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Media Analyses





The Power of Words--Reuters' and CAMERA's


Measuring the effects of CAMERA's work — to foster sound reporting and to ensure that public discourse about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict be informed by accurate and unbiased news reports — varies with the nature of the problem. Some results are straightforward and easily measurable, such as the number of corrections of factual errors elicited by CAMERA staff and members and improved reporting on the same topic thereafter. But other changes, including eliminating slanted, opinion-laden language, require close analysis of coverage over time to evaluate.

A recent effort to elicit redress of biased language by Reuters is indicative. Reuters, the European-based news wire service whose influence is magnified through a global reach to hundreds of millions, has presented a significant and ongoing challenge in its use of partisan pro-Palestinian language. Yet even here, there is progress.

*On October 23, CAMERA sent an Alert ("Reuters' Questionable Integrity") asking our team to urge Reuters executives to honor their own editorial guidelines by stopping the use of partisan language in news stories that whitewash the clearly stated goal of Palestinian terror organizations to destroy Israel. This followed a campaign consisting of CAMERA's direct communication with Reuters editors, CAMERA articles informing the general public of the issues, and letters sent to Reuters executives by our letter-writing team. CAMERA explained how the use of such terminology as “uprising for independence” to describe the goals of Palestinian suicide bombers was misleading, in light of the terrorists' avowed purpose. Moreover, such language totally disregarded Israel's Camp David/Taba offer of a state — and the Palestinian Authority's rejection of it. Reuters' repetition of distorted language obscuring Palestinian rejectionism and omitting the actual motives of violence could have only served to mislead the public regarding Palestinian action and aims.

While Reuters initially refused to accept responsibility for its use of editorial language, there has, in fact, been a noticeable decrease in the news agency's use of this language since publication of a CAMERA commentary in National Review Online (appearing on numerous Web sites and distributed by weblogs) and the Alert.

A review of over 500 Reuters articles referring to the Palestinian “uprising” from September 1 until October 20, 2003 (the publication date of NRO's CAMERA commentary), and from November 1, 2003 (after the CAMERA alert was sent out and members had a chance to write to Reuters executives) until December 20, 2003 underscores the change.

In the first period (Sept.1-Oct.20), Reuters articles referring to the Palestinian "uprising" included such phrases as "uprising for an independent state," "uprising for statehood," "uprising against Israeli occupation," and so on, 83% of the time. The word "uprising" alone or "uprising against Israel" was used only 14% of the time (except for articles about Israel's economy which used the word "uprising" alone to denote a time frame).The terminology “uprising in the West Bank and Gaza” — which does not directly attribute motive but implies one by incorrectly limiting Palestinian violence to that location — was used in 3% of the articles.

After the Op-Ed appeared and in the wake of the CAMERA Alert (Nov. 1-Dec. 20), the results were reversed. Reuters articles referring to the Palestinian "uprising" included the tendentious language regarding Palestinian motive only 15% of the time, and instead used the more neutral "uprising against Israel" or simply "uprising" 84% of the time (again not including articles about Israel's economy). The incorrect term "uprising in the West Bank and Gaza" was used in less than 2% of the articles.

Before and After Examples

BEFORE:

Typical of past Reuters statements, effectively rationalizing terrorism, were the following:

Palestinian militants fired at an Israeli car south of Jerusalem, wounding a woman and a nine-year-old girl, rescue workers said on Sunday. It was a rare flare-up of violence since Palestinian militants waging a 34-month-old uprising for statehood declared a three-month truce on June 29. ("Palestinians fire at Israeli car, at least 2 hurt," August 2, 2003) [emphasis added]

and

Palestinian militants waging an almost 35-month-old uprising for independence have frequently bombed Israeli buses...("Bomb wrecks Jerusalem bus, seven dead," Barry Moody, August 19, 2003)[emphasis added]

and, as documented in the National Review Online article by CAMERA and the CAMERA alert:

Hamas has spearheaded a 28-month-old Palestinian militant uprising against Israel for a state in Gaza and the West Bank.("Israeli Tank in Flames After Hitting Bomb in Gaza," Shahdi al-Kashif, February 15, 2003) [emphasis added]

