The following is the transcript of a panel discussion that took place at The NewsXchange in Ljubljana, Slovenia, 10-11 November, 2002. Participating were Nik Gowing of the BBC, Eason Jordan, president of CNN, Shalom Kital, CEO and editor-in-chief of Channel 2 News, Israel, Jonathan Baker, foreign editor of BBC news, Neil MacDonald, Jerusalem correspondent, CBC, Prem Prakash of Asian News International, Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, Belgium, Rodney Pinder, video editor, Reuters TV (retired), Ibrahim Hilal, editor-in-chief of Al Jazeera, Steve Edwards, chief editor, English News, Israel Broadcasting Authority, Tony Maddocks of CNN, and Patrick LeCocq,* Redacteur en chef, France 2.
*Since the translation of Patrick LeCocq's comments was not included on the recorded tape, we have eliminated references to him in the transcript.
Chair: Nik Gowing, BBC
Gowing: We felt we had to remind you very starkly of the violence, the bloodshed, the tension, the often unexplainable events that so many of us and our colleagues have taken enormous risks to report, record and above all to bear witness to. Bearing witness, that after all is our business, whichever part of the news business we're in. To allow us and our audience to know or have a terrifying if confusing hourly, daily sample of the Middle East today. And it goes without saying, we don't delude ourselves, this is neither the first nor the last gathering on the Middle East and the problems and challenges of covering it. I'd like to suggest to you that over the next hour and a half there are really five points to examine on the Middle East in the areas that are central to the focus and the problems we have. First of all, the pressures on the main media brands to conform or else, the media brands who are well established and are finding it very difficult operating in the Middle East for reasons that many of you know about already. Secondly, the challenges from non-traditional media, especially internet and mobile phones, particularly the newer brands in the Middle East and particularly the more radical brands like Hizbollah TV, like others that are now part of that matrix of the media in the region. Thirdly, what about the use of language and pictures, people like me who are on the air day in, day out, what kind of language are all those in that matrix using including those in the Internet and those in the Arab world as well. Fourthly, the cost of bearing witness and fifthly, the IDF and Palestinian attitudes to the media.
None of this is prescriptive but we want to focus more precisely to get the best value from this session. Let's get on to the first area, very precisely the pressures on the main media brands to conform or else. It's a very delicate issue for many broadcasters in the region, how much do we succumb to complaints from any side in the Middle East and modify the editorial policy to accommodate them. This happened earlier this year when CNN admitted a mistake in airing an interview in May with the mother of a Palestinian bomber praising her son rather than another interview with Chen Kanan whose mother and daughter were killed by the bomb. A technical mess up, not an editorial decision, was what the CNN chairman Walter Isaacson made very clear in his remarks afterwards it had happened. Then there were Ted Turner's remarks to the Guardian about the Palestinians and Israelis being engaged in terrorism. The debate about those remarks is now well aired, let's set it to one side. Let's examine what happened next and the pressures on many of you, many of you senior executives as well as CNN. The widespread perception that CNN then succumbed to massive Israeli pressure and modified its editorial approach in the region - true or not? Let's remember what Chris Cramer said right at the beginning of today, "Let us get to the uncomfortable pressures that hit us all in this business. If we can't talk about them here, then we can't talk about them at all."
Eason Jordan joins us from Atlanta, he's CNN's chief news executive and president of CNN global news gathering. Eason thanks very much for joining us here in Ljubljana. Ha-Aretz said "CNN blinked first on this issue." Did you?
Jordan: No not at all. To quote the former Israeli PM, he said this phrase many times on CNN, "that's bullshit." We did not cave in to the Israelis, we've not caved in to the Palestinians, we are here to just tell the news in a straightforward way but there's always room for improvement in our reporting. But we're not here to please one side or the other and in fact we do not please one side or the other; we displease both.
Gowing: What do you say to the perception, Eason, that you did give ground on this?
Jordan: Well, it's certainly fair to say that CNN acknowledged some shortcomings in its reporting, because for instance when you interview a women whose baby, her only child, and her mother, were both killed in a suicide bombing and you tell that woman what time the interview is going to air and then at the appointed time instead of that interview airing you air a celebratory interview with the mother of the suicide bomber, a mistake has been made. Now if acknowledging that mistake is in some way caving in then we caved but that I think was the right thing to do. To acknowledge that error and make sure we don't allow those things to happen again. We did not cave in and perceptions are not always reality and I can tell you, the reality is that we did not cave. We're very tough on the Israelis and we're very tough on the Palestinians and will continue to be so.
Gowing: Were there any commercial considerations in the changes you made to editorial policy particularly because of the pressure you were getting from Fox on the Yes satellite system?
Jordan: Really Fox is not a factor, commercial pressures are not a factor. CNN still faces the prospect of being dropped off Israeli cable systems on October 31st when our cable operator contracts expire there. I am confident however that Israel will not be the fourth country in the world to ban CNN distribution especially when the other three countries coincidentally are the "Axis of Evil" countries, Iran, Iraq, and North Korea. Israel does not want to be put into that group when it comes to CNN distribution. I am absolutely sure that Israeli people who watch CNN will insist on CNN being made available to them.
Gowing: Does anyone want to enter the discussion at this stage so we can move it forward. Eason I gather you've getting up to 6000 emails each day. How much has that influenced in any way the judgments you've had to make on editorial policy, particularly when it came to what you did in that incident but since as well?
