Why do Media Work
"Why of course the people don't want war ... But after all it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship ...Voice or noMost people shape their views through their hearing or seeing things reported in mainstream media. This is especially true of people and events for which they no direct contact or experience. According to recent surveys, the average American citizen for example gets exposure to 3-5 hours of TV a day and occasionally reads newspapers. The Internet is making inroads and reaching people directly (we will address this in chapter 6) but for the time being even the Internet is dominated by the same sources of information (CNBC, CBS, ABC, NBC, CNN etc).
voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is to tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." Hermann Goering, Nazi leader, at the Nuremberg Trials after World WarII
"In this country, intellectual cowardice is the worst enemy a writer or journalist has to face... Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without the need for any official ban. ... At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question." George Orwell on England
"All truth goes through three steps: First, it is ridiculed, Second, it is violently opposed; Third, it is accepted as self-evident." Arthur Schopenhauer
Unfortunately, editors and journalists especially in the west have come to believe (not completely unfounded) that the average span of concentration in the audience is limited. Hence, short snippets of news are usually provided without context and in sound-bites. This creates tremendous challenge to human rights advocates trying to influence coverage of events to be factual and unbiased. It is of course simply naive to think that the media is unbiased. The media is run based on certain economic interests and pleasing those who pay the bills is part of the strategy.
Samir Nasser made these astute observations recently in an email:
"Only nothing begets nothing. This is nowhere more accurate than in the Palestinian relationship with the media. The Zionist lobby has systematically entered every media organ and form, while Palestinians have contented themselves with letter to the editor and wondered why it is not doing any good. It is said that ‘you get what you pay for’; managing long media and lobbying campaigns costs money and needs to be tailored to those you are directing the message to. As a whole, Palestinian society has contributed nothing to a media campaign and has yet to learn how to address their target audiences. In fact most Palestinians have yet to see the need to a concentrated media campaign. Palestinians are stuck in Middle Eastern terminology and rhetoric that comes from the sixties and seventies, while trying to make audiences see it our way. While the Zionist lobby has hired public relation firms and has its own media channels, we are lucky if we can fund a spot on late night cable."
The pro-Israeli groups have been successful in their propaganda campaigns to the extent that Americans are complacent about funding a country that continues to oppress and enslave another society (see Chapter 3). They did this by being well funded and organized. Until very recently this Israeli hegemony of the media was total and absolute. There are literally dozens of well-funded groups advocating Zionist ideologies in the media (see examples in Exhibit 3 and Exhibit 6). Only recently have those been joined by a very small minority of non-Zionist, post-Zionist, or anti-Zionist perspectives. Occasionally, we who advocate human rights and justice have succeeded to publish some highly contoversial opinion pieces ( Exhibit 14 for examples). However, the bulk of editorials have been biased and this is demonstrated by a simple review of some influential journal coverage (see Chapter 3).
This chapter is intended to review media activism and will by necessity be brief (many books are written on the subject). I will start by defining our objectives, strengths and weaknesses, followed by defining our audience and "who's who" in the media, and then discussing specific areas (writing letters, interviewing etc.). I am grateful to members of the media committee of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition (http://Al-Awda.org) and some members of Palestine Media Watch (especially Rania Awad and Ahmed Bouzid) for their tireless efforts and support.
The best online resource for activism is a kit found at http://www.fair.org/activism/activismkit.html from the group called Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting. As they describe it: “Inside this kit you will find ‘how-to’ guides for identifying, documenting and challenging inaccurate or unfair news coverage, along with information about how to promote independent media. Challenging mainstream media and building independent media are equally important components of media activism. Long-term community pressure and grassroots action are key to media reform. We encourage you to photocopy individual pages for use in organizational meetings, educational forums, mailings to your members that urge media action, or any other useful situation. We hope that this packet will help you fight unfair coverage of your issues and communities, and win greater access in media for independent voices.” In the kit are email and web addresses for all major US media outlets (ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, CNN etc)."
