Thursday, January 03, 2008


Just over a week ago, Haaretz newspaper reported that a leading editor for the online encyclopedia Wikipedia, was visiting Israel as a guest of the Foreign Ministry. David Shankbone, was invited in order for him to receive "a first-hand understanding of the country". However, while this cat was away the mice were playing and one of his administrative editors, "Eleland", was doing a nice hatchet job in the on line encyclopedia on an article about Fairfax journalist Ed O’Loughlin literally consigning all content - critical or otherwise (but mainly the former) about the controversial journalist to the blank pages of Wikipedia.

The irony in this was the way in which the job was done. The bad news about the Melbourne Age's Jerusalem Bureau Chief was obliterated from the pages of Wikipedia in much the same way as O'Loughlin himself leaves out most of the bad news about the Palestinians. In the case of the Age, the result is that readers are left with the impression that Israel and its people seek deliberately to cause hardship to their Palestinian neighbours for no reason at all. In the case of Wikipedia, almost all trace of O'Loughlin disappeared into the ether and visitors to the site are left oblivious to the concerns of many Age and Sydney Morning Herald readers about his blatantly one sided journalism which deligitimises Israel in every aspect of its ongoing struggle against Palestinian terror and the way its people strive for the attainment of peace with their Arab neighbours.

In the month of December 2007 alone, readers of the Age were treated to four O'Loughlin articles with the virtually identical theme of hardship and suffering of life in blockaded Gaza. There was hardly a breath in these articles about the reasons for the blockade beyond the fact that they were "security measures". There was nothing from O’Loughlin about the threats of violence, hatred and intimidation instigated by Gaza's Hamas controlled government against not only Israelis but any Palestinian who opposes it. Nothing from him about the quassam missiles fired at Israeli civilian targets from within Gaza with the blessing if not the collaboration of Hamas and the fear that such attacks engender in the population of Israeli towns like Sderot.

When several tons of explosive materials were discovered inside bags of sugar en route to Gaza by way of humanitarian assistance to the long suffering Gazans, O’Loughlin was nowhere to be seen. Heaven forbid, that Age readers might gain some insight into why those vague "security measures" might be so important to the citizens of Israel - Jews and Arab alike because the terror of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah's Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade do not discriminate as to their choice of victim. Needless to say, O'Loughlin was silent on the death threats issued by Al Aksa Martyrs against Palestinian President Salam Fayad for talking peace with his Israeli counterparts. One supposes that it can become something of a stretch to desribe as "militants", people who threaten the lives of their own leaders.

These are just some examples of how O’Loughlin chooses to depict the narrative of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. He has long been the subject of criticism from several quarters for his journalistic bias. In 2003 a now-defunct organisation, the Media Studies Group, a group that monitored anti-Israeli bias in the media, published an analysis of The Age's reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, with particular reference to O'Loughlin. The authors identified 210 cases of perceived violations of various journalistic standards, and that O'Loughlin was responsible for 51% of these. Several other groups have been critical of his work (including writers on this blog just in case nobody’s noticed).

The overriding concern among O’Loughlin’s critics is not so much that the journalist presents criticism of Israel but that by his choice of what he covers and by the elimination of certain important aspects of the news from the region, he is presenting a skewed view of events from the region. Earlier this year, almost every media outlet in the world covered the story of Farfour, the Mickey Mouse rip off that was preaching bloodcurdling messages of unspeakable hatred to the children of Gaza through official Hamas television. O’Loughlin (or his editor Andrew Jaspan) was one of the few who avoided bringing to Age readers, this compelling news story that shocked the world. When Hamas routed Fatah to take control of Gaza in a bloody putsch, the Age shunned reports of the gory and extremely violent measures taken by both sides as the fighting unfolded. Tales such as the one of Hamas’ political opponents being dispatched from the roofs of high rise buildings were apparently not to the liking of O’Loughlin or perhaps of his cafĂ© latte sipping readers?

Former Age editor, Michael Gawenda wrote in that newspaper in April 2006,

"It would be fair to say that a significant proportion of us journalists who flew into Jerusalem in the past week or so did not come with the burden of too much history weighing heavily on our shoulders. This is not meant as a criticism. We journalists are not historians but rather imperfect and often bewildered people trying to do the impossible: make sense of a conflict that is suffused with great passion and great hatred. And bitterly disputed competing historic narratives.

"The best journalists acknowledge their limitations and, where possible, make explicit their prejudices. This means making as clear as possible the paradigm through which they are reporting the conflict. The best journalists resist the enormous pressure on them in a world of media fragmentation and fierce competition to be bold and to ‘know what's happening’. The best journalists admit to doubt and at times, total bewilderment. They tread warily."

O'Loughlin does not tread warily. He bulldozes his way through the news, cutting a swathe through anything that might be seen in a favourable light to Israel. When dealing with Palestinians (even those who I would call "terrorists" and he would call "militants") he manages to provide them with a human face. To O’Loughlin those "militants" are not striving to commit genocide against the Jewish State’s six million Jews (the Hamas Covenant doesn’t rate a mention in his writing), they are "resistance" (although I would call it resistance to the end of the occupation by peaceful means and they would call it to resistance the occupation). Israeli aspirations are always sinister; Israel exists within a sea of 22 Arab countries, most of which are Islamic States but it's requirement that it be recognised as a Jewish State in accordance with U.N. Security Council Resolution 181 is sneeringly regarded as a requirement for recognition as an "ethnic Jewish State".

Gawenda clearly pointed out the danger of such an approach in his April 2006 article,

"Amos Oz, who helped found the Peace Now movement in 1977, also once said that the tragedy of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is that it involves two peoples with equally valid national aspirations, which is another way of saying that each of their historical narratives have moral and ethical force.

"When it comes to reporting this conflict, not only do a lot of journalists know little about these narratives, but for obvious and non-malign reasons, they quickly conclude that the Palestinian story, whatever the history, is one that has led them to great suffering and dispossession, which means the Israeli story must be about conquest and occupation of stolen land.

"The paradigm is one of victims and victimisers, helpless and hopeless Palestinians on the one hand and brutal occupiers and oppressors on the other. One narrative is true and tragic and one narrative is false, an example of the colonialist's lies and propaganda.

"One result of seeing the conflict through this paradigm is that by reducing Palestinians to victims, their leaders are reduced to victims as well and are excused from taking any responsibility for their political failings, for the corruption that they encouraged and from which they personally benefited, from taking responsibility for the opportunities they passed up to improve the lives of their long-suffering people and perhaps even give the Palestinians the state that is so clearly their right."

In other words, the O’Loughlin approach presents a grave danger not only to the Israeli side but to the Palestinians and their own national aspirations. There are many who hold the view that the dangers of O’Loughlin's reporting should be made known to the world and some of these were highlighted in the Wikipedia article that was on show last month before "Eleland" stepped in to censor it completely.

Coming: How Wikipedia silenced the criticism of O’Loughlin and airbrushed him out of its pages and into the blank pages of the on line encyclopedia.

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