1) It goes for sensationalism.
Journalists unfortunately fail many times to do correctly their job and instead go for the easy target, the sensational items, rather than doing research and presenting all the sides and nuances of one story.
Of course, it’s tempting to show powerful and shocking images which will generate a lot of emotion, and attract large audiences. Images of human tragedy, of blood, death, catastrophe, of children and women, appeal to the basics instincts of people, and never fail to deeply impress the viewers. What lacks is the context of the pictures, the background of the conflict. Even if it is (briefly) described, it lacks the powerful sensationalism of one such picture. The media ends up presenting simplistic stories of good guy versus bad guy, of poor weak children against powerful heartless soldiers, of “David against Goliath”. Such basic black and white stories fascinate the average public which fails to go a little deeper in the report and understand the various dimensions of the situation.
Also Israelis (Jews) have a different sensibility regarding dignity and respecting the wounded and dead: they are reluctant to show off their victims whereas Palestinians don’t hesitate to display their casualties.
2) It relies on Palestinian or Pro-Palestinian sources.
The media, many times, just relays information from Palestinian sources or other biased pro-Palestinian activists without checking them. The problem here is clear: Palestinians have shown more than a few times that their allegations are grossly exaggerated if not altogether fabricated. Many times, the casualties turn out to be less than what was claimed by Palestinians in the beginning. An example that stands in my memory is the “massacre” of Jenin in 2002, where 500 dead were announced, which turned out to be about 50-60 dead (including terrorists). (as shown here, here, or here)
[Of course, this is not to reduce the gravity of the situation and imply “only” 60 dead, each innocent life claimed is one too much (not that all the dead were innocent, many were armed men), but it is to prove the gross disparity between the claims of the Palestinian sources widely relayed in the media and the actual truth].
Another recent example are the claims of a Norwegian doctor, supposedly objective humanitarian personnel, who entered Gaza on December 31, 2008: many news outlets relayed his declarations about “Israel targeting deliberately Palestinian population”, “50 percent of the casualties being women and children” and even “Israel using unconventional weapons”. Well, it turns out that Dr Gilbert, far from being a simple humanitarian helper, is a radical Marxist and a member of the political Red (Rodt) party, a revolutionary socialist party in Norway. He has been a pro-Palestinian activist since the 1970's and has long been a vocal opponent of Israel and the U.S. Gilbert has acknowledged that he cannot separate politics from medicine, stating, "there is little in medicine that is not politics". Read more about Gilbert’s real agenda. Is he an impartial observant? Can we rely on him to objectively describe the reality? At the very least, media should present him and a pro-Palestinian activist and not just as a doctor on a humanitarian mission.
Finally, many “spontaneous pictures” are staged, many of the “events” are put in place by Palestinians just for the eye of the camera, a phenomena which has been called “Pallywood”, a contraction of Palestine and Hollywood. Sometimes, props are added to make the picture more sensational. Many of those fake images are then presented in worldwide media as genuine. (Examples here, here, here and here).
3) There is no freedom of speech in Palestinian territories.
Journalists are often intimated by the terrorist tactics of Palestinians. They are often scared of showing the Palestinians in negative light, because their security would not be insured anymore, or they would not be given access to the Palestinian territories or officials. David Schlesinger, Reuters general editor, admitted that they avoided using the word “terrorist” because of the ‘serious consequences’ it would have on their journalists in the Middle East. In the same manner, Palestinian citizens are often scared of criticizing their leaders, lest they become the victims of revenge killings.
I remember that the Italian journalist who released the coverage of the barbaric lynch of 2 Israeli soldiers by a Palestinian mob in October 2000, with the shocking image of a Palestinian man at the window showing his hands full of blood, (which showed a little bit what Palestinian violence is about), then apologized to the Palestinian authority for releasing the footage and claimed he was not responsible for diffusing it to the world.
4) “Bad” news for Israel are largely publicized, the rectifications not so much.