Jordan: Well the email spam really is counter-productive and just serves to anger the news executives who are the recipients of the email. There is some thoughtful email amongst the thousands of unthoughtful emails and we value those very much. We welcome constructive criticism. We know that we can do better in our reporting and we will continue to strive to do better. But my email filter is working overtime and I now have 8000 email addresses blocked out from people who like to send in spam but it's not influencing our news coverage.
Gowing: Shalom Kital, what's your view of what Eason's been saying in terms of your perception in Israel?
Kital: First of all let me speculate that the Israeli audience won't be banned from CNN's fine news reporting. Of course, there might be criticism from a professional point of view once in a while. I myself have criticisms, as I guess other audiences watching my channel have criticisms. Nevertheless I guess that it will still be on the air and in any case we at Channel 2 in Israel who are in contract with CNN will continue to have the fine service of CNN and that's it.
Gowing: OK, let's check that we're unbiased here. Jonathan Baker, foreign editor of BBC news, Jonathan, what kind of pressures are we under at the BBC?
Baker: Every word, every frame, that we broadcast from Jerusalem is recorded by the Israeli foreign ministry and scrutinized and they make their views plain to us if they see something they don't like, which is frequently. Our current difficulty is actually less about arguments over content and more about the logistical difficulty, in that they are currently refusing to renew the accreditation of the non-Israeli camera crews, which makes it extremely hard to go about our business at all because without the accreditation you can't get through the checkpoints, you can't even enter government buildings and the pretext for doing this is the government says we should be employing more Israelis. However because the Israeli crews are banned by law from entering the occupied territories, clearly they are not able to the job that we require.
Gowing: Is the BBC getting this level of emails and complaints that Eason has outlined?
Baker: Not at that volume I don't think. There is a constant traffic of emails, telephone calls, messages, both in London and Jerusalem but not at that scale.
Gowing: Eason, why do you think you've been targeted specifically. I mean there are Israeli bumper stickers that say "CNN lies," the Israeli communications minister talked about CNN as being "evil, biased and unbalanced"? You'll be familiar with all these quotes.
Jordan: Absolutely, well the Israeli government is making a mistake if it considers CNN the enemy. CNN is just trying to tell the story of Israel, the story of Palestinian areas, in a straightforward way. We're not trying to favor one side over the other. We're not going to pull any punches in our reporting but the truth hurts sometimes and it hurts both sides but it's a mistake to target the news media. We've had enormous frustrations in having access to occupied areas of the West Bank and Israeli forces on a number of occasions have shot at CNN personnel and in fact did shoot one CNN correspondent; he was badly wounded. The Israelis say they're actually trying to restrict our access to these areas and they say it's too dangerous for you to be there and my response to that is that it wouldn't be nearly as dangerous if you didn't shoot at us when we're clearly labeled as CNN crews and journalists. And so this must stop, this targeting of the news media both literally and figuratively must come to an end immediately.
Gowing: We have Neil MacDonald from CBC joining us from Jerusalem. Neil, what is your impression of the way certainly the Israeli government is treating different brands, especially the international media brands?
MacDonald: I don't know whether to laugh or cry when I hear this business about how the US networks are being accused of being anti-Israeli. If anything in my opinion the American networks since 9/11 are more willing to accept the Israeli/Bush administration line. That aside though, I should say that I think that a lot of Israelis have just decided that the press at large is the enemy. You've mentioned the "CNN lies" stuff. I've been sworn at after suicide bombings by people very angry, just "all of you in the foreign press you're all a bunch of leftists, you're a bunch of Arab lovers." CBC is the subject of a rather intense write-in campaign right now because we did a story about how settlers are looting Palestinian olive groves and the army is protecting them and ejecting the Palestinians from their own groves. One would think the video spoke for itself but there's a lot of emails accusing us of being one-sided. You know the one-sided accusation tends to come from people who would tend to call you one-sided if you aren't constantly promoting their side. We have been in the families of victims of suicide bombs, we have been in the families of Arab victims of Israeli bullets and missiles. You try to do it even-handedly but I have reached the conclusion that this is a tribally driven conflict that is seen through the prism of ethnic nationalism by both sides and I have given up even having a rational discussion with either friends of Israel or friends of Palestine. I just don't think that it's possible. I think that ethnic nationalism is a blinding influence and they are not going to understand us bringing to bear western news values. So frankly I've decided that I'm not going to take any lessons from anybody that is not living here and living through this on how this should be covered.
Gowing: Neil, we're talking specifically about the problems facing the main media brands. Eason would you like to respond to what Neil has said about the perception of American channels being too close to the Bush administration?
Jordan: I don't agree with that but I understand why people have that perception. It has to do with 9/11 and that's really a whole other discussion. I would like to point out that CNN and the BBC are in a category of their own on this one because you're talking about the two major global news organizations in English that from Israel and the Palestinian territories produce many thousands of reports a year. Just over the past year CNN has produced over 5000 live and taped reports a year. Now there is going to be some fodder in there for people on both sides to complain and sometimes legitimately about what they perceive to be unfairness in the reporting, but if you judge the reporting on the whole I think you'll find with both the BBC and CNN that the reporting is fair. There's a difference between fairness and balance because CNN's position which stirs up some controversy is that the fair thing to do doesn't always allow for balance - allowing a terrorist to get 50% and the victim to get 50%. We believe that certainly all sides should be heard but the perpetrators should not be given equal time with the victims of those actions.
