21 February '16..
Luke Baker, Reuters bureau chief in Jerusalem and the current chairperson of Israel’s Foreign Press Association (FPA), has in the past few weeks, found himself part of the news rather than merely reporting it. Following an appalling CBS headline, Israel’s Government Press Office decided to take a more critical approach to the foreign media’s coverage of Palestinian terrorism.
Baker appeared before a sub-committee meeting of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee examining the impact of media bias, which he termed a “witch-hunt.” The meeting turned out to be anything but.
An unfortunate incident involving the detention of Washington Post bureau chief William Booth by border police stationed at Jerusalem’s Old City also brought the issue of Israel’s attitude towards the foreign press to the fore.
Given all of this, Luke Baker has become the face of the foreign press fighting back against a perceived “witch-hunt” of the international media by Israel. In an interview with Globes (an Israeli financial paper), Baker was asked whether he was prepared to acknowledge that there was any bias in coverage of Israel by the foreign media:
I have been a professional journalist for twenty years now, and, like me, many of the journalists sent here are highly experienced. I work with very professional journalists who try to explain the complexity of the story to the international audience. The Israelis believe that it doesn’t reflect their stance, but that isn’t what the journalists are here for. I don’t see lack of balance in the foreign press. There are stories that develop fast and the reports reflect developments on the ground – there’s a report of fatal casualties and at first you don’t know who’s dead and from which side, and you try to explain what’s happening as quickly as possible. The claims of bias in reporting are annoying. If there are mistakes, they are corrected as soon as possible. I reject the claim of lack of balance.
Is Baker really claiming that there is no media bias whatsoever? Is he also suggesting that the foreign media are self-correcting when they get it wrong? Based on the number of incidents where HonestReporting and others have called out the media and forced the correction, this is patently untrue.
If Baker wants to test his hypothesis, then we invite him to take a look over some 15 years worth of material on the HonestReporting website.
Baker also suggests that the journalists aren’t here to reflect Israelis’ stance. If that is indeed the case, then foreign journalists should also not be adopting the Palestinian narrative.
Lest we forget that Baker himself was caught out for bias as recently as October 2015 when he falsely claimed that Israeli undercover police were deliberately inciting Palestinian youths to throw stones, therefore giving the police the excuse to arrest the stone-throwers. Note that Baker never corrected or apologized.
Even in the Globes interview, Baker slips when he states that William Booth “was arrested.” Baker, as a supposedly professional journalist, should be concerned with accurate language and terminology. Booth was detained temporarily for questioning but was never formally placed under arrest nor charged with anything before being released. So much for accuracy.
As for Reuters, the wire service has also been caught out on numerous occasions. How about the time in November 2015 when a Reuters headlined a Palestinian vehicular ramming attack that injured Israeli soldiers “Palestinian dies in ramming attack” and was forced to correct.
What about the misleading headline that stated that Benjamin Netanyahu had threatened to shoot Palestinian children throwing stones? Again, Reuters was forced to correct.
In fact, Reuters has been featured by HonestReporting regularly over the years and in 2011, an academic study concluded that Reuters coverage of the Middle East conflict was systematically tainted by propaganda and influences readers to side with the Palestinians and Arab states against Israel.
Baker’s dubious assertions demonstrate exactly why there is a need for HonestReporting. Not only are the foreign media unable to effectively police themselves when it comes to bias and errors, but, judging by Baker’s comments, some in the foreign media refuse to even recognize the problem. That Baker is the current head of the FPA only serves to compound the issue.
Luke Baker doesn’t like being held to account. He says that “claims of bias in reporting are annoying.” Sorry Luke, but it looks like we’re going to continue annoying you for quite some time.
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