Our mission is to use grassroots activism to ensure good, fair, and objective media coverage on the conflict in Israel/Palestine. The ultimate goal is thus to be a force in the media that cannot be ignored, a force for human rights and justice as the only ways to lasting peace in the Middle East. Our short term and intermediate goals are numerous:
a) Building grassroots interest and appreciation for the value of media work
b) Building networks of organizations and communities that are able to reach out internationally
c) Meeting with editors and journalists and carefully working with them to ensure fair and objective coverage (i.e. they hear and report both sides)
d) Making news and making sure it is reported fairly
e) Placing opinion pieces and letters to the editor in newspapers and in alternate media
We are guided by the belief that together with other actions (discussed in other chapters in this section), activists can make and have made a difference in the media.
In short, we want to make noise and be noticed positively. In terms of balanced coverage, this means bringing about equity in the space given to various Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, ensuring that the editorials adopt a human rights agenda and relay facts, and ensure coverage that allows the public to see the need for justice. Our first achievable goal is to get noticed: for each of us to become someone they recognize and respect.
Do human rights advocates have any advantages in dealing with the media? I think the biggest is integrity, the fact that we are not paid that we volunteer our efforts and thus do not have financial or material benefit from our advocacy. People respect that. People are increasingly prepared to listen to what we have to say: many know in their hearts that things are not good and could get worse. Activists are able to touch people's hearts by articulate sentiments and facts concisely and honestly. I have found many in mainstream media who are secretly sympathetic to the causes we espouse but are afraid to air them themselves and thus appreciate our efforts. Finally, the media loves controversy (that is news) and we are certainly controversial by going against certain government and power media positions on issues.
Media work for activists is sometimes an afterthought. That is unfortunate. The most effective advocacy groups plan for media work just as diligently and as early as planning for all other aspects of our activism (building relationships, putting on demonstrations etc).
Palestinian Public Relations: Coordination and Unity: What Palestinians could learn from Zionist hasbara
Getting the message right: 10 steps to a better media strategy for Palestine
By Paul Adrian Raymond
The battle for Palestine is underway. This time, the aim is Palestinian membership in the United Nations, and the skirmishes are mostly in the halls of Western power. There has never been a time when international support for the Palestinian cause was more crucial. But while the Palestinian leadership is engaged in frantic diplomacy, too little is being done on the other battlefield: TV screens, newspapers and on the world’s most widely read websites.
While Palestinians have been resisting colonial occupiers for over a century, the Palestinian leadership still lacks a comprehensive media strategy. In the occupied territories, even those journalists who are sympathetic complain that Palestinians are poorly equipped when it comes to dealing with the media. By contrast, a sleek, well-funded and highly professional team promotes the Israeli narrative in the mainstream media.
There is no doubt that global public opinion is shifting towards solidarity with the Palestinians. A 2011 poll of Europeans found 41% believe Israel’s oppression of Palestinians to be one of the biggest obstacles to peace in the Middle East. That figure represents an encouraging shift in perceptions. But the UN gamble is the greatest challenge the Palestinians have set themselves for decades, and must be backed by positive media coverage that portrays the truth about Palestine. A strong, coordinated media strategy is crucial. Here are eleven steps that could help.
1 – Decide on some basic messages, then repeat them.
“Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East.” Israeli spokespeople have repeated this message so often that it is now widely accepted by the media, even though it becomes less true with every law passed by the current government. Israeli spokespeople have imposed their vocabulary on journalists through nothing more complex than repetition. Some of the world’s major television networks even refer to illegal settlements in East Jerusalem as “Jewish neighbourhoods” in the “disputed” east of the city. The assault on reality is shocking.
In a world of sound bites, a cause needs basic messages and a clear vocabulary. The Palestinian struggle is relatively straightforward if presented in terms of freedom, rights, equality and resistance to occupation.
There are several obvious messages that could be employed, repeatedly: Palestinians want nothing more than their rights. Democracy implies government by consent: occupation is profoundly undemocratic, as it discriminates on the basis of race and religion. Two people cannot negotiate over a pizza while one of them continues to eat it.
2 – Speak English
Israelis sometimes complain that their Prime Minister speaks English better than Hebrew. But on the international stage, Netanyahu’s command of the world’s most widely understood language is a national asset. It lets him speak directly to Americans and other Anglophone voters as well some billion and a half people around the world who understand English.
Arabic is the mother tongue of 300 million people from Morocco to Iraq. But most are already sympathetic to the Palestinian cause. By speaking English, the Palestinians can take their messages to the world’s power centres and build the global support they badly need.
