10 August 2006 Edition
Nothing silly about this 'balance'
August is traditionally the silly season for the national press, but there's nothing silly about the Israeli war against the people of Lebanon. It's a horrifying story of massive power on the part of the Israelis and US, against the heroism of Lebanese people and the Hezbollah resistance.
But it's worth looking at the way the major media in this state cover the story.
In its Letters column, for example, the Irish Times is practising a strict policy of "balance". For every letter criticising Israel, the Times publishes one in support, along, of course, with a couple attacking Sinn Féin. (It seems that no Irish Times coverage is complete unless someone has a go at republicans.)
'Balance' is carried through into news comment on the horror, as when Eddie Holt feels compelled to balance a news feature opinion that correctly shows our own moral complicity in Israeli war crimes through our cosying up to US multinationals and refusal to speak out as a state against US foreign policy.
This 'balance' is achieved by beginning the story with an attack on Mel Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic tirade, and by an amazing comment that "many people feel passionately about the Jewish state's response to being attacked by Hezbollah rockets" (sic! My emphasis.)
Actually many people, including many Jews, feel passionately about the Israeli state's occupation of Palestine and its war crimes against its Arab neighbours.
But at least Holt was able to publish his main point, even if had to hedge the context.
No such mamby pamby stuff in the Irish Independent. It's true that this paper publishes Robert Fisk's syndicated column which gives the finest coverage of Middle Eastern events, but look at the rest.
Last Saturday the paper published 10 letters on the war. One criticised the Israelis head on, two blamed both sides, and the rest had headlines like 'Qana was not a massacre', 'Your sense of outrage is selective', 'Hiding behind civilians'. 'Must stand up to terrorists', 'Hezbollah invaded first'.
All these letters were remarkable for being almost word for word in tune with statements issued by the Israeli government and its terrorist armed forces.
And to make sure, the Indo published a half-page apologia by Bruce Arnold for British support for Israeli war crimes. And it capped this in its Review section by 'balancing' a vivid description of the impact of Israeli horror bombs by the BBC's Fergal Keane with resident clown Ian O'Doherty describing the fears of the people of Haifa.
Meanwhile, what Israel is doing to Palestinians in the Gaza strip has completely fallen off the news pages. Now, that's balance! Free State style.
An interesting contrast in coverage was shown last week in the way that The Irish Times and The Irish Independent treated the story of the Broadcasting Complaints' Commission upholding of a complaint against Éamon Dunphy.
Dunphy was criticised for not having given a "fair right of reply" to the Health Services Executive (HSE) in respect of an item broad cast by Dunphy on Newstalk's Breakfast Show.
This decision was made even though Dunphy had offered the HSE a right to take part live in the debate complained about.
But look how the two papers reported the matter.
The Times headlined its story 'Dunphy show unfair to HSE', gave a brief report of what the BCCI actually said in upholding the complaint and gave a summary of Dunphy's defence.
The Indo, however, headlined its story 'Dunphy lashed over one-sided radio rant' and described him as 'motormouth broadcaster'. It glossed over the HSE's refusal to take part in the live debate, and stressed that the HSE had not been given a separate right of reply the following day.
It is, of course, one thing to comment adversely in an opinion piece, but this was a news report from the Indo.
Can it have anything to do with Dunphy's regular criticisms of Indo owner Tony O'Reilly (known as Sir Anthony O'Reilly to Indo sycophants) or with the Sunday Independent's ongoing feud with Dunphy?
Another interesting contrast is the way the two papers are covering the debate on the national wage agreement. What debate, I hear you ask.
Well, it's true that both papers are drowning in articles either supporting the agreement or criticising it for giving the workers too much. But at least the Irish Times has mentioned that there are serious problems in SIPTU, and especially in Aer Lingus, for those who want the agreement to be accepted, and the Times also gave prominent coverage to Sinn Féin's call for a 'no' vote.
Again, no such nonsense from the Indo which barely mentions any union opposition to the agreement and which ignored completely Sinn Féin's 'no' call even though it is the only major party to make such a call.
And that's another example of what the Free State means by journalistic balance.