Written by CAMERA intern Aron White
The death of Fidel Castro has led to a flurry of obituaries over the past week, with some lauding him as a “hero”, and others referring to him as a “torturer and tyrant”. It is interesting to compare the Guardian editorial on the death of Fidel Castro with their editorial last year on the election victory of Benjamin Netanyahu. The contrast between the two articles highlight some of the systemic flaws with media coverage of Israel, both at the Guardian and more broadly.
The Guardian piece on Castro is very balanced, as it presents both his positive and negative sides. The article lists his crimes – sham trials, summary executions and a situation where “power flowed from the gun, and a repressive state pointed weapons inward.” But the article then lists his achievements – “a remarkable system of healthcare and education,” as well as aid to Third World countries, such as sending 1,200 medics to Haiti. By presenting both positive and negative aspects of Mr. Castro, the article has attempted to provide a balanced picture of the man.
When the Guardian talks about Benjamin Netanyahu`s victory, this balance does not exist. Netanyahu is described as having “crossed red lines,” “dealt a grievous blow to any prospect of peace process,” and is accused of having “trampled” upon democratic principles. Yet all these accusations are not then balanced by any positive things Mr. Netanyahu may have achieved, or might achieve for Israel in his upcoming term. Bettering ties with Egypt and Saudi Arabia, presiding over a thriving economy (Israeli GDP per capita has doubled since 1996), and Netanyahu`s own personal achievement of becoming only the second foreign leader to have spoken three times in the US Congress, might have been places to start. Mr Castro was praised for having presided over a remarkable system of healthcare and education, and for sending medics to Haiti. Netanyahu`s Israel can claim each one of these achievements – Israel is ranked fourth in the world for quality of healthcare, eighth in the world for life expectancy (82.5 to Cuba`s 79.1), and second in the world in terms of percentage of the population to have a university degree. Israel also sent medics to Haiti, something which was cynically attacked in the Guardian – representing an egregious double standard. There is no shortage of positive things to say to balance out a negative story about Benjamin Netanyahu, but the Guardian gave balanced treatment to Mr Castro, but not Mr Netanyahu.
The Guardian article on Castro also places his life and politics within a broader historical context. The tag line of the article tells readers to “situate the Cuban leader in the political and intellectual setting of the 20th century Latin America anti colonialism,” before going on to describe how he “emerged victorious in a battle against a brutal and corrupt US-friendly regime.” It is only after giving this broader narrative that the more granular listing of positives and negatives, (which we analysed above) are brought.
In the editorial about Netanyahu`s victory, Mr. Netanyahu`s extremely problematic comments about Arabs “voting in droves” and against setting up a Palestinian State are quoted, and focused on in-depth for the first half of the article, without any broader context. Only in the fourth paragraph of the article is some context provided; and when the context is brought it is one half-hearted line: “…. Perhaps not surprising in a regional environment where threats seem to loom, from Islamic State violence to Iran`s nuclear ambitions.” So, even when the context is brought it is not stated as a fact, but as something that seems to Israelis to be the case – of course leaving open the possibility that they are totally imagining this whole ISIS thing. ISIS has troops on Israel`s borders, Hamas has a growing presence in the West Bank, and the Ayatollah of Iran publicly tweets plans of how and why to destroy Israel. These are not things that seem to be true, but important pieces of context in which one should situate Netanyahu`s comments. To be clear, this is not a defense of Mr Netanyahu’s comments. (Indeed, Mr Netanyahu himself apologised for his comments about the Arabs voting in droves). However, from a journalistic perspective, it is important to provide the context to the story, and for sure not to belittle the context by saying that veritable facts seem to be the case. The Guardian article on Mr Castro contains the context which helps understand Castro, but does not provide similar context for understanding Mr. Netanyahu.
There is a difference between writing an obituary of a person`s life and writing an editorial on the results of an election. However, what should not change is the journalistic commitment to providing balance and context. Just to clarify – it is not that the balance and context will or should change the reader`s verdict of the subject of the story, and it is totally justified for the Guardian to hold an editorial position that is anti-Netanyahu. But whilst there a range of legitimate conclusions one can come to, the prism through which those conclusions are drawn and presented – one that contains balance and context – should never change. And in its editorial on Netanyahu, that balance and context was certainly missing.
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