The Palestinian leadership should hire a team of Anglophone media spokespeople and give briefings and speeches mostly in English, except when specifically addressing a domestic or Arab audience.
3 - Use case studies.
Nothing brings a PR campaign’s messages across more effectively than the human story. Of course, occupation means that Israel is violating the Geneva Conventions and UN resolution 242. But why not talk about people in the Jordan Valley who live next to lush, well-irrigated settlements but have barely enough water to survive because Israel will not let them install a water pump or dig a well? That exposes the reality far more effectively than technical details or slogans.
4 – Appoint one good spokesperson
There is one telephone number that every foreign correspondent in Jerusalem needs: that of Mark Regev, the spokesman for the Prime Minister of Israel. Regev is well educated, eloquent and if Israel’s message has one voice, it is his. Journalists need someone they can call, 24 hours a day, to challenge and neutralise Regev’s spurious claims.
5 – Appoint a Director of Communications
Public diplomacy is not only about messaging and eloquence. It requires long-term strategic thinking that is tied to but also goes beyond the latest diplomatic effort and events on the ground. A communications specialist with a direct line to the Palestinian leadership could set clear messages, develop relationships with the media, and establish a strong communications unit to put forward the Palestinian case on the world stage.
6 – Use television
The Internet has changed the way we consume news, but television is very much alive. The Israeli government uses it well. After Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu gave their recent speeches to the UN General Assembly, Mr Abbas headed back to Ramallah. But Netanyahu went on tour, giving interviews to every American TV network he could find. He understood the importance of television, talking directly into living rooms across America, blaming the Palestinians for the collapse of the peace process. Palestinians should never miss the chance to challenge this narrative.
7 – State the obvious
After President Obama’s speech to the UN General Assembly, Palestinian diplomat Hanan Ashrawi complained that he spoke not one word of empathy for the Palestinians.
"I couldn't believe what I heard. It sounded as though the Palestinians were the ones occupying Israel," she said.
From overseas, the power dynamic that is so obvious on the ground can be blurred by half-truths and propaganda. Israel capitalises on ignorance of the occupation, playing itself as the victim and lacing its narrative with sometimes true but largely irrelevant facts from history. Palestinians need to state the obvious: Israel occupies Palestinian land, not the other way around, and the Palestinians were not responsible for the Holocaust.
8 – Talk about the Arab Peace Initiative.
King Abdullah’s Arab Peace Initiative, launched in Beirut in 2002, offered Israel the best deal it could ever hope for: peace and normalisation with every Islamic and Arab country, in exchange for acceptance of Palestinian rights and an end to the occupation. Israel has flatly refused to discuss the offer, and the Initiative has received little media attention and has gradually dropped further from the agenda. It deserves wide, high profile coverage.
9 – Do not be seen as the spoiler
Israel’s actions on the ground give the lie to the narrative that Israel “extends its hands in peace” to its neighbours. When Israeli spokespeople call for peace talks “without preconditions,” such as a freeze on settlement construction, they are themselves imposing a precondition: that Israel be allowed to build illegally on Palestinian-owned, occupied land, forcibly displacing locals. (It is also worth pointing out that only free people can negotiate). Palestinians have already made a historical compromise, giving up 78% of their historic homeland in exchange for peace talks with the occupier: they cannot afford to be seen as the party most to blame for a century of conflict with colonisers in their homeland.
10 – Point out prejudice
In the Western media, people with a bias towards the Palestinian cause are called “anti-Israeli”. Their opponents, of course, are “pro-Israeli.” But it is rare that they are labelled “anti-Arab” or “anti-Palestinian,” no matter how racist the opinions they express. When prejudice is obvious, it should be reflected in the language used to describe it.
11 – Establish a national centre for media studies
There are many smart, engaged Palestinian activists who are eloquent proponents of their cause. But what if Palestine had a whole cadre of young, dynamic communicators to present the cause to the world? A Palestinian National Institute for Media Studies could bring experts from the fields of journalism, corporate and diplomatic communications to equip bright graduates with the skills to represent their country around the world, strengthening the Palestinian quest for historic rights that the global system has denied them for more than six decades.