Gowing: Jonathan Baker, do you agree with Eason on this, not equal time?
Baker: I don't think we have a fixed policy to that extent but I think that clearly individual stories are reported on the merits of each one so clearly a suicide bomb or an Israeli incursion, the balance of each of those reports might be weighted more one way or another. What you're looking for as Eason says is balance over a period of time and hope that at least in the audiences there is a consciousness that you are at least making the effort to do so and that you are not partisan.
MacDonald: My perception is that the large media here tends to accord to Israel the respect of being a state and not accord that to the Palestinians. Last night on NBC there was a report of the Israelis doing something in a daring raid on Ramallah. You will never hear a network talk about a daring raid on the Palestinians. The language is very important here. Since 9/11, everybody's a terrorist. In this country, any Palestinian that attacks any Israeli target is a terrorist and often that term is recycled by the Western media. You won't hear anybody apply that to Israel. I'm not saying it should be applied but I'm saying that the language is very unbalanced and I think it says a lot about our institutional biases and respects.
Gowing: Shalom, do you want to jump in here?
Kital: I just want to elaborate on one thing Neil said and I totally agree that the networks changed their coverage of the Middle East after 9/11 and you should think why. When the West realized that terror is very dangerous, very dirty, very ugly, then they became maybe less balanced about terror, less tolerant of terror and started, and I think as an Israeli rightly so, to look at it from a different perspective because it's close to your door.
Gowing: OK, let's move on to language. Neil, you've been looking at the way the incident today has been reported in both the Israeli and the Arab media. Give us a taste on this day of the kind of different language that's being used because I certainly as a presenter become troubled about whether we should use "die" or "kill" and there's other language and we can go right through the lexicon. What's your perspective?
Macdonald: Well, I think what you're talking about is the suicide bombing, and the suicide bombing's been a large story here in the last couple of days. The Israeli government has been putting documents before reporters about the government of Iraq funding people that blow themselves up. They've handed out videos to reporters and the video has been recycled. If we just take a look at some video we have now from Al Manara TV in Lebanon distributed by the Israeli government and what we're looking at here is pictures of a woman on the right watching pictures of herself hugging her son before she sends him out to be a martyr. This is the anchor sympathizing with her saying "Thank God, your son has been made a martyr." The woman then comes back to the anchor and says, "Yes, thank God." I think what this sort of thing indicates and this is Hizbollah, the hard core fringe TV, but there is an ambivalence among the mainstream Arab media about suicide bombers. I think they are viewed as the only weapons the Palestinians have against the Israeli tanks and you hear them say that a lot. They do draw a moral equivalence between somebody blowing themselves up in a pizzeria and the Israelis unloading a tank into a crowded neighborhood. Even on Al Jazeera, even on the big ones, you will definitely hear the reference to the man who blew himself up in Tel Aviv and killed a woman, you will hear him called a martyr. Now on the other side, it is my perception that the Israelis have taken up what the government has given them unquestioningly. We have some video here as an Israeli broadcast the other night where not only has the business about Saddam paying the suicide bombers been talked about heavily but the Arab columnist for one of the big Israeli networks is talking about the document he's been given that shows Israeli/Arab families shot by the Israelis have been given checks, and here are the checks by the government of Saddam Hussein. I don't think anybody stopped on the Israeli side to say 'So what?' These are people that have been killed in violent clashes and this could be viewed as humanitarian aid but the very fact that the money is coming from Iraq - there is no distinction between money going to suicide bombers and money going to people whose children have been killed or father has been killed in violent clashes or just walking down the street. But when you insert Saddam Hussein into the matrix, as has been done here by the Israeli foreign ministry and defense establishment, and you can understand why people go for it. All Iraqi money must of course be evil and that I think resonates with the American networks. Last night NBC had a report that wholeheartedly reported the Israeli side and did not go to the Palestinian side to examine the issue of money going to Palestinian humanitarian purposes. The vast majority of the $30 million that Saddam has given out has gone to humanitarian purposes to people that have been wounded, had family members killed, or had homes destroyed. People are looking at this through their own prism.
Gowing: Eason, how much do you think the use of language has contributed to your problems on CNN? Maybe loose language occasionally but we're all guilty of that, but do you think this contributes to the perception problems you've had on CNN?
Jordan: There's no doubt, the Palestinians get mad because we don't call suicide bombers martyrs and the Israelis get mad because we don't call all suicide bombers terrorists. There are all sorts of trip words here that can be problematic. We have a big team based in Jerusalem, we have people in Gaza and the West bank, we have a big team here, that spends an awful lot of time worrying about words and how we use words in our reporting from the Middle East and there's no question that we get tripped up every now and again and on rare occasions we use the right words but we try to be careful about these things. For instance, we do think it's fair to say that if someone gets on a bus in Tel Aviv and kills civilians that person is a terrorist and we use that language very sparingly. We would not use it if that attack took place in the occupied territories against an Israeli military outpost. So we have very clear guidelines and we try to adhere to them.
Kital: I think that a terrorist is a terrorist and this morning we heard about a dirty bomb and I can tell every day in Israel there are dirty bombers even though they don't carry a dirty bomb. I think here you cannot be impartial, you cannot be balanced. A terrorist is a terrorist and if he kills civilians he's a terrorist and it has nothing to do with the fair judgment of political rights, of social rights, of human rights, which is a different dispute. Terror is terror.
