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.