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  November 16, 2008

Israel, Palestine and the media


Mordecai Briemberg on battle over satire, media concentration and coverage of Israel Pt.2/2
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Israel, Palestine and the media

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome back to the next segment of our interview with Mordecai Briemberg. We're talking about a legal case in Vancouver, Canada. The Canwest media chain, which owns The Vancouver Sun and just about anything else you can watch or read in Vancouver, has sued two people, originally three—Mordecai was one, and the case against Mordecai was dropped—for producing something that looked like The Vancouver Sun newspaper, except it was actually a parody. The authors of this parody believed that The Vancouver Sun and the Canwest media chain are very pro-Israel and essentially do pro-Israel coverage, and this was a parody of that. And if you haven't seen the first segment of our interview, please go back, and you'll get the context for this. Mordecai is a radio host. He's a writer and a retired professor. And he joins us now, once again, from Vancouver, Canada. Thanks, Mordecai.

MORDECAI BRIEMBERG, RADIO HOST AND ACTIVIST: Thank you.

JAY: So, Mordecai, I recapped it quickly there. The case against you was dismissed 'cause there's no evidence you had anything to do with it. You're a well-known activist that deals with the question of Palestinian rights. You're very critical with Israel. And you were named, you think, because of this, and there was no evidence you had anything to do with the parody. But two of the people who created the parody are going to continue to be sued for a trademark infraction of creating this thing that looks like The Vancouver Sun. And we'll show it to all of you again right now, just so that people can see it. But let's move on a little bit. You think this is a problem particularly with Canwest. And, I guess, what's your evidence for it? But also, if I understand correctly, you think this is a problem throughout the whole of mainstream media, this issue of one-sided coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. So speak a bit about this.

BRIEMBERG: Well, what is happening in Palestine and Israel is one of the most controversial questions in North American and European society, and there are a variety of opinions on what is happening. But when you look at the media coverage, you find that it is very much uniformly tilted towards defense of Israeli policies and practices and very little in terms of understanding the Palestinian experience and the Palestinian narrative. And over the years, the discrepancy between reality and media reporting has, I think, grown; the gap has grown even wider.

JAY: In the first segment, you gave us an example of the coverage of the death of children in the conflict. Is there another example you could speak to?

BRIEMBERG: I will give you another example. Right now in the territory called Gaza, the Israelis are imposing a siege, which is one of the most horrific kinds of torments of over a million people being denied medical supplies, access to medical care, food supplies, fuel, etcetera, leaving aside any armed conflict and assaults upon them which also are taking place. If you scan the Canadian media to see any reports of what's happening in this area, which is going on for month after month after month of the siege, equivalent in its horror, I would say, to the siege that was launched on Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, you would find that you get the most minimal of information. Yet this is one of the world's big atrocities. Why so little reporting?

JAY: If people would like to do a search on The Real News, we have done quite a few stories on this, and we'll continue to. I guess the counterargument for this, though it doesn't really explain the media coverage, is that the missiles coming from Gaza into Israel turn this into a sort of equivalency, and so people don't do it. Do you buy that argument?

BRIEMBERG: No, because when you look at the number, just look at the numbers of people who have been killed in the Palestinian missiles that have been shot into Israel from Gaza compared with the number of Palestinians who have been killed. Look at how many names you read when you find an Israeli death and how few names are ever reported, in other words, how dehumanized Palestinians are in the media and how humanized, as every victim of unwarranted violence should be humanized. But it's one-sided humanization.

JAY: Right. I mean, I think, whatever you think, you know, who's to blame and the whys and wherefores, simple factual reporting on what's happening in Gaza isn't happening in a way, and then people can make up their own minds about whys and wherefores. But I know we've done the same kind of look at media coverage, and other than some print pieces, particularly in European papers, there's next to nothing in print or in television about what daily life in Gaza is like. The other, I guess, issue you raise—and it speaks to this same question in some ways—is the whole question of media concentration. Talk a bit about Vancouver, which is probably, I think, one of the most concentration of media ownership capitals of the world, I think you or some others have described it.

BRIEMBERG: It is. Vancouver is the most concentrated city in terms of media—most concentrated media ownership of any city in the industrialized nations, the G8 countries. So we have in Vancouver two daily newspapers, both owned by Canwest. We have in Vancouver television stations, but the largest television station is owned by Canwest. Community newspapers are owned by Canwest. And so when you look at that and look at it across the country in terms of the major daily newspapers across the country being part of Canwest—they bought them from Conrad Black, the empire that he had assembled in terms of print—you combine that with television, you combine cross-ownership, which is unique to Canada, not possible in the United States, where in the same media market one corporation can own radio, can own television, can own print, those kinds of crossovers are not allowed in America by public regulation [inaudible]

JAY: Certainly not to the same extent, at any rate. And there's a big public battle taking place on the question of cross-platform ownership in the US, where Canada's very silent on the question.

BRIEMBERG: Well, there are people, but there hasn't been what I would call a social movement that's tried to campaign in a sustained manner.

JAY: In theory, one of the justifications for the CBC is that they do counterbalance this. Certainly, everybody in Vancouver has access to CBC, which is the public broadcaster. And, for our American audience, it's more like a BBC in terms of its scale and importance in the cultural landscape and certainly much more significant in Canada than PBS is in the US in terms of eyeballs. People do have access to CBC. It counteracts to some extent Canwest. How do you assess CBC in its coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?

BRIEMBERG: I think CBC was hounded for many years by Canwest to get rid of its Middle East reporter, and ultimately he did get transfered. And I think the CBC media, in terms of the people that they interview on the Middle East, again, it's very one-sided. But take just the case of Canwest suing us. We have the largest media conglomerate in Canada launching a slap suit against three individuals. You have trade unions like the Canadian Labour Congress, the human rights and civil liberties organizations, teachers organizations, librarian organizations, etcetera, saying to Canwest, "This is a parody. It's a legitimate right of free speech. Drop your suit." Is that not newsworthy? I think it is.

JAY: What kind of coverage has the story received in Canada?

BRIEMBERG: Zero from CBC. Whatever program you look at which we have approached, which people who are part of the CBC have tried to urge be reported get a complete cold shoulder, just nothing. When you look at Toronto Star, Toronto Star doesn't report it. When you look at The Globe and Mail, it was the only paper that, in the business section, when Canwest first lost its suit, did do a straight up report, and since then has not covered the issue.

JAY: If people want to know more about it—give the website a very quick plug. Where do they go?

BRIEMBERG: They go to seriouslyfreespeech.ca.

JAY: Thank you very much for joining us, Mordecai. And thank you all for joining us. And if you'd like to know more, you can go to the website Mordecai just plugged. And thank you very much for joining us on The Real News Network.

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