Prakash: We have seen a lot of terrorism in Kashmir and other parts of India and my view is the same, that a terrorist is a terrorist. We have noticed several times in Kashmir that the [inaudible] media have used the term 'separatist militants.' There is no such thing because these guys have been known Afghans. Similarly, in Israel there is no such thing as a freedom fighter. A terrorist is a terrorist and I think that we should understand that after 9/11 any language that does not describe this as terrorism compromises the civilized world.
White: Can I just say that I think that this is a real problem and it makes journalism almost impossible because journalists that are trying their best to be professional and that's a difficult thing in most circumstances anyway. But reporting what's going on in Kashmir, reporting what's going on in the Middle East, even reporting what's going on in Colombia, is well nigh impossible when the motives are constantly being questioned and you cannot actually deliver what is a professional report. The problem is we will never get the language right if all sides in the dispute refuse to accept proper scrutiny of what they are doing, and if we're in the business of trying to provide that scrutiny and trying to do a decent job in good faith, we're inevitably going to fall foul of those who want to manipulate the media. There's no solution on this. We can learn the skill of trying to get the language right, we can learn the vocabulary of tolerance, but that in this situation is not enough.
Gowing: As you stand back though Aidan, why should both sides not allow the word terrorism to be used? Why can't Israel talk about terrorism by their own people inside the Palestinian areas?
White: I believe that news organizations really must use language that is balanced and reflects what they see is the situation and not make the mistake of moving toward one side or the other in order to keep people sweet. The problem is that a lot of what we do is not going to keep people sweet. We've actually got to do the best job we can but when you have the sort of restrictions that are being imposed and political pressure that's being imposed at the same time, there's effectively paralysis being imposed on the news process.
Gowing: Shalom, do you ever have concerns that some of the things the Israelis do in the West Bank and Gaza could be construed as terrorism and you should use that word too?
Kital: No doubt about it. When Dr Baruch Goldstein massacred seven or eight years ago a number of Arabs praying in Hebron, he was a terrorist and we called him that.
Gowing: What about now?
Kital: No doubt about it, and you can see it in our reports that a lot of activities by Israeli fundamentalists are described in a very critical way.
Pinder: I've got a confession to make, one of my best friends in my career was a terrorist. He's called Nelson Mandela. The word terrorism now is being used in such an emotive way, it's being bandied about by whoever is looking down the telescope. So it depends what stand you are taking and where you're coming from and I think with news reporting we'd be far better off letting the facts speak for themselves and avoid trite labeling.
Gowing: How do we avoid it? It's easy to say that and moralize about here in Slovenia but how do we somehow make it possible not to be accused of being perceived to be taking sides somehow? Can it be done, Aidan?
White: Maybe it can be done, maybe there's someone in this room that can do it but I haven't seen it. You can't please everybody all the time in our business, it's just not possible. We have to report what happened and events aren't always balanced to suit all sides.
Gowing: Eason, do you actually ban the use of any words?
Jordan: I don't think it's prudent to ban the use of words. Relevant to this conflict there are no banned words but we do try to be very careful. But I do take issue with the notion that terrorist or terrorism should be a banned word. I think that's ridiculous. There is such a thing as terrorism and there are terrorists and I think we need to be very careful about how we use those phrases but news organizations that ban those words outright, really that is the easy and cheap way out and I don't think that's the right way to report. Neil, what's your view given that you live with this dilemma every day? Do you feel sometimes you're loose with your language or might be tempted to take one side or another almost by default when you're writing your scripts or particularly when you're doing a live interview?
MacDonald: There's always that danger but I think that we have to be careful to use non-emotive words. Basically terror is violence we disapprove of. It's a highly subjective word. I don't think it should be used. I want to quote a counter-terrorism expert in Tel-Aviv who makes the point that we can easily arrive at a definition of terrorism, 'terrorism is violence against civilians to advance your own political agenda.' I have no problem with that at all. Now there's also something called a war criminal and I would suggest that fairness dictates that if we arrogate to ourselves the ability to call so and so a terrorist then we have to equally take upon ourselves the decision whether so and so is a war criminal. The wording on who is a war criminal is right there in international law but mainstream organizations are never going to do that in this place and for obvious reasons. So I would suggest that we avoid using the word terrorist altogether. I do. Call it a fighter, call it a bomber, call it a shooter, but something that describes what the person does. But you know terror is not terror, and to suggest that it is you take upon yourself the right to judge. By the way, the point that was made earlier about Baruch Goldstein the settler that killed all the people at the Tomb of the Patriarchs - yes, he was called a terrorist on the Israeli side. Most often these people are referred to as suspected Jewish extremists and I would be willing to bet that like the Iraqi case, the state of Israel is probably paying a pension to Mr. Goldstein's family.
Gowing: OK, let's move on to the challenge to the main brands like CBC, BBC, CNN, even the main players in the Middle East, from these new media players out there, the Internet, the mobile phones, and stations like Hizbollah TV. Is this making our life even more difficult because they are radicalizing the agenda by what they say and what they show? Neil?
MacDonald: They are watched by many people in the Arab world. There's a huge audience for Al Jazeera. I'm not saying that they're radical but I think that the western mainstream media have a duty to look at conflicts through the prism of what we believe to be western democratic values. I don't think they are too difficult to describe and I think we have to stick to it and we have to not listen to the perorations of either side, which can be very extreme depending on the ethnic and tribal outlook of who you're hearing from. So to me it's not that complicated.
