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Pro-Israel lobby intimidates journalists

Last week Britain’s ITV showed John Pilger’s documentary, Palestine is Still the Issue. The film told a basic truth that is routinely suppressed - that a historic injustice has been done to the Palestinian people, and until Israel's illegal and brutal occupation ends, there will be no peace for anyone, Israelis included. Most of the film allowed people to tell their eyewitness stories, both Palestinians and Israelis. The film included a sequence showing excrement smeared by Israeli soldiers in a room of children's paintings. The documentary’s historical adviser, Professor Ilan Pappé, is an Israeli historian. 

The zionist lobby has called the film "inaccurate", "historically incorrect" and "a tragedy for Israel". Many of the emails denouncing the film are coming from America, where it has not been shown. At the heart of this is a failure to acknowledge the overwhelming imbalance in the British media in favour of the Israeli point of view. 

This general bias is verified by a remarkable study of the television coverage of the Middle East, conducted last May by the Glasgow University Media Group. The conclusions ought to shame broadcasters. The research shows that the public's lack of understanding of the conflicts and its origins is actually compounded by the "coverage". Viewers are rarely told that the Palestinians are victims of an illegal military occupation. The term "occupied territories" is rarely explained. Only 9% of young people interviewed know that the Israelis are both the occupiers and the illegal "settlers". The selective use of language is striking, says the study. Words such as "murder", "atrocity" and "terrorism" are used almost exclusively in relation to Israeli deaths. The extent to which broadcasters assume the Israeli perspective, says Prof Greg Philo, "can be seen if the statements are reversed ... We did not find any [news] reports stating that 'The Palestinian attacks were in retaliation for the murder of those resisting the illegal Israeli occupation.'" 

For years, journalists have complained about Zionist hate mail and the pressure of the "regular call from the Israeli embassy" to current affairs editors. 

This can take a subtle form: pressure is applied to correspondents in Jerusalem, who then shape their reports accordingly in the interests of what they tell themselves is "balance", but is, in effect, censorship by omission. The system gets the Israelis off their backs and "makes life bearable".

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