|McNeill & Knell: birds of a feather?
"The ABC has a statutory duty to ensure that the gathering and presentation of news and information is impartial according to the recognised standards of objective journalism.
Aiming to equip audiences to make up their own minds is consistent with the public service character of the ABC. A democratic society depends on diverse sources of reliable information and contending opinions. A broadcaster operating under statute with public funds is legitimately expected to contribute in ways that may differ from commercial media, which are free to be partial to private interests."Some readers might recall the very real concern in pro-Israel circles that greeted the appointment in March this year of Sophie McNeill as the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC's) Jerusalem correspondent?
Ahron Shapiro of the Australia Israel Jewish Affairs Council (AIJAC) expressed the misgivings very well. Inter alia, he wrote:
'Interviewed by her former professor Victoria Mason in 2011, McNeill said that the journalism she wanted to do was to frame stories from the point of view of the people who are "really suffering" in a situation. Both the examples she offered referred to Palestinians.
McNeill has acted on her self-proclaimed sympathy for the Palestinians by appearing on a panel at two pro-Palestinian events, including one sponsored by Palestinian groups and speaking alongside two other speakers who called for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), the movement to sever all economic, educational and cultural ties with Israel. She has also written for Electronic Intifada, an extremist website that routinely publishes screeds calling for the destruction of Israel and justifying Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians.
How could the ABC give such a candidly agenda-motivated journalist the exclusive job of Jerusalem-based Middle East correspondent, with extensive autonomy?
It's a serious question that should be answered by the national broadcaster, which, according to its statutory mandate, must be free of even the appearance of bias in its news reporting, and must present all major perspectives on controversial issues fairly.
In late 2012, ABC Radio National Breakfast host Fran Kelly took back a statement she had made earlier that year to the Sydney Morning Herald defining herself first and foremost as an "activist", stressing later that "once you become a journalist you can't be an activist; you can't join protest movements".
Of course, Kelly was right. Activists who become journalists but remain loyal to a personal agenda don't earn the right to be seen as objective journalists. Instead, they are known as advocacy journalists who serve a non-objective viewpoint, usually for some social or political purpose.
Is Sophie McNeill an objective journalist, or an advocacy journalist? In a profile on McNeill in 2003, the ABC itself described McNeill as "a political activist and social campaigner" as well as a television documentary filmmaker. She told then-ABC employee George Negus, that part of wanting to be a journalist, "I wanted to try and make that connection that had happened with me wanting to do something and what was going on." [emphasis added]
McNeill credits John Pilger as her inspiration when she was 15 for becoming a journalist and has praised Victoria Mason, who is one of Australia's leading pro-Palestinian academics, for "opening the world to [her]" when McNeill took her class on the Middle East at Western Australia's Curtin University in 2003 ("what a difference it can make, the effect it can have on your learning and your vision of the world", McNeill said in 2009 about studying under Mason).
Similarly, she sings the praises of Robert Fisk for showing her the ropes during her time reporting from Beirut.
Her reporting does not show a clear record of separating her media career from her activism. And there is little doubt that her activism continues and influences her reporting in terms of how she frames stories, particularly about the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.'The misgivings seem justified. AIJAC has referred several times to the less than objective reportage in which Ms McNeill has indulge since taking up her post: see, for example, here (two items, same page) and here.
this item about Susiya (or Susya) by Ms McNeill. Its only attempt at balance, and that a begrudging one, was an interview with Ari Briggs of Regavim ("He was born in Sydney" said our intrepid reporter archly). Much of the item was taken up with an interviews with Moira O'Leary of Action Aid Australia, and with a chap named Abu Mohamad Nawaja:
'Village elder Abu Mohamad Nawaja was born and raised in Susiya village.
"Allow me to say thank you to the Australian Government, thanks to the Australian Action Aid," he told the ABC's 7.30 program.
But it may all be for nothing after Israeli authorities determined that planning permission was never given for the village to be built, and have granted a demolition order for the whole of Susiya.
"They will confiscate this land for the settlers, so they can expand their settlements and live comfortably," Abu Mohamad said.
"They want to destroy us, our lives and our kids' lives."'Could he, by any chance, be related to the Nasser Nawaja who features in recent reports about the identical topic by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau's Yolande Knell, but as BBC Watch notes without any hint of his connections with B'tselem?
Action Aid, it has no apparent love for Israel. In her latest report Ms McNeill was effectively giving publicity to an organisation whose Australian wing's Sydney-based Campaigns Mirector, a leftist "human rights" activist called Rachel Colbourne-Hoffman, authored this squalid piece of anti-Israel propaganda about one of Judaism's holiest cities (does she even know its status?), complete with some very unfortunate phraseology and canards apparently blithely accepted at face value:
'I was shocked stepping into Hebron Old City – wire was everywhere. As I passed by boarded-up shop fronts, wire was overhead; as I walked through industrial turn styles, there was spiralled barbed wire atop chain-link fences followed by large cement walls cutting off streets, decorated in more barbed wire than there is tinsel on a Christmas tree.
Just like a parasitic vine that strangles its host, the state of Israel is using these wire tendrils to try and suffocate the life out of this city.
Looking up you can see there are more residences built literally on top of the Palestinian shops and houses, covered with the flag of Israel – these are Israeli settlements. According to International Humanitarian Law they are illegal but it doesn’t take international law to tell you their presence is unjust and wrong.
As I walked through the market place of Old Hebron City, horrified by the prison of wire, I asked my colleague what was the point of the cage overhead. He said very matter of fact, that the Palestinians had actually installed it to catch any rubbish that the Israelis threw on their heads. So not only were these people living in this city illegally they were physically abusing its inhabitants purely because of their race.
There is nothing subtle about the way Palestinians are being pushed out of their own city.
Before this trip to the West Bank, my view of the conflict between Israel and Palestine was one where it was unclear which group was being oppressed and I wanted to have an open mind about the conflict. However, what I saw was a story of David and Goliath being played out in real life, but roles were reversed. This time Israel is Goliath, and they are winning by breaking International Humanitarian Laws being backed by powerful international actors, while Palestine as David is being tied up with barbed wire, enclosed by 8 meter walls, while watching their houses being demolished and on top of it all, being given the bill for the demolition. I left with thoughts of inequality andcity.'But back to Ms McNeill. As Ahron Shapiro pointed out, in the article referred to above:
"Any reporting by an ABC employee, including McNeill, is required to follow the following standards:
4.1 Gather and present news and information with due impartiality.
4.2 Present a diversity of perspectives so that, over time, no significant strand of thought or belief within the community is knowingly excluded or disproportionately represented.
4.4 Do not misrepresent any perspective.
4.5 Do not unduly favour one perspective over another."It is an ongoing disgrace that Sophie McNeill flouts these rules and gets away with doing so time and time and time again.