Thursday, December 29, 2011

29-Dec-11: Who decides on the stories that get major headlines and prominence? And why?

Boy searches for shrapnel on Israel's Moshav
Sde Avraham after a rocket fired from Gaza
exploded near a moshav home, March 2011. This photo
was a leading contender for news image of the year, 2011
[Image Source]
Few people, even among those who follow the events in the Middle East closely, will be aware of the state of the frequent and ongoing rocket attacks on southern Israel. No, we don’t mean those of last month or last year, but this week.

Fewer will be surprised to see what the major news media consider to be the really important news from Israel this week. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

On Friday, two mortar shells fired into southern Israel exploded in open areas in the Eshkol region.

This past Saturday evening (Xmas Eve), it was reported that terrorists from Gaza were active again with their deadly missiles. They fired two Qassam rockets into Israel that crashed into the western Negev region, with one exploding in an open area in the Ashkelon Coast region, and the other in an open area in the Sha’ar Hanegev region. No injuries or property damage were reported, but this was certainly not the outcome the terrorists intended.

Then on Monday, this report says there was another Qassam rocket attack on southern Israel’s Gaza Belt region, a few kilometers from the Hamas-run Gaza terrorist enclave. This one crashed into open land in the Sha'ar HaNegev region and again – to our great fortune - no one was injured and no damage was reported.

Today (Wednesday), a Qassam rocket once again crashed into open space in Israel’s Sha'ar Hanegev region during the morning. Initial reports said the rocket was misfired and landed inside Gaza but it now appears it did in fact make it across the border and into the lives of ordinary Israelis. Then late this evening, a second Qassam rocket struck in roughly the same place. Fortunately, there are no reports of injuries or damage which means, in the eyes of those who did the firings, they were a failure, and therefore simply prelude to more and more and more attempts at a better, more bloody outcome.

Meanwhile the BBC via its website and the BBC World global radio service has been focusing to an astonishing degree for the past several days on an Israeli story that, in its own words, is about a tiny handful of malefactors and the response they are encountering from Israelis of every stripe. We’re not saying the reports of a certain extreme kind of orthodox Israeli Jews being rude and offensive to people living in the same town as them is not newsworthy. It is, or would be if the coverage included any journalistic insights. Reports of young Hassidic men in Beth Shemesh acting boorishly (yes, boorishly – no guns were fired, no punches were thrown, no houses burned down and no crowd-control devices were needed by the authorities) are interesting if you place them in a context (we won’t do it here or now). But there is precious little insight or understanding in the reports we have seen. Meaningful analysis of the socio-demographic or even political kind is far more challenging and much, much less interesting to the people who edit the BBC’s news than statements like this one:
“Many Israelis believe the country's character is at stake. They resent the fact that most ultra-Orthodox men don't work or serve in the army. Instead, the government gives them subsidies to carry out religious studies. One man here told me Jewish religious extremism posed a bigger threat to the country than Iran.”
Now do we know why BBC’s widely heard World Service news featured this as its main world news story for most of yesterday? Does its gravity come anywhere near to any of the following other stories of the past week, basically chosen at random?
  • Iraq: 57 were killed, at least 179 people wounded, in simultaneous terror attacks on Baghdad this past Thursday. 14 locations were attacked simultaneously.
  • Syria: More than 200 people including many women and children were killed by their own defense forces in a single day late last week on the eve of a visit by international observers monitoring Syria’s compliance with an Arab League peace plan. Syrian troops rounded up and shot civilians, and looted and destroyed houses according to The Washington Times. This was the deadliest week so far in a rebellion against Assad that started in March. The UN says it has exacted more than 5,000 lives so far. Nine more Syrians were killed by the Syrian Army today (Wednesday). Yes, the international observer group is there but so what? It’s an unfolding story drenched in blood, evil and intrigue. Yet most people in most places have only the vaguest sense, if at all, about what is going on. Foreign news agencies like the BBC are forbidden by the murderous Assad regime in Damascus from reporting directly from Syria. Most people don’t know this either.
  • Gaza: The head of the Hamas terrorist organization, nominally the prime minister of the Gazan part of Palestine (the result of a forced and bloody power grab in 2007), has embarked on a grand tour of the Arab world. It’s the first time a Hamas leader has done this. Such minor news coverage as there is paints this as a kind of triumphal celebration of the new standing of the officially-outlawed Hamas terrorist regime in a post-Arab-spring world… a world in which repressive Arab rulers are replaced by Islamist, Moslem Brotherhood organizations – like Hamas. He will be feted in Sudan (today), then Qatar (which owns Al Jazeera), Turkey (the subject of this dismaying Christian Science Monitor expose of its current slide into authoritarianism), Tunisia and Bahrain at least. We’re wondering if any of the reporters who interview him will ask Ismail Haniyah to explain what he meant in a speech last week when he said that Hamas is working for interim objectives that include the “liberation of Gaza, the West Bank, or Jerusalem" the long-term "strategic" goal of his terrorist movement is, in plain language, eliminating all of Israel:
  • Saudi Arabia, a family-run business/state featuring fantastical wealth driven by fossil-fuel riches and a despotic, misogynistic ruling family, announced an unexpected budget surplus of more than $80 billion for 2011. (The finance ministry was expecting to post a deficit of $10.7 billion.)
  • Nigeria: Islamists murdered no fewer than 39 people in Xmas Day attacks on two churches. We have blogged (“Tentacles again in west Africa, and the toll is shooting upwards” and other reports) about the admitted perpetrators, the horrifying Boko Haram, after some of their previous massacres. Most people, including most reporters and their editors outside of Nigeria (population: 170 million), have never heard of them. They need to know. There’s a process going on, and it extends far, far beyond Nigeria.
  • Somalia: Again and again, the gang-raping and stoning of women by Islamist thugs gets reported, though not often enough and not with adequate prominence. But where is the journalistic analysis that lets readers see the close connection between these bestial practices and the religion professed by the perpetrators? Does this being an African story make thoughtful reporting superfluous and un-needed? 
And if our focus is on how various societies treat their women, do the street protests in Israel's Beth Shemesh community rank higher, lower or at the same level in news reporting terms compared with, say, reports about how the military in Egypt has been routinely carrying out forced virginity tests on women arrested in the Tahrir Square protests? Yes, the BBC mentioned it. And it might stop now that a court has condemned it. But given the widespread journalistic enthusiasm for the events in Cairo this past spring, the virginity test practices got nowhere near the news prominence of the absurd Hassidim-taking-over-Israel confection.

We’ll close with an image (below) that, to our minds, got less exposure than it deserves. Additional words are not really needed. It’s an image captured in Gaza this week: a graduating class of young women, the future of their community, the wombs that will create the next generation of Palestinian Arabs. 

Graduating class of women in Hamas-controlled Gaza this week

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