Tuesday, February 24, 2015

24-Feb-15: The mess that the receding flood waters reveal

The Anadolu (Turkish news agency) caption reads:
"Hundreds of Palestinians were evacuated from
their homes Sunday morning after Israeli
authorities opened a number of dams
near the border, flooding the Gaza Valley
in the wake of a recent severe winter storm.
Anadolu/Ashraf Amra"
Here's some follow-up to a post ["23-Feb-15: Dam!"] we published yesterday about the uncritical, lazy and irresponsible way some news agencies carry stories, often originating from notoriously partisan sources, that pin damaging allegations against Israel without bothering themselves to check whether they're true or made-up.

First, a clear and unambiguous assertion: yesterday's widely published news reports about Israel opening up dams in the vicinity of the Gaza Strip are in the made-up category.

The story, based on allegations that no reporter claims to have investigated or to have proven, exists in order to validate perpetual claims from the Palestinian Arab power structure - in this case, from Hamas - of Palestinian Arab victimhood and Israeli malevolence.

Once invented and handed to gullible reporters and editors, stories like the one about Israel's "attack dams" go public and become part of the news cycle. Their anti-Israel character, it seems, is enough to overcome the absence of a factual basis and the nonsense logic underpinning them.

The most direct version of the libelous story can be found in Ma'an, the self-styled "independent" Palestinian Arab news source about which we posted critical comments on Sunday. It ran this story as its main lead during Sunday's evening hours; the article remains online and unchanged as of today:
Hundreds of Palestinians flee as Israel opens dams into Gaza ValleyHundreds of Palestinians were evacuated from their homes Sunday morning after Israeli authorities opened a number of dams near the border, flooding the Gaza Valley in the wake of a recent severe winter storm.
The Chinese newsagency, Xinhua, reported it too, and has made no change since then:
Israel opens dams, floods Gaza | Mufid al-Hasaynah, minister of Housing and Public Works in the Palestinian unity government, told Xinhua that Israel deliberately increases the suffering of the Gazans.
Egypt's Al Akhbar reported it yesterday ("Israel's Open Dams Flood Gaza, Hundreds Evacuated"), and has found no need to update it or modify the charges. Or to investigate the facts as received from the Hamas-controlled ministry that announced them.

The major French news agency Agence France-Presse ("...the oldest news agency in the world and one of the largest", according to its Wikipedia entry) published it too. But click on its link now [here] and you get an error message:

The nonsense article has been removed by the AFP editors, leaving behind this text: "Hmmm... the page you're looking for isn't here. Try searching above". Perhaps it should read:
"Hmmm, you discovered we trusted Hamas with predictable consequences. In future, try searching at a more reliable source".
In any event, no apology from AFP and no explanation for the article or its removal.

Aljazeera's version of the bogus story has been changed, and now carries this doctored headline: "Israel denies causing Gaza floods by opening dams". We should have archived the original version but did not. However the URL gives a clear indication of the headline it used to have:
To their credit, Aljazeera's editors now open their account with what they ought to have reported a day earlier:
Israel has rejected allegations by government officials in the Gaza strip that authorities were responsible for released storm waters flooding parts of the besieged area.
"The claim is entirely false, and southern Israel does not have any dams," said a statement from the Coordinator of Government Activites in the Territorities (COGAT).
"Due to the recent rain, streams were flooded throughout the region with no connection to actions taken by the State of Israel."
Over at the Russian RT news agency, the editors have tried to clean their act up by modifying the original headline and some of the contents too. Yesterday their story was entitled "Israel opens dams forcing hundreds of Gazans out of flooded houses", and asserted as fact that "In the wake of a recent severe winter storm in the region, Israeli authorities opened the floodgates to discharge the accumulated water." Today at the same URL it's called "Palestine accuses Israel of opening dams, flooding Gaza, forcing evacuations". Not much better, but in the face of the criticism directed at their editorial foolishness, it's a concession. And in the body of the piece, they now add:
In a letter to RT regarding the issue, Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) maintained that “the claim is entirely false."
As for RT actual investigation into the facts, their editors evidently don't feel the need. Getting it from Hamas is apparently sufficient validation for them.

No one was killed. But the affair gives a useful - if depressing - insight into how packaged news on the Arab/Israel conflict (and many other matters) gets its character and makes its way into our living rooms and heads. There is much to fear from today's industrialized mainstream news channels.

No comments: