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MEDIA CRITICISM:

Blinded by The Sun

by Alice Cherbonnier

There can be no chance of peace if world opinion is not formed by the full facts of a situation.
The Sun, Baltimore's lone paid-circulation daily, is struggling mightily to keep its Tribune Corp. owners happy. This means focusing on the only strong suit remaining to most of the nation's dailies: covering the local angle.

Balloons representing rockets
Thus it was that, on Monday, March 3, The Sun disgraced itself by publishing a photo, under the guise of "local news," that could be construed as something other than "news." The word "propaganda" comes to mind, but chances are that wasn't the intent; instead, to be charitable, let's assume that the newspaper's editors were asleep at the wheel. Short-staffed, perhaps? Let us hope that was the case.

As you can see here, the photo is indeed an attention-grabber. It's hard to resist bright-colored balloons on a winter's day.

Sun caption for the balloons pic
Unfortunately, the photo is about more than just a local event. It can be viewed as a blatant and one-sided political statement, because the caption does not offer statistics—let alone balloons—about rockets fired by Israel onto Palestinians in Gaza.

We're not taking sides here--we're just pointing out that The Sun, and other media, can too easily fall into the trap of failing to question what the news they're reporting means in the larger, and more important, context.

In an effort to get to the rest of the story, we did some research. B'Tselem, the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights, keeps track of the actual figures on all sides. These figures speak for themselves, painting a complex and tragic picture of the situation in that benighted part of the world.

The B'Tselem web site ran a story on March 3 reporting that this year, "from 27 February to the afternoon of 3 March, 106 Palestinians were killed in the Gaza Strip. Contrary to the Chief of Staff’s contention that ninety percent were armed, at least fifty-four of the dead (twenty-five of them minors) did not take part in the hostilities. In addition, at least forty-six minors were wounded."

Yet, in responding to our inquiry, Sarit Michaeli, writing in behalf of B'Tselem, cautions, "I think presenting the casualties on one side in order to justify in some way the casualties on the other is wrong both morally and legally. As B'Tselem says clearly to the Israeli public, the suffering of Israeli civilians in sderot and Ashkelon does not justify causing suffering to civilians in Gaza, or attacking them in ways that violate international humanitarian law. This is true regarding Palestinians as well, regardless of the obvious imbalance in the number of those killed and wounded, or the fact that Israel has a huge and well equipped army. The killing of Palestinians by Israelis is no justification for firing Qassams [homemade rockets] at civilians."

Ms. Michaeli further points out that "it is illegal under International law to direct attacks against civilians, even in the struggle against occupation...attacks directed at civilians are war crimes.

We commend to our readers' attention a March 6, 2008 story in The Economist called "The bloody conundrum of Gaza." The fighting in Gaza at the beginning of March, the story reports,

....was the heaviest since Hamas took control last June. The Israeli army said that 90% of those killed were fighters. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights in Gaza, on the other hand, says that half were unarmed bystanders and a quarter were children. Before the latest round, B'Tselem, an Israeli human-rights group, said Israel had killed around 350 Gazans since June, among them more than 100 civilians and children.

The killing provoked international outrage and prompted Mr Abbas to suspend the talks he has been conducting with Israel since November, after the two sides met in Annapolis....

All this is sobering and important to understand. There can be no chance of peace if world opinion is not formed by the full facts of a situation.

We're sorry to have to report that The Sun, in this case, did not "shine its light for all," despite its ambitious motto.


Alice Cherbonnier is the Managing Editor of this newspaper.


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This story was published on March 11, 2008.