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Jan 13, 2009

Oz correspondents flown to Israel as part of PR offensive

Sponsoring trips by journalists is an old technique, and you’ll get a debate in any journo’s pub or café about whether such trips should be taken, or not, writes Margaret Simons.

Yesterday Sydney Morning Herald columnist Paul Sheehan published a column headed “It’s Too Easy Just to Blame the Jews” which referred to a time last November when he “happened to be in Israel”.

Sheehan referred to briefings he received from the Israeli Government on the reasons for the operation in Gaza. He also referred to a tour he took of a Palestinian refugee camp.

The column was about the depth of passions — on both sides —concerning Israel.

But Sheehan did not just “happen” to be in Israel. He was on a tour organised and sponsored by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs — part of the Israeli public relations effort.

This fact was not declared in his column.

He has previously written this column based on his trip to Israel, and here too the sponsors of his trip were not declared.

There were four journalists on the trip, which took place last November. The others were Janet Albrechtsen of the Australian, Jacinta Tynan, news journalist and presenter for Sky News, and Peter Charley, executive producer of SBS’s program Dateline.

Paul Sheehan seems to be particularly smiled upon by the Israeli Government and the Jewish Board of Deputies. The latest trip was not the first, as this article from Australian Jewish News reveals.

Albrechtsen wrote this column as a result of her November trip, in which she said: “To spend a week in Israel is to begin to understand that this country is generations away from peace with Palestinians,” and focussed on the “hate education” of Palestinian children.

But Albrechtsen scrupulously declared who had sponsored the trip at the foot of her column.

A spokeswoman for SBS confirmed that Charley (who is presently on leave) had been on the Israeli sponsored trip. She said that the station had a “fairly open policy” on the taking of sponsored trips, with journalists left to themselves to decide what was worth doing.

She said that the taking of trips would not interfere with the reporters’ objectivity and the sponsorship of the trip would be declared. Since Dateline has been in recess ever since Charley returned, the issue has not yet arisen.

Tynan and Sheehan did not return calls asking for comment before Crikey’s deadline today.

Vic Alhadeff, Chief Executive Officer of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies, told Crikey this morning that trips for journalists are run every year, and there was nothing unusual about the one last November.

He said there was no “scientific” process by which journalists were selected, and that the aim was to allow them to “see for themselves”. Meetings were lined up with key figures, in government and the military but the journalists were otherwise allowed open access, and were not controlled. “We try to make the opportunity available to as many as possible,” he said.

The Israeli Government has been running a highly innovative PR campaign during the current troubles, including the world’s first media conference conducted via Twitter.

Sponsoring trips by journalists is a much older technique, and you’ll get a debate in any journo pub or café about whether such trips should be taken, or not.

I think there are two worrying things about this scheme. First, the journalists are approached directly, and at least some media organisations seem to leave the choice of whether to accept entirely up to them — raising the risk that the reporters will be selected because they are sympathetic, or perceived as likely to be sympathetic, to the Israeli side of the story.

Second, not all organisations seem to require their reporters to declare the fact that they have taken the benefit in their copy. Surely Fairfax should require this of Sheehan?

Particularly given the present focus on what and where Israel will allow journalists to report, full declaration is surely the very least that should be required.

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19 thoughts on “Oz correspondents flown to Israel as part of PR offensive

  1. Daniel Lewis

    Marilyn, by telling me to “fuck off” earlier in this thread, you run the risk of giving even more people the impression you are a angry old boiler. I wonder if Crikey realises, that by appealing to unhinged moonbats, it does itself out of business, as most of them won’t bother reaching into their dole-money to buy a copy. Now that John Howard’s gone and Baxter doesn’t have as many candidates willing to offer a mercy-shag, some people will have to revert to simply Jew-baiting. What’s the matter? Didn’t David Hicks want to come and sleep on your couch in the end? Spare me the bit about personal attacks by the way, as I and others have never told Marilyn to “fuck off” notwithstanding incredible temptation by her relentless banging-on.

