Israeli media to American journalists:
by Hadas Ragolsky
Why are they censoring the pictures?" I asked myself a few hours
after the attacks. As an Israeli journalist, I'm accustomed to
coverage of terrorist attacks with graphic pictures of the injured,
of ambulances rushing to hospitals and of devastated families in their
homes as they receive the horrible news. I waited, but the gruesome
pictures never came.
"In the Israeli
press no one would have
waited for the city workers to clean bloodstains before raising
of an intelligence oversight..."
by Mario Tama/Getty Images
and vehicles move around the wreckage of the World Trade Center
September 13, 2001. Israeli journalists, more accustomed to reporting
on terrorist attacks, routinely show pictures of the injured or
ambulances rushing to the hospitals. Many ambulances that arrived
at the World Trade Center on September 11 dashed away when the
In Israel, the media holds an ongoing debate about how to cover catastrophes:
what should we show? How do we approach the grieving families? The prevailing
guidelines are simple. The reporter must be as near as possible to the
place where the terror attack occurred - even if the police don't
like it - and the footage can't show the bodies of victims
but can show wounded people at the scene and in hospitals. Funerals
are covered unless the family objects. But in the aftermath of September
11, this type of discussion was missing from the American media, television
and newspapers. They chose to censor themselves without debate.
In the Israeli press no one would have waited for the city workers
to clean bloodstains before raising the question of an intelligence
oversight and who should take responsibility for it. But the American
media was silenced, awash in patriotism, stifled by the administration's
friendly advice - which eventually took the bin Laden videotapes
off the air.
Of course the Israeli press was not always independent. Like the American
press, Israeli media used to be very nationalistic. But that was before
the Israeli army and administration failed to predict the Yum Kippur
War in 1973, in which more than 2,700 Israelis died. Today, Israeli
journalists aren't expected to be patriotic, and officials are
criticized for even suggesting the press kowtow to the government.
One possible reason for differences in American and Israeli terrorist
attack coverage is culture: Israelis are emotional and skeptical; Americans
are restrained and businesslike. There is also the matter of geographical
size: In Israel, the size of New Jersey, everybody knows everybody.
The public insists on being part of the bereavement. Or maybe it was
the magnitude of the event. Although Israelis have faced many terror
attacks in the past, none of them was as devastating as September 11.
In November, top Israeli columnist Nachum Barnea wrote, "Since
Sept. 11 the American media is going through a fast course in coping
with terror. It is a hard task, full of failures. We, who have lived
in this reality for years now, find it hard to understand the scale
of the shock, the difficulties to be learned, and the time that is required
for establishing a new set of journalistic norms." Barnea's
son, an Israeli soldier, was killed in 1996 when a bomb went off on
a civilian bus. Barnea was sent to cover the story before he knew his
son had been a victim.
In the hours after the attacks, Israelis agreed on one thing: now Americans
will be more sensitive toward Israelis suffering from terrorism -
and more understanding toward the Israeli military's subsequent
response. But Israelis were wrong. The American media, as well as the
Bush administration, condemn Israel for doing the same thing in the
West Bank that America is doing in Afghanistan: fighting terrorism.
Apparently, terrorism against Americans is considered more tragic than
terrorism against Israelis. It may be a matter of geography perhaps,
but not one of definition: the word "terror" in Hebrew and
English is the same.
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