Sunday, June 06, 2010

who will win the media battle?

Guardian | Reporting by mainstream media on the Gaza flotilla attack was unbalanced and dominated by Israel's edited version of events. The provenance of photographs of weapons supposedly found on the boats has been questioned in the blogosphere.

From the moment that the Israeli naval commandos launched their attack on the flotilla aiming to break the siege of Gaza by carrying humanitarian aid to the territory, the struggle by both sides to dominate how the media covered the events – a struggle that began days in advance of the 4am attack on Monday – entered a completely new phase.

Soon after the commandos landed on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish ship carrying more than 600 of the activists, the live satellite broadcasts from the vessel were cut. From that point on, the Israeli authorities seized almost complete control of how evidence of what was taking place could be made public. Video of the last footage broadcast by the journalists on board was immediately available from sources such as al-Jazeera and the IHH (the Turkish Foundation for Freedoms and Human Rights and Humanitarian Relief), but it showed a very confusing picture: there were badly injured passengers, yet it was impossible to know how they had been injured.

What the world has been watching since then is either edited video shot by the Israelis or other video shot by activists, confiscated by the Israelis and subsequently edited and made available through Israeli sources.

In an operation reminiscent of the first week or so of the Israeli offensive against Gaza in winter 2008-2009, the Israeli PR machine succeeded in getting the major news outlets to focus on its version of events and to use the Israeli authorities' discourse for a crucial 48 hours. (One example of how this was being done is a leaked, sophisticated briefing paper with key talking points, compiled using official government sources and pro-government Israeli media, issued through the World Zionist Organisation on 1 June.)

This time, however, commentators in the Israeli media, on the left and the right, were immediately slamming the commando attack as a failure. The repeated screening of the video, taken from an Israeli assault craft, of the commandos abseiling down ropes onto the Mavi Marmara and then being set upon by the activists waiting for them on the deck, became the defining image of the capture of the boats. Posted by the IDF on YouTube, by Wednesday it had attracted more than 600,000 views.

The activists' actions were described by Israeli spokespersons as a premeditated terrorist attack by al-Qaida sympathisers, using clubs, knives and guns, carried out with the intention of "lynching" the commandos who were carrying out an entirely legal and peacefully executed operation.