Could it be that there is nothing that screams of media bias more than the silence of the media over the peril being faced by Palestinians as they find themselves in the middle of fighting between other Arabs?
Intense fighting broke out in Nahr al-Bared Palestinian refugee camp on 20 May between Fatah al-Islam, an Islamist armed group that had recently moved into the camp, and Lebanese armed forces. According to reports, 168 Lebanese soldiers, 42 civilians and 220 Fatah al-Islam members were killed before the army gained control of the camp on 2 September.
During the clashes, both sides put civilians at risk. Fatah al-Islam established armed positions in the camp and withdrew to them after attacking an army base. The army carried out heavy and possibly indiscriminate artillery shelling of the camp. The camp was largely destroyed. It appeared that after the army took control there was widespread looting, burning and vandalism of vacated homes and property. In December, the Prime Minister wrote to Amnesty International to say that the army was investigating the reports, noting that one finding was that the army had burned some homes to rid them of a poison spread by Fatah al-Islam.
Most of some 30,000 Palestinian refugees displaced from Nahr al-Bared relocated to Beddaawi refugee camp. They were allowed to return to Nahr al-Bared from October but the majority remained displaced at the end of the year. The camp remained off-limits to the media and local human rights organizations.
On May 10th, Johnny Simpson reported that al-Qaeda had declared war on Hezbollah in Lebanon. Fighting, which has been going on for over a year now, has spilled into Palestinian settlements, so far leaving several civilians injured or dead as a result of clashes between hostile factions. The civilian populace isnt safe when there is no fighting, however, as reports of abuse have become all to common place in Arab on Arab violence.
Scores of Palestinians were threatened, humiliated and abused by soldiers, often after being stopped at army checkpoints. Abuses included being stripped, being forced to lie on the road, and being beaten, kicked, hit with rifle butts, insulted and humiliated. In several cases individuals were reportedly whipped, given electric shocks and sexually abused.
Some 200 people were arrested and remained detained on account of their suspected involvement with Fatah al-Islam. Tens of these were reportedly charged with terrorism offences that can carry the death penalty. There were reports that some detainees were tortured or otherwise ill-treated.
So where are the news networks as these things are happening? The United Nations has done their usual with regards to incidents in the region where Israel is not involved for taking the blame: absolutely nothing (although they have passed a resolution for the investigation of the death of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 22 others in 2005). Other than a few more local sources and outlets, there is very little being discussed about the Palestinian situation, now that it's not something involving Israel.
What does this say of the main stream media that they pick and choose which side to take in a situation, rather than objectively reporting the news? What does it say for us, as a society, that we allow ourselves to be so easily influenced as the many, by the few, rather than examining situations ourselves to come up with our own conclusions?
Opinion pieces, like those who write them, are just that. The opinions of those who write them. They, like all other forms of media, have their place and purpose, and as such, in setting forth to reach an audience, should do so responsibly. When reporting the news becomes so overwhelmingly influenced by opinion, however, there is no objectivity, there is no integrity of an unbiased reflection of events.
This is no new trend for the media. "Yellow Journalism" has it's roots in the late 1890's, during circulation battles between Joseph Pulitzer's New York World and William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal, both of whom are blamed or credited, depending on your point of view, for drawing the United States into the Spanish-American War. Print media, and later on radio and television media, have continued to fall into a consistent pattern of employing such journalistic "tactics" in order to sell papers or garner ratings from listeners and viewers. In the process, someone always suffers the consequences for being the target of biased reporting.
This time, however, the law of unintended consequences factors in. The Palestinian refugees, a product of political and social manipulation and wrangling as well as yellow journalism, have been used for years as a thorn in the side of Israel, with Arab nations not allowing these people to come across their borders into their nations. As recently as this past spring, Palestinians breached a wall separating their villages from Egypt, opening a route for refugees to travel to markets in Egypt to shop and do business. The Egyptian response was to agree with Israel that Palestinian authorities reseal the wall, as a chaotic situation had ensued with the masses of people flooding into Egypt, some returning with weapons to their villages.
But this time, as violence continues to shift and wind it's way across the Middle East, the media is turning it's attention elsewhere, unable to blame Israel for the danger in which Palestinian civilians find themselves facing. The clear message sent by the silence of the media? "If Israel isn't to blame, it ain't news."
Once and Always, an American Fighting Man