As the owner of 5WPR, a top 25 American PR Agency my observations of the consistent media bias against Israel is an ongoing source of aggravation. I have discussed the issue extensively through the years with senior Israeli government officials, American Jewish leaders and media executives – and there appears to be little change in sight. Within Israel there are far more journalists, both foreign and domestic, than in many larger countries and there are more foreign journalists in Israel than any other country in the region.
No matter who the President or what is going on in the world, it seems Israel is always in the headlines. While there are many different reasons that the media is Anti-Israel, here is my list of the Top 10 Reasons Why the Media Is Biased against Israel:
- There is freedom of the press in Israel, and journalists can cover it as they wish. Unlike anywhere else in the Middle East, there is true freedom of the press; journalists aren’t followed by the police, tortured, intimidated, etc. Israel exists in a tough neighborhood and while not covering the irony of their freedoms, the media disparages Israel. Anywhere else in the world people who throw rocks at police would be rightfully taken to task – In Israel, the authorities are painted as the bad guys for enforcing the law against rock-throwers.
- Reporters enjoy the good life in Israel. Foreign reporters often report from the “war zone” with great visuals of “conflict”, yet are able to return to metropolitan life for a great sushi dinner, or evening out in beautiful Tel Aviv. As a result, what they report and how they live are inconsistent. In Israel, reporters lead a high quality of life; from education to culture, and they do not find themselves in danger as they are in many neighboring countries (you won’t see too many journalists in Libya, Iran or many of Israel’s other neighbors). They can do the “war” story and be back enjoying the good life an hour later. It’s much easier to report from Israel than a place of real danger.
- Israel simply won’t fabricate information and lie as the Palestinian Arabs consistently do. A recent video from a protest in the “West Bank” provided amazing visuals – attractive Arab children seemingly captured in confrontations with soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. It is certainly captivating video – kids, guns, and the Middle East desert. This particular video wasn’t a Hollywood production – but it was a fabrication. One can see that the children are props trying to provoke the soldiers. As a senior Israeli Army source said, Palestinian children are being paid to confront the soldiers – “The soldiers are briefed on the fact that these protests are staged for the sake of provocation, so that they could be filmed acting violently and so that those videos could be distributed worldwide in an effort to harm the IDF’s image.” In instance after instance, such as the Muhammad Al-Dura incident, credibility is lacking, but the images are startling and powerful.
- Worldwide mainstream media shows a liberal bias – and liberals are opposed to Israel, which they view as the power in the region. In a 2001 Kaiser Family Foundation study of media professionals, the ratio of self-identified liberals to conservatives was 4.2 to 1. A 2004 Pew Research Center study of journalists and media executives, found that the ratio of self-identified liberals to conservatives was 4.9 to 1. In a 2005 University of Connecticut study of 300 journalists, the liberal-to-conservative ratio was 2.8 to 1. In a 2005 Annenberg Public Policy Center poll of nearly 700 journalists, the liberal-to-conservative ratio was 3.4 to 1. And in a 2007 Pew Research Center study of journalists and news executives, the ratio was four liberals for each conservative.
- Israel’s political system is not conducive to good public relations. There are a slew of agencies within the government supposedly dealing with PR, yet none of them are even remotely effective. To name a few, there is a directorate for PR in the National Security Council, and PR divisions in the Prime Minister’s Office, the Defense Ministry, the Foreign Ministry and the Israel Defense Forces. Few coordinate with one another, and all have very limited foreign contacts. Yet, when the world’s media representatives come calling they comment quickly, in less than perfect English and with little non-insider context, local expertise, or media relationships. Ambassadors have gone to countries where they don’t speak the host nation’s language, and there is little coordination in key countries amongst government entities. It’s a shame and hurts Israel worldwide.
- Culturally, Israelis don’t look at marketing & public relations as necessities. Take Israeli technology companies – Israelis have great products, but poor marketing. Israelis are tough, and believe since their cause is just and they can defeat the enemy they don’t need to spend time convincing the public. Working with oligarchs and business leaders of the former Soviet Union countries, I witness much the same behavior. As Israel has had to fight since day one of her existence, and continues to rely upon the military, they often do not see the need to focus on something as abstract as media.
- Israelis are not flexible with the “business of PR”. Few spend time and money entertaining reporters. Unlike Arab PR representatives who spend nights at the American Colony Hotel, and aren’t burdened with expense reports, Israeli government officials aren’t permitted to turn in regular expenses for meals or entertaining reporters, and in nearly all instances pay their own cellular phone bills for calls to and from reporters. Another government of another embattled area (outside of the Mid-East) is a client. The main spokesperson met a friendly reporter from one of the largest weekly news-magazines; after a 45 minute interview, he ended up having a real heart to heart with the official. The journalist said: “You always come to our office even when there’s nothing going on, you speak the same language, our kids go to school together, and you guys invite us for parties and fun events. It’s harder to write negative about my friends,” he laughed, “irrespective of the issues.”
- Israel doesn’t employ professionals. A nation which (rightly) employs Stanley Fischer to manage the economy should hire Public Relations professionals to assist with their many challenges – as the Arab Nations all retain high-powered public relations firms.
- Israel is too much a part of the everyday lexicon worldwide and precious few realize the nation is the size of New Jersey. In the final American Presidential debate, we heard from Mitt Romney that President Obama went on an apology tour through the Middle East and did not visit Israel. Obama noted as a candidate he visited Israel and the border town of Sderot, where he “saw families there who showed [him] where missiles had come down near their children’s bedrooms.” He said that it made him think of what he would do if it were his kids, which is why he says he funded the Iron Dome program “to stop those missiles.” Israel, and the tiny town of Sderot, was front and center at the American Presidential debate and it seems as if 1.5 hours of our time watching an American foreign policy discussion was actually a discussion on how many ways America helps poor Israel. Long term, Israel cannot benefit from that much attention.
- Let’s not ignore the 800 pound elephant in the room: Many people hate Jews – and that may never change. There is a disgusting double standard of bias against Israel from reporters who constantly blast and attack Israel out of hate.
Ze’ev Jabotinsky, the Zionist prophet spoke about the importance of Public Relations: “Who were the first to teach us to always interfere in matters that are not ours, to judge people and nations, even though we were never chosen for the position of judge? The work of the publicist is a legacy from the Prophets of Israel…Our passion is to speak, to proclaim—”‘Shouting” is what the same audience calls it, ‘we have no need for words, give us actions.’ One thing that audience forgets is that speech is also an action – Perhaps the most authentic of all actions. Cities have been destroyed, and more will fall, but what was shouted in the wilderness thousands of years ago is alive and still relevant. The world was created by the Word. The world will be mended by the Article.”
Media bias hurts Israel – and anyone with the ability to influence media to tell the truth should do all they can to help improve Israel’s image. We should all pray, hope, and work towards improving Israel’s reputation, and ending media bias.
Ronn Torossian is CEO of 5WPR, a top 25 US PR Agency. He is author of PR book “For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” which the Deputy Speaker of the Israel Knesset, Likud MK Danny Danon called “the best book ever on Israel public relations.” Torossian is a passionate supporter of Israel and a philanthropist active in numerous Pro-Israel charities.