VG: Norwegian media coverage makes Israel scape goat

This story was published in VG to day. I applaud this, a decent self-critical article. More of this, please!

VG net) The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians gets more media attention than bloodier conflicts elsewhere in the world. The Organization With Israel for Peace believes it creates unreasonable enemy projections.

With Israel for Peace has analyzed  the number of news reports from the NTB that contain these words in the period 2008-2011:
Israel: 6851
Egypt: 3907
Syria: 2296
Sri Lanka: 1152
MIFF has used the media database Atekst as a starting point for their research.

The Organization With Israel for Peace (Norwegian non-religious pro-Israeli organization) has compared the number of stories from news agency NTB about the conflict in Israel in relation to Egypt, Syria and Sri Lanka during the period 2008-2011.

The figures show that Israel receives far greater coverage than the other conflicts (see fact box), although the civil war in Sri Lanka and Syria claimed more lives than the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians.

- The mother of all conflicts

- This creates a disproportionate picture of the conflicts in the world, where the Norwegians are misled to believe that the Middle East conflict is so much worse than all other conflicts. Israel is made a scapegoat and the Middle East conflict is seen as all the conflict’s mother, says Conrad Myrland, Managing Director of MIFF.

In the period 2008-2011  just over 2,000 people were killed in the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. In comparison, 8,000 people were killed in Syria since March last year, according to the UN. The death toll in Sri Lanka is uncertain, but the UN envoy Gordon Weiss estimates that 40,000 Tamils ​​were slaughtered in 2009.

In January 2009, while war raged in both Gaza and Sri Lanka, Israel was mentioned in 566 news messages from NTB, while Syria and Sri Lanka were mentioned 52 times.

- Because the NTB wrote ten times more about Israel than Sri Lanka this month, it creates the impression that what happened in Gaza was much worse than what happened in Sri Lanka. The actual death toll shows that the opposite was the case, said Myrland.

- What about the Congo and Sudan?
He stressed that MIFFs counting is only quantitative, and says nothing about the content of news reports from NTB, which is distributed to most Norwegian media – including VG.

- It is a paradox that the conflicts in Sudan and Congo, which in the last decade has cost millions of lives, do not receive media coverage nowhere close to the level of the Middle East conflict, Myrland said.

- Norway is politically engaged

The NTB says it writes more about the conflict in Israel, because it catches Norwegian readers’s attention more than other international conflicts.

- The Middle East conflict engages so much  because Norway is deeply involved in the political process, earlier through the Oslo accords, and now as head of the donor group for Palestinians. Moreover, many people have a relationship with Israel, whether through visiting a kibbutz, or because many Christians in Norway identify with the religious aspects of the conflict. We follow the journalistic principle of writing about what interests Norwegian readers, says Ane Haavard Daughter Lunde, president of NTB’s Foreign Department.

- Does this not mean a self-reinforcing effect, in as far as one becomes more interested in what one is reading about?

- We will follow the main stream in the news and therefore select away lesser-known conflicts.Seen in this perspective our coverage does have a self-reinforcing effect.

- Is the NTB mission to inform readers about lesser-known conflicts?

- No, our mission is to deliver the news our customers want. Had we been a left-wing newspaper, we would have written about minor conflicts in Latin America.

- Israel is Norwegian domestic politics

Ervin Kohn, the Chairman of the Jewish community in Oslo, says the media focus on Israel can be explained through the strong emotions Norwegian feel for the region.

- Very many people in Norway have an emotional relationship with Israel and Norwegian politicians position themselves in relation to the conflict. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is regarded almost as a domestic political topic in Norway, he said.

He believes Israel is portrayed as the big bad wolf in the Norwegian public opinion.

- In the Norwegian narrative there is one part which is strong and ugly; this is Israelis and Jews.The other party is weak and a victim; this is the Palestinians. Norway will always support the weaker party, he said.

Kohn reads all the Norwegian national newspapers daily. He believes Dagbladet, Klassekampen and some Christian newspapers miss the mark by avoiding to challenge both parties with tough questions.

- Dagbladet and Klassekampen write in favor of the Palestinians while Dagen and Norway Today, write in favor of Israel. They forget to ask critical questions to the side they prefer, he said.

In essence, however, Kohn says that the Norwegian media coverage of the conflict in the Middle East is now far more balanced than it was a few years ago.

- Wants to be a corrective

Norway Today say they are a corrective to the general picture of Israel in the media.

- Our point is that Israel is being very badly treated by the media and we aim to be a corrective. But everything we write must be truthful and verifiable, assistant editor Bjarte Ystebø said.

Dagen editor in chief editor Vebjørn Selbekk is surprised by the criticism.

- We have a fundamentally positive view of Israel in editorial oped, but otherwise, both sides views have been represented for as long as I have been editor in chief, he said.

Alexandra Beverfjord, news editor of the newspaper Dagbladet says, “that they are covering the conflict in a factual and thorough manner.”

Bjørgulv Braanen, editor of Klassekampen, says his paper does a poor job in covering Israeli politics.

- In the editorial column, we support full recognition of Palestine and a two-state solution in line with the limits from before 1967. I’m not sure that we insufficiently criticize the Palestinian positions, but we are obviously too weak in our coverage of Israeli politics and the background for the Israeli positions, he said.
Imbalanced NRK

Researcher Cecilia Hellestveit was commissioned by the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation in 2011 to review the broadcasters coverage of the Middle East conflict. She concluded that the coverage is generally good, but criticized the NRK for giving the Palestinian problem most attention.

“NRK’s ​​narrative identifies to a great extent to the understanding of the conflict that exists in certain moderate and secular Fatah groups, and in certain circles of the Israeli Left,” she wrote in her report to the Broadcasting Council.

- Given how much the Middle East conflict is covered in Norway, the media has a special responsibility to challenge the prevailing narrative through a multi-faceted coverage, says Hellestveit to VG Nett.

- A challenging landscape

Arne Jensen, Assistant Secretary General of the Association of Norwegian Editors, admits that it may be an accurate observation, that the Norwegian media succumb to group think when covering international conflicts.

- Yes, it may well be that we do. It is a challenging landscape to move in, because the conflicts are many and very different. Becoming a skilled foreign reporter is a great and arduous task, he says.

- Why was it written about the Gaza war than the far bloodier than the war in Sri Lanka?

- Norway has a stronger connection to Israel than to Sri Lanka. Moreover, the conflict in the Middle East  is more explosive than the conflict in Sri Lanka, because it involves the super powers, he said.

- Awareness can save lives

Medecins Sans Frontiers regularly make a list of the world’s forgotten crises. Acting Head of Communications Lindis Hurum, thinks it is sad that the media often only makes room for one crisis at a time.

- It’s good that Syria is now receiving attention, but it comes at the expense of attention to other crises. We see a clear correlation between media coverage of crises and how much help that collected them, she says.

Hurum believes the media has a responsibility to tell the story of those who suffer in silence.

- Attention is power and it can save lives. Many millions are suffering in the world’s forgotten crises. The refugees in southern Sudan and the Central African Republic deserve as much attention as those who are suffering in the Middle East, she said.

Unfortunately, the call for academic and cultural boycott continues to make the rounds in Norway, you can go to this link to see whom of our intellectual and academic elites have signed this. Some of the signatories are currently carrying out research on Israel, I wonder if this “research” will fall within the normal guidelines of ethical research? even more bizarre, some have even signed the petition, not once, not twice, but three times…