Why is there a media bias against Israel and what can be done to combat it? Sacha Wigdorovits, a journalist with extensive experience both in Switzerland and abroad, delivered an extremely concise lecture on this topic under the auspices of the Swiss-Israel Chamber of Commerce.
A PR professional specializing in “crisis” situations, Wigdorovits was very real and balanced in his approach to media coverage of Israel. While his talk focused on the situation in Switzerland, much of what he said could easily apply to the United States, both in terms of causes and action points. In this posting I’ll outline what were defined as the causes of the bias, and in the next posting we’ll look at some actions points Wigdorovits suggested.
Here are some of the causes Wigdorovits discussed:
Secondhand or recycled stories. As budgets at newspapers get tighter and tighter (not to mention disappearing altogether) more and more “news” stories are recycled. There’s shrinking investment in developing journalistic skills and instead reliance on news agencies. So if there’s one anti-Israel story out there, it will be broadly disseminated and reprinted ad infinitum.
(As an aside, at the IJN we’ve noted this trend and are bucking it, continuing to invest in local, in-house news reporting.)
Left-leaning journalists. This may be more prominent in Europe, but journalism is a field associated more with liberals or leftists, which nowadays in many cases means anti-Israel. Sadly Israel has become a black/white issue, with the right wing being more pro-Israel and the opposite with the left wing.
The danger of this dichotomy is that being pro-Israel has become conflated with the growing anti-Muslim sentiment. In Switzerland, the same populist political party that initiated the federal ban on minarets (and uses extremely xenophobic images and wording in their ad campaigns) is also the only party that supports Israel, which leaves many Swiss Jews uncomfortable. The same can be said for centrist or left-leaning American Jews having problems with certain news presenters in the United States.
Young journalists. Like other young people, budding journalists tend to an either/or view of the world. Wigdorovits referred to it as the David and Goliath syndrome, where an all-powerful, imperialistic nation dominates a weak yet honest people. In the case of Israel, you shouldn’t have a hard time figuring out who’s typically portrayed as the innocent shepherd and who as the evil giant.
The Palestinian cause has a better PR machine. While this is certainly true overall internationally, in the United States, the Jewish community has continued to grow in its support of Israel (for example, with the turnaround of the Reform movement) and the pro-Israel lobby is strong. Of course the Palestinian movement also has strong advocacy in the US, but there’s some sense of balance. In Europe, and globally, that’s really not the case.
In Switzerland, two MPs – Geri Müller and Daniel Vischer – have become mouthpieces for the Palestinian movement to the point of becoming rabidly anti-Israel, and some would say closely bordering on anti-Semitic. There is no pro-Israel counterpart says Wigdorovits, and of course many of the international organizations such as the UN have a long-documented anti-Israel record. This paradigm is not unique to Switzerland, but common throughout Europe.
It’s not all bad news, though. Wigdorovits also outlined several effective action points, which we’ll post in our next entry.
In the meantime, are there other causes for the media bias that Wigdorovits missed out on? Post a comment and let us know.