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January 08, 1988 - Image 66

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1988-01-08

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

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66

FRIDAY, JANUARY 8, 1988

,

Palestinian Rioting
Poses Major Questions

BERL FALBAUM

Special to The Jewish News

D

oes media coverage,
particularly televi-
sion, incite
demonstrators such as those
in Gaza to riot? What affect,
if any, do camera crews have
in riot-torn areas?
These and other critical
questions are being probed by
Israeli officials as they con-
sider controlling the media in
such crises as Gaza. They face
the classic question of pitting
constitutional rights in a
democracy against exploita-
tion, distortion and a cause-
and-effect relationship.
Undoubtedly, Israel suffers
not only from the inherent
weakness of television but
also from outright bias and
sensationalism in some parts
of the world.
England's Prime Minister
Margaret Thatcher con-
sidered the effect of television
- in the Falkland Island crisis,
and limited news coverage.
President Reagan in the inva-
sion of Granada similarly
made a strategic decision not
to alert the media to his
plans. Both suffered the ex-
pected criticism from the
news media but nary a word
was heard from the public.
Presumably, both these
leaders of democratic societies
weighed the cost-benefit
elements of their decisions
and opted for taking the
brickbats from the Fourth
Estate.
Israel, which has probably
one of the more sophisticated
relationships with its own
media, must now ponder how
to "control" coverage of such
events as in Gaza. There are
no easy answers but the hope
is that the government will
not use the excuse of the
negative fallout from media
coverage to institute
measures which will inhibit
freedom of the press in the on-
ly democracy in the Middle
East.
Similarly, it would be unfor-
tunate if the usually hyper-
sensitive media do not
cooperate with officials in try-
ing to reach an accommoda-
tion which serves the public
interest.
Several facts are clear:
• Television coverage does
incite demonstrators. That
was a major point in the
Kerner Commission report
published after the urban
riots in this country in the
late 1960s. The commission
recommended that the media
take steps to temper their in-

fluence on demonstrators and
some media institutions tried
by using unmarked cars, sub-
duing lights on cameras and
generally downplaying their
presence. But, unfortunately,
those measures have long
been forgotten.
• Television by its every
nature distorts. It is impossi-
ble to inform the public on
such a complex issue as Arab-
Israeli relations in but one
minute or two. TV news
centers on "action" — results
and not the causes of the
stories covered. This was evi-
dent during Israel's war
against the PLO in Lebanon
in 1981.
• TV news is first and
foremost an entertainment
medium. It is designed to
maintain interest with "ex-
citing" film footage not
necessarily historical perspec-
tives. Commentators and
television reporters are hired
not for their backgrounds in
history or politics but rather
on their abilities to handle
the TV lens.
• Polls have indicated that
television is now the prime
source of information for most
people, making it essential
that constructive measures be
instituted to make it as ac-
curate and comprehensive as
possible.
What's more, for all the ex-
emplary work of many news
reporters, the media — print
as well as electronic — is
replete with errors, distor-
tions, simplistic reporting,
sensationalism and bias.
Thus, the world at times
receives superficial, highly-
distorted reports on the Mid-
dle East, and for that matter,
on other places as well.

Israel has been the victim of
some bad reporting and its
image suffered accordingly.
At the same time, all the
negativism cannot be at-
tributed to the media — an
easy scapegoat — because at
times the government has
been guilty of bad policy and
its decision to use whatever
force is necessary in controll-
ing the Gaza riots is at least
a debatable one.
It is also probably true that
the media, even if in-
advertently, at times may
have caused the military
logistical problems in attemp-
ting to control the
demonstrators.
Given all these factors, a
media policy designed by the
government in cooperation
with the media cannot fail to
help all the parties involved.

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