The Cut-and-Omit TV News

, February 16, 2009

On Friday night, 29 September 2000, this author was watching the evening news on Norway’s most important TV news program, the NRK (Norwegian Broadcasting Authority) channel’s Dagsrevyen. The Second Intifada was just breaking out. In Israel it was the eve of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. Before the violence erupted, the Arabs of Jerusalem held Friday prayer services in the Temple Mount Mosque. Many Israelis had been praying at the Western Wall before sundown.

The anchor announced: “Violent clashes in Jerusalem and Bethlehem between Palestinian demonstrators and Israeli soldiers” (hasty images of Arab teenagers throwing stones, Israeli soldiers shooting). “Riots started after Ariel Sharon yesterday visited a place in Jerusalem that is holy to both Palestinians and Jews.” A report by Middle East correspondent Lars Sigurd Sunnanaa is aired. Again there are images of Palestinian boys and teenagers throwing stones; Israeli soldiers taking cover behind military vehicles, aiming, and firing; Palestinians carrying wounded children to ambulances; Palestinian doctors in hospitals; clips from Ariel Sharon’s walk on the Temple Mount. Sunnanaa’s voice seems to suppress anger as he describes how the Palestinian “children” only demonstrated whereas the Israeli soldiers fired.

The next evening, Rosh Hashanah in Israel, the anchor introduces the news: “The new unrest in the Middle East is putting the peace process in danger.” Sunnanaa reports on “clashes between Palestinian youngsters and Israeli soldiers.” Images: Arab youngsters throwing stones, Israeli soldiers shooting. Throughout his lengthy report Sunnanaa calls the Arabs “demonstrating youngsters.” “The Palestinians are throwing tons of stones. Israeli soldiers respond with tear gas and rubber-coated steel bullets.”

On the third evening, the second day of Rosh Hashanah in Israel, the news begins with the announcement: “Shooting in the Middle East.” Sunnanaa intones that there are “clashes between demonstrators and soldiers” in Israel. “But strong emotions erupt after an Israeli rainstorm of bullets killed a twelve-year-old in Gaza.” This is the first showing on this news program (out of several) of the Mohammed al-Dura clip. “Sharon,” says Sunnanaa, “started the conflict with his provocative visit to the Holiest of Holy for both Jews and Arabs.” Sunnanaa describes “the Koran story” about Muhammad and his spiritual visit to Jerusalem. This is “one of the most important stories in the Koran.” The Palestinians are once again only youthful “demonstrators”; Israeli soldiers are shooting at them.

Such reporting continued every evening for weeks. On 2 October, Dagsrevyen announced “a situation of war in the Middle East” and gave a second showing of the Mohammed al-Dura clip (this time he was thirteen years old). The next day the show announced that Nazareth had become a ghost town because Israelis were shooting at Arabs there. The following day Israeli soldiers were said to have shot at a ten-year-old boy who had only been demonstrating. On 5 October the focus was on a wounded Palestinian teenager, with Palestinians the underdog against “Israeli battle helicopters, rockets, heavy guns, and other advanced war equipment.” But “wave after wave of unarmed Palestinian youngsters continue to demonstrate.”

On 6 October the situation in the Middle East “worsens dramatically” with an Arab Day of Rage and “ten thousand demonstrators in Nablus.” It was not until 20 October that the news did not include an intifada report. But, if not as intensively as in the first three weeks, the loaded and selective reporting continued in the weeks to follow.[1]

Distorted Coverage

This author is editor in chief of a Christian daily newspaper, Dagen. It is published in Bergen and has about ten thousand subscribers throughout Norway. Most subscribers presumably share the Evangelical Protestant faith, belonging either to the Lutheran (state) Church of Norway or to smaller Protestant churches. One of Dagen‘s priorities has always been to present alternative Middle East news.

On 29 September 2000, the frustration was double. Since it was Friday evening, there would not be a new edition of Dagen to compete with the TV news before Monday. And since it was the start of the High Holiday season in Israel, during most weeks for more than a month there would be several consecutive days without Israeli newspapers to supply alternative versions of events.

The next week Dagen reported the story of Tuvia Grossman, an American Jewish yeshiva student in Israel who was almost lynched in Jerusalem by an Arab mob on 29 September.[2] Thus Dagen readers were given a first alternative impression of the nature of the intifada. But as the biased TV news continued, Dagen readers demanded further alternative information. So one day a decision was reached: this author’s colleagues at Dagen would take over his usual responsibilities for a few weeks so he could work on a more in-depth report on the “Media War against Israel.”

It had been done once before in Norway. In 1982-1983, Carl Chr. Hauge produced a TV video on Dagsrevyen‘s news coverage of the First Lebanon War.[3] This effort prompted a more official investigation by a Middle East scholar, which was heavily critical.[4] But both these reports were buried and forgotten as quickly as possible by those responsible within NRK.

This author decided on a different method. I spent a week in the studio of a media watch organization, Kristelig Kringkastingslag (Christian Media Watch),[5] working my way through their complete video recordings of Dagsrevyen during the eight weeks from 27 September to 21 November 2000. I made extensive notes of everything verbal in the news reports and supplemented them with descriptions of the images shown. All these notes were organized chronologically according to the TV reports.

I then worked my way through the same eight weeks, date b

About Odd Sverre Hove

Odd Sverre Hove is former editor in chief of the Norwegian Christian daily newspaper Dagen. He is a member of the Board of Governors at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.