AFTER:

Since the CAMERA alert and article, Reuters has generally refrained from describing the uprising as being “for statehood” or “for independence.” And Reuters has more often included context and/or accurately portrayed the goals of Palestinian terrorist groups. For example:

Israel, battling a three-year-old Palestinian uprising, says roadblocks and other travel restrictions on Palestinians are necessary to stop suicide bombers from reaching its cities. ("Palestinians say Israeli troops kill West Bank man," November 1)

Palestinian militants have killed hundreds of Israelis in a string of suicide bombings mostly in Israeli cities since a Palestinian uprising began three years ago. ("Palestinian bomber blows up near soldiers in W. Bank," November 3, 2003)

A violence-stalled U.S.-backed road map for peace calls on the Palestinian Authority to dismantle militant organizations behind suicide bombings that have killed hundreds of Israelis since the start of a Palestinian uprising in September 2000.("Israel, U.S. resigned to Arafat security powers," Jeffrey Heller, November 11, 2003)

The graphic accounts of the bombings on Israeli radio stations soured a sunny Sabbath day in Jerusalem, which has grown only too used to militant attacks during a three-year-old Palestinian uprising. ("Israeli Jews feel vulnerable after Istanbul bombings" Maia Ridberg, November 15, 2003)

Sworn to Israel's destruction, Hamas and Islamic Jihad opposed 1993 interim Middle East peace deals and have spearheaded a Palestinian uprising raging since September 2000. ("Islamists assail unofficial Mideast peace proposal," Nidal al-Mughrabi, November 21)

Hamas, sworn to the Jewish state's destruction, has led the three-year-old Palestinian uprising. It views with suspicion the U.S.-led 'road map' to peace calling for steps leading to a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside Israel.("Hamas slams Mideast peace moves, vows more attacks" Nidal al-Mughrabi, December 12, 2003)

The two-day talks, to be held in Gaza City, will involve Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions that have spearheaded a suicide bombing campaign during a three-year-old uprising. ("New Mideast talks broached despite Gaza violence" by Matt Spetalnick, December 15, 2003)

*The infrequent articles that do include inaccurate terminology now often include qualification about the motives of terrorist groups. For example, a December 15 article using the phrase “uprising for independence” included as well the stated aim of the Hamas terrorist organization:

Hamas, sworn to Israel's destruction, has led a suicide bombing campaign during the three-year-old Palestinian uprising for independence. ("Israel remands Arab-Canadian in alleged bomb plot," Rami Amichai, December 15, 2003)

The net effect of this change is that Reuters' huge global audience is presented with a clearer, more accurate picture of Palestinian terrorist goals and violence.

*Similarly, over two years ago, CAMERA waged a nearly year-long campaign for Reuters to be more accurate in its designation of Israeli settlements. Reuters had routinely labeled settlements as "illegal under international law," as in:

Jewish settlements, illegal under international law, are built on land Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and which Palestinians want for an independent state. (June 26, 2001)

Jewish settlements, illegal under international law, are at the heart of a Palestinian uprising that began last September. (July 1, 2001)

In private communications, alerts, and articles, CAMERA insisted that regardless of differing political views on settlement policy, information about the issue should be factual and balanced, and Reuters eventually replaced their blanket labeling of settlements as illegal with more nuanced language, such as:

Much of the international community regards as illegal Israeli settlements in areas occupied by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war. Israel disputes this. (July 4, 2001)

The following examples compare Reuters' earlier partisan but deceptive wording, mimicking Palestinian rhetoric with a recent example of its more objective language.

Previously:

Palestinians see settlements, illegal under international law, as legitimate targets in their struggle for independence... (July 20, 2001)

Currently:

Settlements on occupied land have been frequent targets during a three-year-old Palestinian uprising. They are considered illegal by most of the international community but Israel disputes this. (December 15, 2003)

This example of joint action by CAMERA staff and letter-writers in eliciting more accurate and fair terminology by Reuters is representative of the positive effects of careful monitoring, persistence and public involvement.


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