Sunday, March 25, 2012

In Norway, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is a Domestic Political Issue

The following article from concerns the treatment of Israeli issues in the Norwegian media. The original piece was quite long, so our Norwegian correspondent The Observer has sent a partial translation:

Israel is made into scapegoats by the Norwegian media

(VG Nett) The Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives more media attention in Norway than all other conflicts, even those that are far bloodier. The organization MIFF (With Israel for Peace) believes that this creates a skewed picture of the situation and the warring factions involved.

MIFF [a non-religious Israeli advocacy organization] has gone through all the articles published by the Norwegian news agency NTB between 2008 and 2011 dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and compared them with articles about Egypt, Syria and Sri Lanka during the same period.

The figures show that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict received a lot more coverage even though the civil war in Sri Lanka and Syria claimed far more lives.

“The mother of all conflicts”

“This creates a disproportionate picture in which Norwegians are made to believe that the situation in the Middle East is worse than everywhere else. Israel is made into a scapegoat and the Middle East conflict is viewed as the mother of all conflicts,” says Conrad Myrland, the leader of MIFF.

Approximately 2,000 people were killed between 2008-2011 in hostilities between Israel and the Palestinians. In comparison, 8,000 people were killed in Syria since March last year, according to figures released by the UN. The death toll in Sri Lanka is uncertain, but UN envoy, Gordon Weiss estimates that approximately 40,000 Tamils were slaughtered in 2009.

In January 2009, while wars were raging in both Gaza and Sri Lanka, Israel was mentioned 566 times in NTB news reports, while Syria and Sri Lanka were mentioned only 52 times.

“As a result of this disproportionate reporting an impression was created that the war in Gaza was much worse than the war in Sri Lanka. The actual death toll shows quite the opposite,” Myrland says.

“What about Congo and Sudan?”

Myrland emphasizes that MIFF’s research is only quantitative and that it doesn’t deal with the content of the NTB reports, which are distributed to most Norwegian media outlets, including VG.

“It’s paradoxical that the wars in Sudan and Congo, which in the last decade have resulted in the loss of millions of lives, don’t receive the same media coverage, in fact the coverage doesn’t even come close,” Myrland says.

“Norway is involved politically”

NTB admits that they tend to focus more on the conflict in the Middle East, because they believe Norwegian readers find it more interesting than other international conflicts.

“Norwegians tend to be more interested in the situation in the Middle East because of Norway’s involvement in the political process, previously through the Oslo accords and now as the head of the donor nations for the Palestinians. Many Norwegians also have a close relationship with Israel as numerous Norwegians have spent time at kibbutzim in the country and because many Christians in Norway follow the religious aspects of the conflict. We abide by the journalistic principle of covering issues that Norwegian readers find interesting,” says Ane Haavardsdatter Lunde, the head of NTB’s foreign desk.

“Doesn’t this have a self-reinforcing effect, in which readers tend to become more interested in what they read about?”

“We follow the mainstream and don’t tend to focus that much on the lesser-known conflicts, and in that aspect I guess you could say that our coverage has a self-reinforcing effect.”

“Is it NTB’s responsibility to inform readers about lesser-known conflicts?”

“No, our obligation is to deliver the news that our customers want. If we had been a left-wing newspaper, we would have written more about lesser known conflicts in South America.”

“Israel is almost considered a Norwegian domestic issue”

Ervin Kohn, leader of the Jewish community in Norway, explains the intense media focus on Israel with strong Norwegian sentiments to the area.

“Many people in Norway have a strong emotional relationship with Israel, and Norwegian politicians position themselves accordingly. The conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is almost considered a domestic political issue in Norway,” he says.

He believes that Israel is given the role of the big bad wolf in Norwegian public discourse.

“In the Norwegian news coverage, someone is strong and ugly, a role which has been given to Israel and the Jews; others are weak and considered victims, a role which has been given to the Palestinians. Norway will always support the weaker party,” he says.

Kohn goes through all the major Norwegian national newspapers. He believes that Dagbladet, Klassekampen and some Christian newspapers fail to ask critical questions of both parties.

Dagbladet and Klassekampen write favorably about the Palestinians, and Dagen and Norge Idag write favorably about Israel, and they all forget to ask critical questions of the parties they support,” he says.

As a whole Kohn believes that Norwegian media coverage of the Middle East conflict is far more balanced today than it was a just a few years ago.