  2. Chris Morris

    The media ceased to invest in its workforce and future years ago so any wonder journo’s grab every chance to get a better grasp on their trade. If that comes via potential bias you hope you’ll rise above it. Fairfax, News Limited and other media conglomerates couldn’t give a tinker’s cuss about fostering potential, talent or factual information because they know others such as the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs will do it for them. So while the Sheehans and Albrechtsens keep availing themselves of freebies without stating that’s the responsibility of their employer then we can expect our information to be potentially tainted. Aaah! The price of fiscal prudence.

  3. Jack

    An interesting article with an interesting angle.

    Problem is – all impact lost on me when I saw the author. For me, breathlessly breaking the odd and insular Sharon Gould hoax / fraud and then following up with an ethics / disclosure topic demonstrates a well-honed sense of humour (at best).

  4. Tom McLoughlin

    There two major omissions in Sheehan’s piece – no mention of the Occupation/variable blockade for 30 years and strangulation effect ruining any local government. That includes Hamas but also badly compromised Fatah faction before it. Israel doesn’t have a written constitution and as such very biased local land law made worse by the Occupation.

    Occupation means powermongering by the ‘moral’ IDF. As per a talk by a Palestinian lawyer to our ANU class in the mid 80ies. Talk about endless. It would cause a revolution in Australia if we had that arbitrariness.

    As to existential risk, the problem for Israel’s claim is that it keeps growing. This is not a child nation suffering malnutrition. It expands and expands at Palestinian expense often.

    As reported via Haaretz sources, on my micro news blog – 30% of the fractured Israeli society support Greater Israel implicitly by supporting a pardon for Yigal Amir. Who? He’s the guy who shot his own PM Yitzhak Rabin in late 1995. He got life imprisonment. But by 2004 he was allowed to get married. And conjugal rights. And now he is a proud father. I bet Mordechai Vanunu wasn’t so blessed.

    By extrapolation 30% of the IDF with finger on the trigger agree.

    Israeli PR is now more quantity than quality in my view. The Holocaust guilt trip doesn’t wash after millions dead in Africa, Irish famine a million dead, 72 million dead in WW2 (including 6M Jews by despicable Nazis). Fact is we have 4.5 million displaced Palestinians and a nuclear arms race.

    It’s everyone’s business and we need answers real fast. Israel does have serious culpability as above. Oh and theocratic Israel is never going away with 130 plus nuke weapons as per the Federation of American Scientists. Everyone knows this – Iran, Hamas, etc. So what we are seeing is almost certainly pre Obama and pre Israel election politics. 5,000 killed and injured for political postures. How cynical is that?

    2nd omission by Sheehan? No rockets by Hamas July to Oct 08. Why?

  5. guy rundle

    I must say I don’t see that there is much of a dilemma. What Sheehan did was inexcusable, a deceit of his readers. But the idea that a global news organisation should have its journos’ trips paid by the foreign affairs ministry of a government, even if appropriately credited, is equally unethical. If say, the zionist weekly wants to take a junket, well fair enough, by their very title and purpose they’ve declared and affiliation. But The Oz, if it were an honest paper, woud have steered away from it.

    Mind you, it was pretty self-defeating having planet janet’s reflection on plucky little isarel appended with a ‘brought to you by the israeli ministry of foreign affairs’ at the end. It gave the whole thing the feel of advertorial copy by a local paper for a restaurant that’s just taken out an ad (‘More hummus less Hamas makes Israel a trip and a halvah!’). Whatever shards of planet’s cred remains, took another hit with that endorsement.

    Should the film reviewer accept a junket to meet Anne Hathaway for an interview – that’s a debate. Accepting state sponsorship of reporting is unacceptable.

  6. Glenn Crichton

    Thanks for the frank article on Mr Sheehan. It is high time the mainstream media ceased with the synchophancy and pandering to the Jewish lobbies and PR machinery. W edo not get to hear the Palestinian side of the story ever – not even on the ABC. Media diversity in this country is a joke and I for one greatly appreciate the Crickey commentary.

