Palestine Network

All the News That’s NOT Fit to Print

Posted by shuraka on December 18, 2007

All the News That’s NOT Fit to Print – The Exclusion of the Fourth Geneva Convention in the New York Times’ Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Story By Rima Abdelkader, NEW YORK, (Arabisto.com)

The New York Times, often called the national newspaper of record and viewed as a highly reputable and dependable source for news internationally, has become immersed in a maelstrom of controversy over its exclusion of the Fourth Geneva Convention in its reportage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Howard Friel, co-author of “The Record of the Paper: How the New York Times Misreports U.S. Foreign Policy,” who precipitated this discussion, questioned whether Israel’s historical and continuing settlement of East Jerusalem and the West Bank should not be referred to within The New York Times’ reportage as a major violation of international law, rather than consistently ignored, as is generally the case.  He argued this point during a debate with The Times Foreign Editor Ethan Bronner, sponsored by the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association last week, on The Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its influence on other news media and on public discourse.

Controversy, after all, is not foreign to The Times.  Ethan Bronner, in response, said, “We fail a lot.  The Times is not very flawless.”  It had experienced the Jayson Blair affair and even charges of liberal bias by one of its own public editors for its inadequate coverage of the current administration leading up to the Iraqi war.  BUT, now, there is heavy criticism of its reportage of the I-P conflict, leaving readers asking: Is the New York Times providing us with a completely unfiltered view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

In response to Friel, Ethan Bronner said, “We are a business and not a not for profit organization”.  “We have a NY thingy for sports teams,” he said, but explained that the New York Times “aims for impartiality” with regard to U.S. foreign policy and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The exclusion of the Fourth Geneva Convention in The Times’ coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the main focus of the debate.

In Friel’s PowerPoint presentation, he referenced Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention, “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.”  Friel said that there has been no U.N. Charter in any editorial of the New York Times and believed, “the New York Times ignores the Fourth Geneva Convention”.

Friel also focused on The Times’ language.  What is the difference between a Palestinian terrorist versus a Palestinian militant, an Israeli settlement versus an Israeli colony, a security barrier versus an apartheid wall, disputed territories versus occupied territories?  A national newspaper’s decision to choose one over the other in this debate will certainly shape public discourse, Friel said.

In one slide, Friel stated that the New York Times mentions “Israel’s Right to Exist” in 136 news articles, 13 editorials, 37 letters to the editor, and 10 op-eds.  Whereas, the New York Times, he said, only mentioned “Palestinian Self-Determination” in 10 articles where the ratio was 13 to 1 favoring Israel, in 10 letters to the editor where there was a 3.7 to 1 ratio favoring Israel, and in 8 op-eds.

With respect to violence, Friel said that “most Israeli violence goes unreported” and that “the New York Times’ coverage of violence is not impartial”.  According to B’Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, he said, from September 29, 2000 to November 30, 2006 during the time of the Second Palestinian Intifada, 4,032 Palestinians had been killed along with 1,017 Israelis, and 808 Palestinian children have been killed along with 119 Israeli children.  In the First Intifada, from December 1987 to September 2000, according to the same source, he said, 1,491 Palestinians along with 186 Israelis had been killed including Palestinian and Israeli children.  During that time, he said, according to B’Tselem, 304 Palestinian children and 4 Israeli children had been killed.  Friel then persisted to ask, “Who is committing the preponderance of violence?”  Friel answered, that “little to no Palestinian violence goes unreported,” whereas, “most Israeli violence goes unreported”.

“You’re not alone in your frustration,” Bronner responded.  Many American Jews, he said, also express their frustration to the New York Times for the same reportage.  Bronner corrected Friel on The Times’ description of a Palestinian militant.  The Times, he said, does not refer to them as a “terrorist”.

Still, Friel maintained that “The New York Times’ Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not impartial”.  In principle, he said, the New York Times gives the news impartially, but, in action, it does not.  They are impartial when it comes to covering City Hall, Albany and the Elections, Friel said, but have “lower levels of impartiality” to U.S. Foreign policy versus the United Nations Charter and Israeli policies versus Palestinian rights.  

Ethan Bronner, emphatically replied, “We are not an international legal forum” and that “The 4th Geneva Convention is not important.”  He explained, “It is boring to discuss the International Law context.”  He held that the “UNGA has voted on a lot of nonsense” and that “international law is too aspirational.”

Walid El-Gabry, president of the Arab and Middle Eastern Journalists Association and former Financial Times journalist responded to Bronner, “We see it (the Fourth Geneva Convention) as context”.

“Journalism is not an exact science, it is about storytelling,” Bronner responded to the audience.  “We are a flawed and human enterprise,” he rationalized.

One audience member told Bronner, “We read the New York Times for information, not for entertainment” to which Bronner responded, “That is an element of journalism”.

In reaction to Friel and some audience members, Bronner said that the New York Times is adapting to the times.  They are pushing for more Arab/Muslim workers and even have an Arabic class for the employees.  Audience members, in response, said, change has to happen with the coverage and the inclusion of the Fourth Geneva Convention would be a start.

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