This problem stems from the previous one, relying on biased sources. News putting Israel in a negative light, such as allegations about massacres, unconventional weapons etc. are widely disseminated. The problem is that when more impartial sources tell the truth, it receives a much less prominent exposure. What happens is that what stays in the memory of people are the extravagant accusations about Israel, even after they have been refuted.
A recent example: The accusations that Israel illegally used white phosphorus were widely taken up in the media (over 1500 “diggs” ) while the refutation by the Red Cross, denying that there was any indication of illegal use of this material only got over 200 “diggs”. What does this mean? That news portraying Israel as a criminal aggressor are more “popular” than factual news describing a more balanced or even righteous (!) Israel.
One consequence of this fact is that it creates in the mind of people, including journalists, a distorted image of Israel which makes them ready to accept any horror stories told by Palestinians, without further checking them. Or it causes journalists to interpret pictures or facts automatically in disfavor of Israel, without further checking facts. For example, this picture which was first described in the New York Times as a Palestinian boy beaten by an Israeli soldier whereas the boy was actually a Jewish student wounded by Palestinians which was being brought to safety by the soldier. Or watch this footage of a Palestinian mother carrying her dead 6 year old son killed by a bullet. The first commentary attributes the bullet to the IDF forces, while the second coverage (which was later acknowledged as accurate even by Palestinians) explained that the bullet was shot by a Palestinian militant, which ricocheted and killed the little boy.
The more you hear about Israel “crimes”, the more prone you will be to believe them. The media prejudice feeds itself.
5) Disproportionate coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict, since its beginning, receives a completely disproportionate amount of news coverage, in comparison to the geographical surface area (Israel is smaller than the Peloponnesus, as big as the New Jersey state), its population, its strategic interest to the world, the amount of victims. A study in 2004 has found that Israel receives approximately 75 times more coverage than other areas of equal population. In comparison to other nations involved in armed conflict (where world media attention increases), Israel receives over 10 times more coverage by population. Other conflicts (Darfur, Congo, Sri Lanka, Soudan, Chechnya etc.) have many more casualties, yet receive almost no coverage, let alone the barrage of journalists, newspaper articles etc. that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict gets. Nor do people get so passionate about them. Why is that?
Actually the Toronto Star ran a commentary about Sri Lanka (in the height of the Gaza crisis), mentioning that the conflict with the Tamils barely gets a mention in the media.
Israel has a very high number of permanent foreign correspondents, which are joined by many more journalists in times of crisis. For instance, some 350 reporters arrived to Israel this time, adding up to the 900 press media personal permanently stationed there.
This media pressure actually stirs the fire of the conflict, amplifying each event, exacerbating passions. Manipulation becomes easy and rewarding, since it is sure to attract attention and receive an echo all over the planet. Extremists and violence are given a large podium, every small incident becomes a news item, and the peace process, which was difficult to start with, becomes even more difficult to achieve: peace, which is a slow process of painful concessions, of getting closer, learning to live next to each other and eventually cooperate, can difficultly develop under such tensed conditions.
Also, this media overexposure (mainly in a negative light for Israel, as we know) creates strong anti-Israel feelings around the world, bordering on anti-Semitism. People are left to believe that Israel is the one of greatest threats to world peace, as was shown in a study conducted by the European commission in October 2003, which found that Israel has been described as the top threat to world peace, ahead of North Korea, Afghanistan and Iran. This, all the while Israel is actually the only democracy in the Middle East region, has said and showed many times it is willing to make significant concessions for peace, and has managed to achieve so much in the fields of medicine, technology, research etc.
[Not all critics of Israeli actions or Israeli governments are anti-Semitic, but when one condemns the mere existence of Israel and its right to protect itself, or systematically denounces and vilifies Israel, then no matter what you call it, anti Zionism or anti Imperialism or whatever, it is anti Semitism, as Martin Luther King has said: “when they say Zionists, they mean Jews, you are talking anti-Semitism”.]
Please see also “Myths and facts about Middle East coverage”