The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico has dominated headlines in recent weeks, and, as the crude begins to wash disaster unfolds the finger pointing is rampant. Wherever the blame is placed, one point that most seem to agree on is the need for greater government regulation on corporate giants, specifically those whose failure will greatly impact the public.
During the recent financial hardships we heard the same call from across the political spectrum saying that banks, insurance companies, hedge funds and other financial institutions need to be regulated. More government supervision was called for to help guarantee that companies don’t take irresponsible risks at the expense of others.
External supervising bodies, whether they are Judicial, legislative or public service based are widespread and certainly necessary, often acting as that crucial check and balance, looking out for those that may not be willing or capable to look after themselves. Whatever the industry; legal, financial, medical or others, there is someone waiting to sue for malpractice or to deliver a lawsuit for irresponsibility. The result is that industry professionals are generally more calculated and act with a greater level of reasoned caution.
The News Media is one industry that is well protected from scrutiny and supervision. The iron clad First Amendment that prohibits the making of any law that infringes on the freedom of the press, guarantees that newsroom editors don’t bear a fraction of the responsibility that professionals in many other industries do. Of course this is absolutely crucial and stands as one of the pillars of a free and open democratic society; however it is important that the general public is aware of the implications.
Two incidents that took place last week strongly highlight the news media’s shortcomings.
Firstly the remarks made by veteran journalist Helen Thomas during a video interview with a blogging Rabbi, when asked for comments on Israel she responded, “tell them to get the hell out of Palestine,” she continued by saying that Jews living in Israel should “go back home to Poland, Germany, America and everywhere else.” Besides the obvious implications of what going back to Poland and Germany means for Jews, what is most disturbing is her blatant disregard for historic facts, such as the Jewish connection to Israel and the fact that Palestine doesn’t exist.
Thomas has resigned in shame bearing her ugly soul in her final curtain call, casting suspicion and doubt over the integrity of any “journalistic” piece she has ever written.
The second incident took place with the Reuters newswire service. It is actually somewhat more disturbing because it has yet to be connected to any individual and as of now, no responsibility has been claimed as Reuters continues to insist that it was an innocent mistake.
In pictures released of the recent bloody flotilla clash between IHH activists and Israeli commandos who boarded a ship trying to break the Gaza blockade, one photo shows a soldier surrounded by IHH “peace” activists, one of whom is holding a knife. A second photo shows another Israeli lying under a bloodstained railing as another IHH activist also holds a nasty looking blade.
In the photos distributed by Reuters, no weapons or blood were shown, thus giving the impression that what took place was more like an Israeli massacre of innocent civilians and less an act of self-defense against armed thugs masquerading as humanitarian workers.
A Reuters spokesperson released the following statement: “the IHH photos were subjected to normal editorial practice that included cropping around the edges. When we realized that the dagger was inadvertently cropped from the images, Reuters immediately moved the original set, as well.”
This is not the first time for Reuters. Back in 2006, during the Israel-Lebanon war; at least two images sent by Reuters over its wire from Beirut were deliberately doctored so as to suggest great damage inflicted by Israel.
The good news is that with the rise of new media platforms, citizen journalists such as Rabbi David Nesenoff who interviewed Helen Thomas and Charles Johnson who uncovered the Reuters crimes are able to act as guardian angels of truth and justice. These are citizen regulators that allow and guarantee the integrity of the first amendment while ensuring absolute accountability without limiting in any way the freedom of press.
Thomas has now been dealt her hand, and if Reuters now wishes to maintain any semblance of respectability or reporting authority it should immediately name and fire the responsible parties and open itself to a third party inspection of its reporting and editing practices.
Napoleon Bonaparte famously said; “I fear the newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets.” The damage that irresponsible press can cause is immeasurable, therefore absolute accountability is crucial. My hat goes off to the concerned citizens who demand it.
The Author is the director of the Algemeiner Journal and the GJCF and can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org