Jobs @ MG
Hiding Behind Inverted Commas
By M. Zeyaul Haque
Inverted commas are
frequently used, misused and abused to condemn Palestinians and protect Israelis
from the consequences of their deeds
English dailies carried on June 14 the news of CIA chief George Tenet's
visits to the holy land (Israel-Palestine) to monitor the implementation
of the suggestions of George Mitchell on the restoration of peace. The
Statesman's Jerusalem correspondent Eric Silver, who is less of a
journalist than an Israeli defence ministry spokesman, shows his true
colours in the Jerusalem datelined report headlined "US Plan puts
Sharon, Arafat to test".
Eric Silver says that Sharon has described Arafat as an unrepentant
terrorist and chronic liar. However, when he says that Palestinians
complain of collective punishment by Israelis for individual Palestinian
offences, he makes it a point to put "collective punishment"
within commas. The point here is quite clear: Silver does not distance
himself from Sharon's description of Arafat as an unrepentant terrorist
and chronic liar and seems to suggest that as a journalist he agrees with
that description of Arafat, while he puts the Palestinian charge of
collective punishment within commas, suggesting that it is an ill-founded
impression from which he would like to distance himself.
This trick is being frequently employed by the media to put one of the
parties at a disadvantage and create a negative image of that party. This
is done both at the level of writing and editing. Interestingly, the same
story the same day reported by AP did not have this mischievous slant. But
trust Eric Silver to do that in each story he writes.
Quite a few journalists are under the illusion that they can befool
readers with their small tricks like crafty use of inverted commas. There
are still others who are under the impression that they can protect
themselves from libel by calling somebody a thief or an embezzler if they
take care to put the word "thief" and "embezzler"
within commas. The law does not afford such sanctity to quotes. There are
still others who are of the opinion that if they are saying something
which they think is funny or smart, it should be put within commas. Read
any good style book and you will find that this is a wrong notion.
Now, coming to reporting with anti-Palestinian slant, some may do it
because they are dishonest, but most do it because of a mortal fear of
being labelled as "anti-Semitic". It is a common practice with
Israelis that if a journalist is frank enough to call a spade a spade, he
or she would be immediately branded as anti-Semitic. However, now we have
quite a few persons who would not be deterred from telling the truth, like
the former BBC correspondent in Jerusalem, Paul Adams, whose write-up we
discussed in the last issue of The Milli Gazette.
Last fortnight the BBC was charged with anti-Semitism once again for
asking Prime Minister Ariel Sharon about his role in the massacres of
Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps while he was the defence minister. Sharon
is now saying that he was not told by the BBC that his interview would
feature in a BBC documentary on the ghastly massacres conducted by
Maronite militia of Lebanon under Sharon's protection in Northern Lebanon.
The BBC would show the documentary sometime in the third week of June.
Famous journalist Robert Fisk says (the Guardian) that journalists refuse
to tell the truth about Israel because they fear being slandered as
anti-Semites, which means they "are abetting terrible deeds in the
Middle East". Now see what he has to say about Western media
reporting done under the fear of "anti-Semite" label ready to be
slapped on to anyone who tries to tell the truth:
"What if we had supported the aparthied regime of South Africa
against the majority black population? What if we had lauded the South
African white leadership as ‘hardline warriors' rather than racists?
What if we had explained the shooting of 56 black protesters at
Sharpeville as an understandable `security crackdown' by the South African
police? And described black children shot by the police as an act of
`child sacrifice' by their parents? What if we had called the `terrorist'
ANC leadership to `control' their own people?"
Fisk goes on to assert, "Almost everyday that is exactly the way we
are playing the Israeli-Palestinian War." The "we" here
refers to the Western media personnel covering the Al Aqsa Intifadah. Fisk
writes in a rueful vein: "No matter how many youths are shot dead by
the Israelis, no matter how many murders -- by either side -- and no
matter how bloody the reputation of the Israeli prime minister, we are
reporting this conflict as if we supported the South African whites
against the blacks." Even worse.
Fisk says that rarely since the Second World War has a people been so
vilified as the Palestinians. "And rarely has a people been so
frequently excused and placated as the Israelis. Israeli embassies are
buttonholing editors around the world saying that it is not fair to call
Israeli prime minister `hardline'. And the reports are falling into
No wonder media credibility has taken a good beating.q