Gowing: What about you, Eason? The radicalization of the younger generation in particular who are watching these channels, watching on the Internet for a different kind of reporting that doesn't go through the same kind of filtering that we seem to be used to?
Jordan: Well, I think they're good and they're bad. It's a good thing to provide information to people who want choice and sometimes I think there's not been a lot of choice, especially in the Arab world. I think what's problematic is that many of these outlets don't even pretend to be objective. They don't pretend to be fair. They're pushing forward an agenda which can be a problem when it comes to the consumer because not all consumers recognize that they're seeing something that is not objective, that is agenda-driven journalism. And having said all of that and being mindful that some of those outlets are given to incitement, which is a pity, and having said all of that, it does bring more importance than ever to the responsible, respectable, objective news organizations, because we're trying our best to walk the straight and narrow. We're not perfect but were also not driving home an agenda. So I think in many ways it makes what we do more important than ever.
Gowing: You say it's more important, but Neil, what about the fact that the younger generation tend to be more radical anyway and they see a different form of reporting? Is that making our jobs in the main brands more difficult as we try to secure an audience and retain it?
Macdonald: If you're talking about the Arab world and the so called Al Jazeera effect that has been proposed in the US, of mass incitement, I think that where there is religion this is true and you have to be careful about it. It's a problem and I think there's an underlying racist element there that assumes Arabs for example are more easily incited than anybody else and I think that that underlies a lot of western news reporting and I'm not sure that's true at all. In many ways they have a view of this place that I'm not sure is valid. I hesitate to jump on any bandwagon that says that people are being radicalized. I think that that is something that is put forward by governments in order to justify measures that they want to take or wars that they want to wage. You've got to judge people by what they do.
Gowing: Neil and Eason, thank you very much indeed for joining us. Does anyone want to join this discussion because these are critical areas in terms of the impact that the journalism we're doing has. I have Ibrahim Halal, who is Editor in Chief of Al Jazeera, joining us from Qatar. Let's hear from you about the challenge that even Al Jazeera is having from something like Hizbollah TV, which is even more radical than whatever you're reporting.
Hilal: I cannot tell you exactly what sort of challenge we are facing from Hizbollah TV but, yes, they are doing a very good job of the quick news reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. But they have an ideological background that is completely different from what we are reporting. I can agree with Mr. Jordan that some governments in the Middle East are claiming that the youth are being radicalized to justify their actions against young people. But we are facing challenges from our governments in the Arab world as well. Yesterday we heard that the Council of Information Ministers in the Gulf area banned dealing with Al Jazeera because they thought that Al Jazeera was attacking their governments and they claim that Al Jazeera is a Zionist channel, is an Israeli channel, and they banned dealing with the companies dealing with Al Jazeera. So I think we are facing the same challenges you are facing in the West.
Gowing: It's the case, isn't it, that you've been banned from Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and you can't work in Syria at the moment because of these problems?
Hilal: Yes I can confirm that we are not working in Jordan, Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, in Syria, Tunisia sometimes. Today we are banned from reporting the Algerian elections. We sent a reporter from Paris to Algeria and he has not been given his accreditation so we are facing a lot of problems in dealing with our own region. We're still waiting for more windows to be opened in the minds of the governments.
Kital: I just want to say to Ibrahim that the Jerusalem bureau of Al Jazeera is safe.
Gowing: Can we talk about this radicalization? What's your perspective on the real pressures in the field from these new more radical stations.
Kital: I think the main problem is not the radical stations, it is more the Internet, which is accessible to a lot of people especially young people, and carries a lot of unbiased reports and garbage reports and a lot of the time you have to make decisions when audiences get that sort of information from the Internet, either propaganda or speculation. I'm not sure the news networks have found a solution to this problem.
Gowing: You've introduced that problem. Let me just give you, those of you that might not be familiar with what life can be like in the field, from what happened in Jenin, the kind of thing that Shalom was talking about. I personally was getting between 50 and 100 emails a day from inside Jenin or just around Jenin. But the problem is what kind of credibility we give this very often emotive and subjective reporting often from people who are not reporters at all. This kind of thing saying that Israeli army reports that hundreds are dead in the camp. Eyewitness reports of three truckloads of bodies being taken away and this kind of thing, "They surrounded us and took over many houses. They scared the children. A big shortage of food, water, milk and medicine" and the kind of claims about what was happening including of course the role now of digital cameras inside, say, the Jenin refugee camp with these kinds of images, which produces the problem of how true do you believe these statements are? "Individuals including neighbors have seen bulldozers demolishing homes and shelters in which there were still people including women and children." All this at a time when the issue was one word - massacre. Should we have even been using that word with the Palestinian concerns and the Israeli concerns about how it was handled. And what do we do about something like this that certainly appeared on my email at BBC World, an email of a video sequence of the murder of a young Palestinian. What kind of level of credibility do we give this? We have no time, we have no location, we have no date. We didn't even know if it had happened inside Jenin or around Jenin but it appeared at that time with the implication that the murder of this Palestinian had somehow been connected to Jenin. This I think is a very troubling development. Add to this mobile phones as well and where does that leave us all? Aidan?