    If you did not see it, there was a very strong article in the weekends Sun Herald written by a NSW Paliamentarian. It was a good op/ed piece and you may want to chase up the author for a contribution to Crickey.

    Cheers and well done,

    Glenn Crichton

  7. MichaelT

    This is not acceptable practice. Any tour organised and paid for by one side in a war is clearly going to favour that side’s partisan perspective of the war. Through the whole course of the tour the journalist will be fed stories and information that reinforce that perspective. Impartiality under those circumstances is virtually impossible unless the journalist also took part in a tour organised by the other side.

  8. Venise Alstergren

    How Israel has managed to be always on the side of the angels is an exercise in PR that only the wealth and street smarts of the USA could have pulled off. If any of the Arab nations in the Middle East had stooped to the outrageous and vicious slaughter indulged in so piously by the Israelis they would have had a hydrogen bomb dropped on them so smartly it would have made anyone’s head spin. But taking the hideous genocide of WWII, dusting it off and carrying this as a holy banner the Israelis justify their own genocide against Arabs is despicable.

    I wonder how many millions of dollars it takes to pay the world’s press to continue supporting a rotten, fascist, war machine. One whose only aim is the genocide of the people from whom the Jewish state of Israel was taken.

  9. vealmince

    I don’t get it. Are you suggesting there’s something underhanded or illegitimate – or even unusual – in the Israeli government taking journos on sponsored trips? Don’t governments around the world do this all the time? Are Qantas club lounges not swarming with journalists on junkets sponsored by the companies or governments they are supposed to be reporting objectively about?

    Sensationalist beat-ups we’ve come to expect from Crikey. But this is more sinister.

    ‘Journalist fails to disclose junket’ is no big story, particularly when talking about someone of Sheehan’s calibre (if your journalistic standards are lower than Janet Albrechtsen’s, it’s probably time to take a hard look at yourself). But ‘journalist fails to disclose ISRAELI junket’ is front-page news. Why? Because it perpetuates the myth, beloved by far-left and far-right loons alike, about Jews’ undue influence on the media.

    As we’ve seen, it doesn’t take much encouragement to get the anti-semitic conspiracy whackjobs out of the woodwork. (Of course, if The Zionists really did control The Media, such tactics would be entirely unnecessary. The Elders of Zion would simply instruct Sheehan’s editor to print more pro-Israel articles.)

    If your aim was to stimulate debate about the ethics of junkets, you’ve failed. I don’t think anyone is arguing these trips shouldn’t be disclosed. But if you wanted to give airtime to anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories, mission accomplished.

  10. Marilyn

    Allard said that while Israel has an unquestionable right to exist, demanding that Arab countries around it recognise that right only gives them a bargaining chip against the Jewish State.

    “The fact they are at the table shows they accept Israel exists. I don’t understand why Israel is willing to give concessions to the Arab nations,” said Allard, adding that this position enables the Arab country to receive concessions they would otherwise not be entitled to.”

    What is this ignorant tripe from Allard? What concessions is he talking about? Food, water, electricity, their own land back?

    What a pack of brainwashed freaks.

    Rebecca Weiser went last year as well and wrote a glowing article about the criminals in Etzion which is an illegal settlement full of nazis from Russia and Chechnya which was declared to be illegal many years ago. But that was alright by her because jews wanted it.

    Vic Adheleff told me last week that everything he does and says is fine because he is a jew. Well he is a South African hypocrite more like it. In his bio burb with ABC he states he left South Africa in 1984 in a rejection of apartheid and then moved to Australia because he wanted to live in an English speaking country.

    What amazes me that apart from his actual reporting factually in SMH Paul McGeough has only had one media interview and that was on ABC overnights at 4 am.

    He has just spent years writing a whole book about Hamas and is not deemed worthy to question?

    Last night the reporter on 7.30 report claimed to Matt Brown that it was a “fascinating poker game” as hundreds of people are slaughtered and thousands destroyed along with their homes. And Daniel Lewis – fuck off.