Media-watchers occupy both sides of Israeli-Palestinian conflict

PHILADELPHIA - Ahmed Bouzid got tired of looking at daily newspapers and reading what he felt was bias against Palestinians, so he decided to do something about it.

His group, Palestine Media Watch, which analyzes news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reports back to editors and ombudsmen, now has chapters in 36 American cities and is one of several similar groups formed in the past few years.

“There’s a paradigm we’re trying to change: that Israelis are defending themselves and the Palestinians are attacking, and when the Israelis do something it must be a mistake or an act of self-defense,” said Bouzid, 38, an Arab Muslim born in Algeria who lives outside Philadelphia. “We’re simply asking for balance.”

He started Palestine Media Watch in 2000, after a letter he wrote to the editor on the recent Palestinian intifada, or uprising, prompted a large number of encouraging replies.

“We saw there were people out there who felt as frustrated as we did but they weren’t voicing themselves,” he said. “There was an untapped need that was not being addressed.”

Now, dozens of media watch volunteers monitor big daily newspapers and broadcast news shows and report back to editors and producers with their analysis of the stories and photos disseminated each day. Volunteers are assigned one day and one newspaper per week to analyze, and the findings are being entered into a data base that may eventually be used to track trends.

“It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of patience; you talk to these editors and ombudsmen and they say they agree with you but then continue to make the same mistakes,” Bouzid said. “It’s difficult to turn around things that are so ingrained. But we’re in this for the long run.”

Bouzid says he most commonly sees bias of omission — for example, many papers covered the 30th anniversary of the Sept. 5, 1972, killings of Israelis by Palestinian gunmen during the Olympics in Munich but few recognized the 20th anniversary of the killings of hundreds of Palestinian refugees from Sept. 16-18, 1982, in Lebanon’s Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, which were carried out by a Lebanese militia allied with Israel.

However, media watchdogs and critics like Bouzid and Ali Abunimah, the Chicago-based co-founder of the Web site Electronic Intifada, say they don’t think unfair or inaccurate reporting on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is usually intentional.

“There are positives: In covering the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, every media organization that wants to be taken seriously now recognizes they have to dig a little deeper behind the story and that they have to give voice to all perspectives,” Abunimah said. “I think there’s a greater effort to do that now, but it’s still not enough.”

Pro-Israeli groups, too, are keeping close watch on the newsstands and the airwaves for unbalanced reports. Some, like The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, assert that the often repeated claim that news organizations are pro-Israel is largely fiction.

“We tend to go after content, both the use of language and the factual assertions and whether they’re accurate and in context,” said Alex Safian, associate director of CAMERA, based in Boston. “A (news) story can be factually accurate but deceptive at the same time.”

On the Net:

Palestine Media Watch:

Electronic Intifada:

The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America: