Saturday, March 28, 2009

Melanie Phillips: The real lobby and its acolytes

27th March

Those who are regularly left open-mouthed at the way in which the British media puts across an overwhelmingly Arab narrative about Israel and the Middle East, transmitting lies and distortions as facts and reversing victim and victimiser to present Israel as the regional aggressor and the Palestinians as their targets, may well also scratch their heads at being told with monotonous regularity that ‘the Jews control the media’.

Well now Arab Media Watch lifts a curtain to show us the real lobby at work. It boasts:

Some 200 guests gathered at Kensington's Royal Garden Hotel on 21 March 2009 to attend Arab Media Watch’s fifth annual fundraising dinner, and to mark its ninth anniversary. Among the guests were almost three-dozen senior journalists from the BBC, Al Jazeera English, Financial Times, Reuters, Daily Mail, Independent, Asharq Al Awsat, Al Quds Al Arabi, Al Hayat and others.

The evening began with a welcome speech by AMW chairman Sharif Hikmat Nashashibi, who outlined the extensive work done by the organisation during and since Israel's invasion of Gaza, including:

- forcing the media to correct factual errors
- meeting with editors and journalists
- providing them with information
- being interviewed by them or arranging interviews for them
- getting letters and articles published
- being quoted and cited in articles
- publishing studies, press releases and Action Alerts
- organising and speaking at events
- helping university students and researchers

‘All this was done,’ Nashashibi reminded the audience, ‘while continuing our work on media portrayals of the entire Arab world, a huge but vital task undertaken on a budget that’s dwarfed by that of the pro-Israel lobbies.’ He added: ‘We've proven the sceptics wrong for the last nine years, establishing ourselves as a credible, professional, dynamic organisation with the recognition, respect and support of much of the British media, and high-level contacts in every news organisation…AMW is making a considerable and invaluable difference, and wants to continue doing so.’

Here are some of the ‘factual errors’ that on its website AMW has tried to correct:

  • The ‘myth that Hamas is out to destroy Israel
  • The ‘myth that Palestinian rockets are a grave threat to Israeli civilians’
  • The ‘myth that five Arab armies tried to wipe out Israel in 1948: ‘Strictly speaking, therefore, the Arab states did not launch a war against Israel, but undertook an armed intervention which was both lawful and justified.’

On and on its goes, lie after smear after brazen lie. And now just look at how, as AMW goes on to detail, the British media fawned over these purveyors of gross and inflammatory untruths:

Ian Black, the Guardian’s Middle East editor, was unable to speak at the dinner due to illness, but he wrote a statement of support that Nashashibi read out. ‘I'd like briefly to pay tribute to the work of AMW,’ the statement began.

‘For anyone in the British media writing about the Middle East or the wider Arab world, AMW - very ably run by Sharif Nashashibi - has become a force to be reckoned with. It has served notice that inaccuracy, misrepresentation, half-truths and prejudice are simply not acceptable - and has done much to monitor and combat them.’

Black continued: ‘AMW has played an especially important role on Iraq and Palestine. Its work on the Gaza war was both combative and effective. Its letters to editors, op-ed articles and complaints about biased or misleading coverage have become part of the landscape.’

He added: ‘To some extent AMW has filled the gap left by the failures of the Palestinians and Arab governments to state their case as effectively as they could and should've done. That's especially true with regard to the Arab Peace Initiative, which surely remains the only workable basis for a just and comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.’

Black concluded: ‘The work of AMW is necessary, courteous and professional. I commend it to you wholeheartedly.’

The next speaker was Barbara Serra, presenter for Al Jazeera English (formerly with the BBC, Sky News and Channel 5), whose introduction was followed by projected footage of her heated interview of Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev during the Gaza invasion.

‘It's easy to forget, when one works closely with and in the Middle East, how little knowledge the general public across the world often has about the issues behind the continuing tensions, from the illegal occupation in the West Bank to the continuing expansion of settlements there,’she said.

‘That's why the work of AMW is so invaluable. They don't just fight against prejudice and distortion in the media, but also highlight inaccuracies which, if left unchecked, would only reinforce the misconceptions many hold towards the Arab world.’

A performance by comedian Ian Stone was followed by the presentation of AMW's annual award for excellence in journalism to world-renowned reporter, author and documentary filmmaker John Pilger, whose daughter Zoe accepted the award and read out a statement by him.

‘This is an honour I very much appreciate, and I send warm thanks from Australia to all of you at AMW, ‘he wrote. ‘I pay tribute tonight to AMW, and to Al Jazeera, and to all the courageous Arab journalists who have brought us the truth...’ Attendees watched clips of Pilger’s documentaries ‘Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror’ and ‘Palestine is Still the Issue.’

A three-course dinner was then served, with Arabic music in the background, quotes from the night's speakers projected on screen, and a raffle and auction which included five-star holidays, paintings by renowned Arab artists, and antique Arab furniture.

Peter Oborne, political columnist at the Daily Mail and contributing editor at the Spectator, was unable to speak at the dinner because he had to travel unexpectedly to Afghanistan, but he wrote a message of support that Nashashibi read out:

‘The most noble purpose of journalism is to tell the truth and expose falsehood. Too often, British journalism achieves the exact opposite. It tells lies and glorifies falsehood. That's why the work of AMW is so important. It sets out to combat the climate of deception that dominates too much of our reporting.’

And here is more feedback from AMW’s grateful media client base:

‘Thank you…We did enjoy it.’ - Financial Times / Reuters

‘Many thanks for inviting me. I enjoyed it.’ - The Independent

‘I enjoyed the programme and the company of your nice guests.’ - BBC

‘Thank you very much for the invitation. I wish you all the success you deserve.’ - BBC

‘Thank you very much for the invitation. I really enjoyed the annual dinner. It was refreshing. It was, as before, perfectly organised…’ – BBC

‘Thank you so much for your generous invitation…The event was wonderful and the presentation was flawless…Best wishes for continued success…’ – BBC.

Source: The Spectator

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