Accurate reporting is based on more than simply making statements that are not false. When information is left out of an article, even factual statements can be misleading. It is the responsibility of journalists to provide readers with enough information so as not to bias them in one direction or another.
Case in point, the Reuters article Israel Approved Hundreds of Settler Homes in East Jerusalem. (If you look carefully, you can see from the URL that the original headline called the announcement of the project a “US Mideast Crisis.” But thankfully some editor changed that fairly quickly.
The article makes a few factual assertions about the Israeli announcement that residential building had been approved in three areas within Jerusalem.
- The Palestinians seek these areas “as part of a future state.”
- These areas were “captured by Israel in a 1967 war.”
- The annexation of these areas to Jerusalem “has not been recognized internationally.”
All three of the above statements are true. But that does not mean that Reuters was accurate in describing the areas where the housing would be built.
In fact, the three statements above are the basis of the Palestinian claim. Left out is information that backs up the Israeli claim. Namely:
- Israel seeks international recognition that these neighborhoods are part of its capital city.
- These areas were captured by Jordan in the 1948 war.
- Israeli forces liberated and united the city of Jerusalem after it was attacked in 1967.
- The three neighborhoods are among the most heavily populated in the whole city with a combined population of over 112,000 people, almost all of which is Jewish.
The above statements do not mean that Israel’s claim to the land should be accepted without question. But they do show that the issue is more complicated than how Reuters portrays it.
When I ask reporters why they often leave important context out of articles, the most common response is that there are space constraints that they must work with when writing articles. They cannot retell the whole history of the Middle East in every article.
Yet it doesn’t take much space to provide the minimum context that would leave readers with a balanced understanding of an issue. The article could have described the housing projects as being built:
…in densely populated Jewish neighborhoods that Israel considers part of the city of Jerusalem, yet the Palestinians seek as part of a future state. The area had been conquered by Jordan in 1948 and then was taken by Israel in a defensive war in 1967.
Writing this way does not take up much more space than the original. It does present the historical facts while referencing the claims of both sides.
Every reporter covering Israel and the Palestinians hears complaints from both sides. They are accused of being biased against Israel by some and biased against the Palestinians by others. But if they strive to present all the relevant historical facts and not simply one side’s claims, they will be fulfilling their mandate of providing accurate and unbiased reporting.
This article was originally published in The Times of Israel.