Groups Analyze Mideast Coverage

By: Joann Loviglio, Associated Press Writer

(AP) Ahmed Bouzid got tired of looking at daily newspapers and reading what he felt was bias against Palestinians, so he did something about it.

His group, Palestine Media Watch, is one of several analyzing news coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and reporting back to editors and ombudsmen.

“There’s a paradigm we’re trying to change: that Israelis are defending themselves and the Palestinians are attacking, and when the Israelis do something it must be a mistake or an act of self-defense,” said Bouzid, 38, a Muslim born in Algeria who lives outside Philadelphia. “We’re simply asking for balance.”

He started Palestine Media Watch in 2000 after a letter he wrote to the editor on the Palestinian intefadeh, or uprising, prompted a large number of encouraging replies. “We saw there were people out there who felt as frustrated as we did but they weren’t voicing themselves,” he said.

Now, media watch volunteers in 36 American cities monitor big daily newspapers and broadcast news shows and report to editors and producers with their analyses of their coverage.

“It’s a lot of work and it takes a lot of patience; you talk to these editors and ombudsmen and they say they agree with you but then continue to make the same mistakes,” Bouzid said. “It’s difficult to turn around things that are so ingrained. But we’re in this for the long run.”

Bouzid says he most commonly sees bias of omission. One such omission, he contended, was that after many papers covered the 30th anniversary of the Sept. 5, 1972, killings of 11 Israelis by Palestinian gunmen during the Munich Olympics, few recognized the 20th anniversary of the killings of 800 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon in Sept. 16-18, 1982, by a Lebanese militia allied with Israel.

Pro-Israeli groups, too, are keeping close watch on the newsstands and the airwaves. Some, including the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, aim to debunk the often-repeated claim that news organizations are pro-Israel.

“We tend to go after content, both the use of language and the factual assertions and whether they’re accurate and in context,” said Alex Safian, associate director of CAMERA, based in Boston. A news story “can be factually accurate but deceptive at the same time.”

Ombudsmen say they encourage readers to look at a newspaper’s coverage on any issue over a period of time, instead of picking out one edition for criticism.

“There are times I’ll agree that a certain story seemed overplayed or underplayed, or that a headline missed the boat,” said Dan Hortsch, public editor of The Oregonian in Portland. “But sometimes what I do is tell people, ‘I know what you’re saying but what do I say to an equal number of people who say I’m biased in your favor?'”

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