- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 5, 2002

For as long as the press have been attempting report on current events, there has been a subsequent backlash of those who find this reporting slanted. Recently, a charged debate emerged regarding the alleged subjectivity of reporting on current events in the Middle East. In response to accusations of anti-Israel bias in the pages of The Washington Post, Ombudsman Michael Getler recently asked in his column "Is it possible that so many major American news organizations are getting this story wrong?" New York Times reporter Frank Rich similarly noted that complaints concerning pro-Palestinian bias in major American media are "so indiscriminate that the indictment seems the mirror image of the Palestinians' charge that their case has been distorted by the pro-Israeli slant of America's 'Jewish controlled' media."

I disagree. While I do not expect the press to be pro-Israel, I do expect it to uphold its own standard of professionalism with truthful and balanced reporting on events in the Middle East. Such professionalism has been lacking because the press has created an illogical and unjustified equivalence between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The media's challenge in covering activities in the region stems from their disregard for the discrepancies that exist between Israel's largely transparent society and the Palestinian's repressive, despotic regime. The Israeli public regularly votes prime ministers out of office and challenges its government through an independent judicial process. The press challenges the legitimacy of Israeli government actions. Palestinian society, on the other hand, does not allow the same freedom to speak out against the leadership. There has existed no rule of law other than the prerogatives of Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat. The Palestinian press is not dissimilar to that of Syria or Iraq. The consistent theme of "the leader is great, the enemy is evil" permeates the Palestinian news.

This divergent situation has been directly played out in numerous press reports about the most recent flare-up in the region. Articles have juxtaposed the openly critical, frustrated Israeli society with the controlled and sanitized message of the PA.

In the absence of an independent civil society, journalists can always find Palestinian officials, academics, and the proverbial "man in the street" who will echo Mr. Arafat's regime, speaking forcibly about Israeli crimes, and discuss alleged "massacres" committed by the Israeli army. Due to a lack of regime transparency, such charges are difficult to corroborate and refute.

Given recent documented Palestinian distortions of the events in Jenin and Bethlehem, it is necessary to question why today's American media still insists on granting credibility to Palestinian spokespeople. If one considers other documented incidents of distortion such as denials of Palestinian involvement in the Karin A affair one must wonder why the words of official Palestinians are not given more cautionary treatment. Unfortunately, assumptions of Palestinian credibility have led to unreliable reporting on the part of journalists, who have bought into Palestinian deceptions, accepted them as fact and reported them as truth.

Many reputable media outlets initially reported Palestinian claims that the IDF massacred more than 500 people, mostly civilians, in Jenin. Reports of this nature were based upon statements from Palestinian officials and alleged "eye-witnesses." Today, all independent reporting of the events in Jenin has found no evidence to confirm the allegations of a massacre. To the contrary, it has only confirmed Israel's affirmation that the incidents in Jenin were no more than a strategically planned counter-terrorist operation, implemented with deliberate moderation to decrease the loss of innocent Palestinian lives.

In addition, many media outlets reported faulty Palestinian claims regarding recent events in Bethlehem. The Washington Post highlighted a story in which the church's clerics erroneously stated that they had invited the Palestinian gunmen into the holy site. In reality, the clerics voiced their utter dismay and disgust with the deliberate Palestinian terrorist hijacking of the historic church. Many in the media ignored this outrage, though it received rare coverage on the front-page of The Washington Times.

One must question why the press becomes manipulated by crude propaganda. When journalists deal with totalitarian, closed regimes, they know that officially released information must be met with a certain level of skepticism. The media correctly took a very cynical view of the celebrations in Iraq to mark Saddam Hussein's 65th birthday, and is similarly skeptical of anti-American demonstrations orchestrated by the Cuban regime.

Why is Yasser Arafat's regime one that is internationally recognized as being dictatorial, corrupt and collaborative in orchestrating terror not held to the same necessary level of skepticism? Why are the same Palestinian officials who spread the Jenin massacre and Bethlehem hijacking myths still considered reliable sources?

Why are the same standards of professional journalism that apply so well to the despots in Damascus and Baghdad not applied to Ramallah and Gaza?

Like other dictatorships, the PA is able to stifle criticism and enlist the entire society in its propaganda efforts. The international community is now calling for fundamental reforms that will hopefully lead to a more transparent, open and democratic Palestinian Authority. Until those reforms are implemented, journalists must apply the same professional standards to the PA that are applied to other dictatorial regimes.

Mark Regev is a spokesman of the Israeli Embassy.

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