When both Palestinians and Israelis think we are biased, we must be doing something right

In such a heated conflict, accusations of bias are often used to make political points of their own

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A reader lambasted our coverage of the deepening Israeli-Palestinian conflict last week. He had, he said, “been observing the blatant pro-Israeli bias in The Independent’s articles for many years”.

He went on to claim that the paper “hardly reports Palestinian casualties” and does not even consider Palestinians “to be human”.

The Independent’s editorial position has for many years been firmly in favour of the establishment of a Palestinian state and supportive of the Palestinian people’s needs.

The paper has tended to the view that successive Israeli governments have failed to do enough to secure a lasting peace. On the other hand, we have recognised Israel’s right to defend itself with proportionate force and argued that Hamas, a terrorist organisation, has damaged the Palestinian cause.

When it comes to the Middle East, the polarisation of opinion is so intense – sometimes to the point of utter myopia – perhaps it is inevitable that interpretations of our coverage will vastly diverge. That The Independent is regarded by some on either side as favouring the other is suggestive of a balanced approach.

The reader who believed us to be pro-Israeli argued that we had reported on 28 Jewish Israeli deaths but had failed to cover all 565 Palestinian fatalities over the same (unspecified) period.

Some on the other side of the divide also complained last week, contending that in certain elements of our coverage we had described air raids by Israeli forces but had not mentioned the 450 rocket attacks by Hamas on Israel since January.

 

It is true that we do not report every single thing that happens in the world. We cannot report on every incident of a given conflict. We have that in common with all media outlets. Apparently, even Twitter misses stuff occasionally (it would be nice if it sometimes missed more).

But to conclude from this fact alone that our coverage is misleading – in one direction or the other – is a misconception born of the same passions and paranoia that fuel the very conflict on which we report.

Satire in the online world

In the same arena, the daily cartoon of last Wednesday attracted particular criticism. It depicted an Israeli air attack on Gaza, beneath which appeared the words: “An eye for a tooth … a hand for an eye … a life for a hand … a people for a life”. Sure enough, several readers said this amounted to an unbalanced portrayal of the current violence, even a racist attack against Israeli Jews.

Political cartoons have played a central role in British public discourse for centuries. They are as much an expression of personal opinion as any commentator’s column. That they should occasionally provoke an angry response is no bad thing in itself. Yet their impact can be so stunning that complaints about them are often based on the notion that they fulfil the same function as a news report.

 

Satire and political comment do not always travel well and it is notable that many of those who raised concerns about last week’s cartoon were from overseas and had seen it online. This places an onus on media outlets such as ours to consider if a cartoon that would be viewed by a long-time Independent reader in print as biting but legitimate commentary might be regarded as outrageous reportage by a casual web visitor from, say, the US.

But equally, as global citizens, we should all accept that, when we approach the unfamiliar online, it has to be considered in its local and historical context, not just against our own world view.

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