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Foreign Press to Knesset: We’re Not Biased Against Israel

TEL AVIV – The head of Israel’s Foreign Press Association told Israel’s Knesset on Tuesday that he strongly rejects claims of inherent anti-Israel bias in the international media, the Times of Israel reported.

“We go through a very rigorous process whenever news happens, where you have who speak Hebrew [sic] in contact with police, the army and many spokespeople and people who are on the ground,” Luke Baker, Reuters’ Israel/Palestine bureau chief, told lawmakers.

“This is a pretty rigorous process of reporting and checking facts,” Baker said at the Knesset debate, which was poorly attended.

He added that since the beginning of the current wave of Palestinian violence against Israelis, Reuters only printed one erroneous headline, which was subsequently corrected, out of more than 700.

However, the Knesset decided to hold the debate after CBS published a biased headline that suggested that Palestinian terrorists were the victims of their own attack.

On February 3, after three armed Palestinians attacked border police officers, killing 19-year-old Hadar Cohen, CBS’s headline read: “3 Palestinians killed as daily violence grinds on.”  The three were killed by police officers self-defense, who shot at the assailants while they were carrying out their murderous attack.

At the session, Baker said, “I clearly don’t think the foreign press is biased.”

“I don’t think anyone is denying there have been errors, problems from time to time. Sometimes it’s been harder to correct them than others.” The many news organizations operating in Israel put out a “huge amount of coverage with very few factual errors,” he insisted. “I fail to see the media has something to answer in terms of systemic bias.”

Member of Knesset Tzipi Livni, who is head of the subcommittee on legal warfare, initiated the meeting on foreign press.

“I don’t start with the premise that everyone is against us and we need to fight with everyone,” she said in opening the session.

“The question is not who writes what about us, whether it’s critical or not — criticism is certainly, from my point of view, as legitimate as it gets — but rather whether there are cases in which the reality is portrayed in a fashion that is factually incorrect.”

Government Press Office head Nitzan Chen charged that the CBS headline, which was later amended to another problematic headline, was just one example of biased reporting over the last few months.

“Over the last four months, there were four or five cases in which the headlines published about terror attacks were distorted … [and] average readers in their respective countries read about an event that was exactly the opposite,” he said.

Last week Chen threatened to revoke credentials from reporters over inaccurate headlines.

The Committee to Protect Journalists responded by expressing its concern over “rising pressure” from the Israeli government on the foreign press.

“As a democracy that upholds freedom of expression Israel should not threaten to revoke press credentials of reporters who publish stories or headlines the government may not like,” CPJ deputy director Robert Mahoney stated. “It is virtually impossible to work as a reporter in Israel and the occupied territories without a press card. The threat of withdrawing accreditation is a heavy-handed approach at stifling unwelcome coverage.”

The Knesset session ended with Israeli politicians demanding that the government provide journalists with better, real-time information about attacks.

Livni admitted that it was difficult to accuse the foreign press for failing to report on Israeli casualties when the army has a policy not to release information about fallen troops before their families have been informed. However, IDF Spokesperson Lt. Col. Peter Lerner did not agree that the army should reconsider this policy.

Livni added that she was not interested in telling foreign reporters how to do their jobs, however she requested that journalists make an effort not to confuse the victims and the perpetrators.

Livni said, “It’s important to me that you mention who is the murderer and who is murdered.”

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