White: I think this reflects a big problem for broadcasters everywhere and the problem is, we know as journalists that the quality of information is only as good as the source you get it from and it'd impossible to verify the information you're getting here. You need to find ways of corroborating the information you get. You need to get your people there, you need to get some follow up. But the problem is that the very idea of trying to verify or corroborating information is subject to the tyranny of breaking news. We're constantly under time pressure to get something out, often that means regrettably that this sort of material, which if we had more time for editorial reflection, this sort of material would actually be less important. We would actually be able to rely on our traditional sources. But there are two problems: one is the tyranny of breaking news which forces us to be quick and the other point is one made earlier about the difficulty of getting our own people on the ground and this is making us sometimes, I think, cut unacceptable corners.
Gowing: All this appearing in a vacuum when journalists and humanitarian workers couldn't get in.
Pinder: This is not particularly new, of course. I remember being on the outside in the first Gulf War when the Iraqis were occupying Kuwait and we were getting phone calls on satellite phones from inside Kuwait all the time about horrendous massacres, about babies being ripped out of incubators, of bodies being stacked high. And once we got in there we discovered that most of these reports were absolutely baseless. However there is a salutary lesson, I think, in this for authorities that seek to keep journalists out of these areas. These reports circulated out of Kuwait because no independent journalist had any access whatsoever. If independent journalists are being shot at or shut out by censorship of access, which is now happening in Israel, if we can no longer have independent access to journalists on the West Bank, you'll see this multiplied by a hundred score and we'll have no means at all of checking.
Gowing: How much is this a challenge to you? You had to monitor, Shalom, Jenin, day after day. You got into a major spat yourselves at that time when you had pool access and you decided to show it. So when you see something like that and the attitude of the Israeli Defense Force, how much is that creating a new transparency which they are not considering?
Kital: We've had our disputes with the Israeli armed forces and once in a while and including this incident at Jenin when the IDF wanted to ban a report by our crew and we didn't agree with them and we aired it. I think that there is not one single government in the world which during times of war gives free access to journalists. It's unfortunate but it's not specific to the IDF and I think that if the US is going to attack Iraq we will see all kinds of restrictions by the government.
Gowing: But this is a way round the restrictions?
Kital: The way governments and armies try and restrict journalists is not to give them free access. Once in a while when I have off the record discussions with the IDF and Israeli officials, I tell them that from their point of view they are committing a grave error. The best way to get the story out is to have a journalist. Even a biased journalist on the spot is better than having rumors that blow up into a story.
Gowing: I just want to underline just who really are the media? In an operation like this who really are out there? Are we actually looking at the issue of the media in the Middle East through a very distorted and very one dimensional paradigm? Let's look at a three-minute clip from a remarkable documentary which was done for the Dispatches program on Channel Four called 'State of Terror' within Jenin on the work of a forensic pathologist who went in well after the events in Jenin. But the point here is that there was someone there who is an architect who lives in Jenin who was providing images on her own camera of things that were being denied at the time by the Israelis.
[Runs video footage.]
Gowing: There is the fact that there were images that took weeks to get out but they were there and there was evidence of what was happening in Jenin. Do we see this as the new trend, Aidan, of what is happening inside an area of conflict?
White: Unfortunately, I think we are. We are seeing the systematic denial of access to journalists when there are incursions taking place. It's actually causing this problem where we have to rely on amateur images, amateur accounts of what's going on, and inevitably you get a growth in the importance of speculation and rumor rather than confirmed information. Israel is the democracy in the region and certainly it never tires of telling everyone but I think that Israel is very much the guilty party here in restricting proper scrutiny of what's going on and I think this is extremely difficult. If you look at the way the major news organizations are being effectively denied access and resources particularly in the use of Palestinian assistants, this is making life extremely difficult-the systematic de-recognition of all Palestinians who work in journalism and the refusal of the Israeli authorities to recognize that there is such a thing as a Palestinian journalist anymore. They take the view that a person who is a Palestinian is a potential terrorist; there is no longer any such thing as a Palestinian journalist. Now that's a dreadful state of affairs if we're trying to get something half decent in terms of reportage from the area.
Gowing: Shalom, do you think that's a fair assessment of your government and its failings on this issue?
Kital: I'm not a spokesman for the government and I have my own dispute with the Israeli officials but I think this is taking it to the extreme. Of course there are problems. My channel uses Palestinian crews in Gaza and Ramallah and most of the time there are no problems and they have free access. On the basic point I agree with Aidan: an amateur tape is always worse than a professional tape but I think that what we have seen here is a distortion because on one hand it's very emotional.
Gowing: But it's evidence of a large number of Palestinians being detained.
Kital: It's evidence told by a Palestinian...
Gowing: You're not saying the camera lied there, are you?
Kital: No, but the interpretation of the pictures: she knows they're not terrorists but the Israeli soldier doesn't and he has to do his job. The emotion and interpretation put into the tape is "well look what sorts of atrocities the Israeli army has done there" - it is distorted.
Gowing: Well let's get another perspective on this because Steve Edwards is joining us. What's the position with you when it comes to operating as openly as you can?
Edwards: First of all I think there is an immense problem here of perspective of background. If you take the kind of images that you have just shown, if you take the images that document the ongoing Israeli/Palestinian conflict in all its horror, I think we are in a sort of chain effect where the atrocity of today is not necessarily explained by the outrage of yesterday. The fact that a bomb went off in the centre of Tel-Aviv this morning is in itself a horrifying event. This in no way excuses immoral or nasty behavior in the areas of the West Bank and Gaza City, but there is a perspective of an appalling, colossal bloodshed that has taken place over the last two years between Israelis and Palestinians in which the principal victims have been civilians on all sides and I think we have to be extremely careful of using manipulative material or material that is honest which documents an event but then the interpretation of that event without perspective and background often bewilders, confuses, and leaves audiences world-wide with a very misleading and inconsistent view of what is actually happening in this region.
Gowing: What about your operational problems at the moment?
Edwards: I think we have serious problems because as we've already heard journalists are restricted from getting entry into very sensitive spots and this of course is something that is difficult not only for the international media but for the local media as well. I would like to point out, and I think that my colleague Mr. Kital has already mentioned this, the local Israeli media is as fierce and as probing as any international media organization. The headlines on BBC, CNN, Sky, or Al Jazeera are carried on our news channels the same day. We are deeply concerned by the events that are taking place in our own backyard and we are also concerned as journalists for the democratic nature of Israel. We are also concerned for the future of the peoples of this region. We are unfortunately also the victims of that conflict and I think frequently Israel is portrayed as an almighty super-power in the Middle East which is beating up on the poor Palestinian neighbors and in black and white terms that is what it may look like. Unfortunately, the reality is much more complicated. Israelis and Israel feel themselves victimized just in the same way as our Palestinian neighbors do. When a bomb goes off in a hotel or a supermarket or near a bus this morning, the nerves of Israelis across the country are in a shambles and they are electrified and concerned and frightened. Fear, misunderstanding, lack of dialogue are what marks this region and I feel very strongly that media should do a lot and in many ways is doing a lot to try and explain the way Israelis feel, the way Palestinians feel, and perhaps our leaders should be feeling some of that as well.
Gowing: Steve, thank you very much. Ibrahim, what's your response to that, particularly about the role of the media and the responsibility of the media from all sides to create the basis for dialogue and understanding. Do you feel you are able to be balanced, accurate, or dispassionate in the way you are reporting? Do you feel in your own way you are fuelling part of the problem?
Hilal: We tried six years ago when we started to participate in the dialogue between Arabs and Israel because we were the first Arab channel to interview Israeli guests and officials but unfortunately we couldn't change the mentality of Israeli public opinion like that. We were always accused of fuelling the conflict, either by Israeli officials or by public opinion in the Arab world. I think the most important role of the media is explaining the context to any conflict. The context of this conflict is that there is a state owning a very important military arm and there is another state the Palestinian Authority, which doesn't own very advanced military equipment. Yes, I agree that the suicide bombings are a mistake but at the same time the context of the conflict is much more important. The context is that the occupation is ignored by much of the media. When Iraq occupied Kuwait nobody described the Kuwaiti resistance as terrorists, they were just resisting the occupation. I don't want to make any similarity between Iraq and Israel but I want to draw the attention to the fact that any occupation should be dealt with equally. This is the most important point that is ignored by many in the Western media; when we in the Arab media try to explain the context, we are accused of fuelling the conflict.
Gowing: Ibrahim, how much do you have second thoughts about the language you use on your channel particularly about martyrs and commando operations?
Hilal: I have explained this point several times. We are the only channel that opens 60 or 70% of the reality of what is going on in the Middle East. Let's encourage this 70% of the reality, let's try to open it 100%. We are dealing with public opinion which has been used for years to listen to lies and bad information. Encourage Al Jazeera in its role to give accurate information. Sometimes we are 90% right but it's a lot better than five years ago.
Gowing: Thank you very much, Ibrahim. For the last segment we are going to talk about the basic tactical problems of many of our colleagues working in the Middle East particularly in the West Bank or Gaza or Tel-Aviv or Jerusalem, wherever there are serious security difficulties, which is pretty much the whole area. I'm going to show a four-minute video just to remind ourselves just how difficult it is for many of our colleagues, many of whom have been hit both on the Palestinian side and the Israeli side. But before I do, can I go to Steve Edwards. Steve, just as a curtain raiser, what's your perception now of the attitude of the IDF, because the Jaffee Centre for Strategic Studies began a study at the beginning of July and you have a new chief of defense staff, Yalom, who has said "we have got our media policy wrong" and there's a ten-point plan which is now being suggested to the IDF? Do you see anything politically being accepted by the IDF in terms of changing their attitude to foreign and domestic journalists?
Edwards: I think we have definitely been witnessing a hardening. It is more difficult for journalists to get inside the West Bank in order to cover the story but again this should be seen in the context of an ongoing highly dangerous conflict. It is very difficult for a journalist in any conflict zone to move together with forces at the height of a combat or incursion situation. I think that as far as Israeli media is concerned there is a sort of ongoing understanding regarding the nature of the military censorship. Military censorship takes the form of limiting the information about ongoing or highly sensitive issues. Of course, there have been many cases in which this kind of censorship has been circumvented. The entire situation is very sensitive. We are able to get reporters into the field. We are able to get reporters into areas like Hebron and Bethlehem and other places where there is an Israeli presence. To go much beyond that can be difficult and dangerous for journalists themselves.
Gowing: Do you fear change in the political attitude, Steve, from the IDF, who are criticized in this Jaffee report for not having an operational or tactical doctrine that really understands the business of real time TV now?
Edwards: I think that the IDF is a very slow moving operation and until these new attitudes are actually implemented I fear that some time is liable to pass. Having said that, I think that the right and the privilege and the necessity of Israeli media organizations is to try and do as much as they possibly can to uncover the stories behind the incursion, to cover the kind of decision-making process that is going on behind the IDF, and perhaps some of the more unpleasant aspects of IDF operations in the West Bank and Gaza and the IDF is reluctant to go along with this kind of reporting. Military reporters have from time to time got into hot water and will do so again because of the types of issue they are covering.
