Is Middle East News Coverage Balanced?

Western readers should put their critical thinking hats on and be very careful when reading or viewing Middle East affairs — looks can be deceiving.

For example, take the Israeli-Hezballah conflict that happened in the summer of 2006. Three different Hebrew editions of the same article on Haaretz’s website appeared over 48 hours, with each subsequent one including less definitive information.

This is exactly what happened with Joav Stern’s article published on Haaretz’s Hebrew online website on July 29, 2006.

In the original version Stern included Hassan Nasrallah’s speech made on the Lebanese Television station, Al-Manar as the lead-off paragraph. He cited Nasrallah’s conditions for a ceasefire, the return of prisoners, restoration of the geographical area of the Shebat Farms from Israel and more… This can’t be verified any longer because within 12 hours this statement was removed from Stern’s article.

The new header paragraph copy was posted by July 29 on or before 10:00 pm with Nasrallah’s conditions of ceasefire removed. After this paragraph, the rest of the body copy remained virtually the same.

Then within another 12 hours it changed for the third time, and this time it appeared to be the final copy. The header paragraph related to Lebanese protesters in Beirut exhorting Hassan to bomb Tel-Aviv.

After the new header paragraph, the body copy is virtually the same.

The final copy is a big shift from the original. It changed from an article covering a political problem of prisoner exchange, and historic territorial rights between Israel and its neighbors to one where Israel was under attack. The first one could potentially inspire the international community to broker a deal on land between the disputing parties. The final copy emphasized Israel defending its existence. The western world normally sides with Israel when its sovereignty is threatened, and it worked. Nasrallah’s demand for land repatriation was permanently erased from the western mindset.

There were no instructions or digital signature identifying that this article had been revised or modified. Haaretz was contacted by email to give a detailed account of why this occurred without notification but never replied.

I was not looking for this outcome at all, being a slow Hebrew reader and interrupted often, I had to go to this page frequently over a 24 hour time-frame to complete reading it. This is why I discovered it was changing. It was completely by chance.

Also, this discovery cannot be substantiated, and only remains in the realm of opinion. The article was not saved at the key periods of the changes by me.

Definitive answers on why this article changed three times and switched its emphasis are hard to come by. One can only hypothesize.

It could be that this is an acceptable practice to change an article without notice within the Israeli community. However, this argument is weak. Haaretz is well known for sticking to professional international journalist standards.

Another option is that the military censor requested it be changed. The military censor has a lot of power in Israel and this is not out of the question.

The English edition of the article in Haaretz never went through this same evolution. It was a general summary article that was not based on the Hebrew edition.

It is not fair to only exemplify Israel as marketing their own brand of stories to win international attention. It is certain that newspapers throughout the Arabic speaking world do the same thing. I don’t know Arabic and can’t pinpoint any specific case. This is a problem of human nature that transcends all races, societies and religions.

This example should warn any readers or viewers of Middle East affairs, that whatever coverage is made on the issues of the day, don’t be gullible. It may be rhetoric, marketing of a sovereign brand, or misdirecting from the real issues.

Charles Sullivan is a researcher and writer who is perpetually curious about the history of ideas and concepts. He is an avid reader of Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and Aramaic texts; intrigued on the connections between the Christian and the supernatural, and issues where faith and society intersect.

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