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Tackling lies about the Arab-Israeli conflict head-on

  • Plosker
The misinformation around the Arab-Israel conflict abounds, not least of all because we live in an age of social media where anyone can disseminate anything, irrespective of facts.
by JORDAN MOSHE | Jul 26, 2018

This is where HonestReporting comes in to tackle misrepresentations head-on. This team does so for its 140 000 subscribers worldwide who want to be able to sift through the biased reporting, skewed facts and fabricated news to get the truth about this conflict.

HonestReporting is one of the largest grassroots organisations devoted to media monitoring in the world. Unaligned to any political party or government, the organisation monitors media outlets for any signs of bias, inaccuracy or other failures to adhere to journalistic standards in their coverage of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Although the greatest number of its supporters are based in the United States, the organisation is supported by people from around the globe, including the UK, Canada, Australia, Israel and even South Africa.

Created in 2000, the organisation was founded during the Second Intifada by a group of students in London. “These students were fed-up with the media and its grossly biased portrayals of Israel,” explains Simon Plosker, HonestReporting’s managing editor.

“So, they set up a mailing list to alert their friends and family members to any anti-Israel media bias which appeared in the news. They also called on their subscribers to direct complaints at media outlets for any false reporting.”

The organisation upholds this commitment, devoting itself to ensuring that Israel is fairly represented across the media spectrum. “We do everything we can to hold every media outlet to account,” says Plosker. “Combing through news from across the globe, we establish the accuracy of every news segment or report we come across and identify anything which is less than truthful.”

Once an inaccuracy is discovered, Plosker says, “we often approach the outlet from which it originated and demand that they acknowledge the misinformation, which they have shared, and correct it.

“Additionally, we are able to educate members of the public about unfair media coverage and empower them to respond effectively.”

The organisation also focuses on education, which Plosker says “is crucial” in an endeavour like this. “We aim to ensure that the public is equipped to consume what the media produces with consideration and thought, questioning what they see and establishing its veracity.”

HonestReporting provides tools to respond to false reporting. Through its Israel Daily News Stream, the organisation offers a daily round-up of every news segment the media is covering in Israel to give as broad a perspective as possible.

It also offers the public numerous opportunities to participate in missions to Israel, offering them unique opportunities to engage with politicians, academics and media personalities involved in the situation on the ground.

HonestReporting is equally involved in working with the media. “Having dealt with the media for some time now,” says Plosker, “we’ve learned that while the necessity of honest reporting is a stick with which to keep outlets in line, we need to offer them a carrot as well. We therefore created Media Central, an arm that works with journalists from across the media and helps them gain access to information which is unbiased and unfabricated.

“The truth is that Israel’s story, the real story, is compelling enough without any twists or blurring of truths. One doesn’t need an angle or an agenda to make the story interesting. There is enough genuine news emerging from Israel to make the situation beyond gripping.

“Core supporters of Israel know this and make use of our coverage and material in their work as advocated for Israel. However, the majority of people have no access to a truly unbiased view, and it is vital that we reach them and not only supporters.

“Even when the public at large is not looking for the genuine information we share, we can still offer them a piece of truth that can enter their everyday exposure to the media and encourage them to think differently about the news they see.”

When it comes to measuring their success, concrete statistics alone are not enough. “We could base the rate of our success on the number of media corrections we’ve pursued,” says Plosker, “but this is not the full picture.

“Yes, we can establish how many people are viewing our site and its content, but the real indicator of success is the degree to which we’ve encouraged people to reconsider how they receive and consume news.

“Realistically, we know that we will never eradicate false news. It’s like crime: no matter how low the rates may be, we will still employ a police force to keep an eye on it. There may not always be a fire burning, but we still keep firemen on duty.”

Fortunately, the number of instances concerning news which is entirely false is still rare in the mainstream media, but incidents do occur. Plosker cites an example: “Over Tisha B’Av, a record number of Jews visited the Temple Mount. According to the International Business Times (IBT), ‘raids’ on Al-Aqsa Mosque increased by 200%. This is a staggering statistic, but it turns out that the IBT had drawn the information from the Hezbollah media outlet and similar Palestinian sources known to lack credibility.

“These outlets had simply counted every single non-Muslim visitor to Al-Aqsa, including tourists. We pointed this out to IBT, they apologised and withdrew the piece.”

He continues: “As frustrating as they may be, there is nothing to be gained from engaging with media outlets steeped in lies and looking to influence others. Iranian Press TV and similar outlets do not care about proper journalism, and though they may have journalists of integrity, they are editorially not bothered in the least about reporting lies. They are state-run, and therefore directed by political agendas. Thus, they have no credibility whatsoever.”

Plosker concludes: “We need to learn how to adapt to different types of media stories and how to treat them individually. People need to understand that we are not the Israeli government’s mouthpiece, and that while bad news may come from Israel, we don’t necessarily have to defend it or justify it, but must know how to explain and understand it for what it is.

“Organisations like ours must be capable of bridging the gap between the communities of the diaspora and those within Israel.

“We must learn how best to reach out to younger people who are less enamoured of Israel because of the coverage they are shown, and show them that they have based their opinions on false news that must be recognised and dealt with.”

  • Simon Plosker will be presenting sessions and talking on panels at Limmud SA next week. Limmud Johannesburg is 3 to 5 August, Limmud Durban is 9 August and Limmud Cape Town is 9 to 12 August.

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