Gowing: Thanks for joining us, Steve. Shalom, can I come to your view on this in a moment. Let's just remind ourselves of the threat to our colleagues in the Middle East.
[Runs video footage.]
Gowing: Now, Rodney, when you hear that last remark, "Don't come to us. It's your own responsibility," is that acceptable?
Pinder: No, it's not and it's a remark we've heard time and time again in similar conflicts. When he says the media is not the main issue, I would respectfully submit that in a democracy the media has got to be the main issue because if there is no freedom of press then there is no democracy and this has just been batted sideways by this conflict. I remember Shimon Peres and it is a pity he wasn't here today because I would have liked to ask him about his comment in the press conference at the UN just after the start of the Intifada when he said that a camera was as dangerous as a gun, and this to me surely helps set the tone for everything else that has followed.
Gowing: Aidan you analyze this on a daily, weekly basis, can you compare the Israeli attitude to journalists to the Palestinian attitude to journalists? Is there something we're missing from this comparison?
White: Our tendency to look for balance means that we say that the Israelis are a problem but so are some of the Palestinians and I think that's right, but there is no question at all that 90% of the problems have come from the Israeli authorities and their approach and I think it's deadly in terms of how counter-productive it is. By seeking to eliminate the capacity of the Palestinians to report on themselves and be part of the media process, they are inevitably encouraging extremism, more rumor, more speculation and deepening the nature of the conflict rather than contributing in some sense to a better understanding of what's going on. The fact is that 70% of the Palestinian people watch Al Jazeera. They're not watching Hizbollah TV, they're hungry for decent news coverage, and suppressing the Palestinian journalist community, which is what's happened over the last couple of years, is a desperately sad part of the process.
Gowing: Jonathan Baker, from the BBC's perspective, what is our relationship with the Israelis in terms of the number of times our colleagues have been fired at and indeed one of our drivers was killed in south Lebanon two years ago.
Baker: Indeed, and our appeal to the Israelis to carry out a full inquiry and reach some conclusions on that case are still ongoing. We're not making any progress at all. But there was an incident more recently here. Orla Guerin and her crew were shot at in Bethlehem even though they were standing in the open, clearly marked as press, and wearing their flak jackets. This isn't just specific to the BBC. I think, as Chris Cramer was saying this morning, journalists are no longer considered to be neutral observers but very much targets and in fact Danny Seaman couldn't have made that more obvious just now. This is not just a phenomenon in Israel: we've seen it in Afghanistan, in Zimbabwe, even last week in the Ivory Coast.
Gowing: Tony Maddocks CNN, you have the responsibility of dealing with this on a day to day basis. What happens when you approach the IDF press office or the government press office or whoever?
Gowing: I'm just going to refer to a case that you're familiar with, Aidan. It was the death of the Italian photographer Raffaele Ciriello, who was shot dead earlier this year. This is a picture of him with Arafat just before it happened. But the very clear impression from the IPI was that there's a belief that the price for taking out a small video camera out of his pocket is that you get killed for threatening a military operation. And the IPI's view at the time was that this was part of a concerted strategy by the Israeli army to control reports on the surge of armed hostilities. Is that your perspective, Aidan?
White: I have to say that the Ciriello case raises quite horrifying questions. It was supposedly investigated by the IDF. They made a report that report was scandalous in its failures to take account of the eyewitness accounts that were available in the incident and it basically said, in confirmation of what Danny Seaman said, "If you're there and you're not supposed to be there, that's tough." There wasn't even an acknowledgement that it was Israeli bullets that killed that photographer. And so this complete denial of the circumstances is extremely worrying and it cannot but confirm an overwhelming impression that there is a ruthlessness in the IDF in dealing with media to the extent that there may be examples being set in order to teach lessons to the media. Now that would be horrifying if it were true and could be substantiated but one cannot look away from the clear evidence of the disregard in terms of the investigating and reporting on such a case as was shown by the IDF. Certainly, it shocked us, it certainly shocked our Italian colleagues and so on, and the whole case reinforces the view the Chris Cramer talked about this morning, about the real need to take safety seriously and risk-awareness. There is no doubt that Ciriello was traveling with people with whom he might have got into trouble but it raises serious questions.
Gowing: Shalom, final word. You're one of us, a fellow journalist, a senior executive in an independent broadcasting operation. Do you think these accusations, the kinds of things that have been revealed in the Jaffee Centre study are fair and that the IDF should take a more balanced and reasonable understanding for what is needed for handling the media for what for Israel remains a war of national survival?
Kital: No doubt about it, and I think that the approach of the IDF spokesman is incomprehensible because not only does it endanger journalists, and let me here make a strong condemnation of what Danny Seaman said about Palestinian journalists. As I said earlier, a terrorist is a terrorist and on the other side a journalist is a journalist whether he is Israeli or Palestinian and I cannot accept as a journalist or human being this kind of approach. So I think that the question is (a) to let the free press do its job. On the other hand, I think that from an Israeli point of view, the Israeli perspective would be better served if there is free access to journalists. There's a lot of criticism we're hearing here from Rodney and Aidan and others that doesn't do any good for the Israeli information. To be balanced my operation has five injured camera crew and correspondents over the Intifada, so we are suffering the same thing.
Gowing: Thank you everybody.