I awoke this morning to see a stunning headline on Yahoo – Hamas fires on Arafat rally. In the story, taken from Associated Press, a rally of some 250,000 Fatah supporters held in Gaza commemorating their leader Yasser Arafat, Hamas “security forces” opened fire on civilians. Wow, I thought. This is big news – almost an Tiananmen Square-like situation, and a perfect illustration of the brutal regime Hamas has installed in Gaza since taking over. The story offered an alternative view of Hamas, who said that Fatah gunmen were on the rooftops, although none were found.
Wondering how this would be covered in the Australian press, I first checked The Age. It did make it to the secondary headline section, and then shifted down into World news. But the headline portrayed a very different story: Eight killed in Gaza clashes. Oh, so it was just some clashes between those people always fighting each other in Gaza? The piece, taken from DPA, was probably the most even-handed article on the Middle East that I have ever seen in The Age: “each movement blamed the other” as “clashes left 8 dead”.
So what of the other Australian press? The Australian, using their own correspondent, reported Five killed during Arafat rally, leading with the accusation that Hamas gunfire scattered the crowd and killed demonstrators. This article made no mention of Hamas’s counter-claim about the incident.
So what really happened? Hard to tell. We do know a few people were killed, and we know there was a Fatah rally in support of Arafat held in the Hamas heartland of Gaza City, with a very large crowd attending. If I had to rely on just one of these three news sources, I would come out very ill-informed.
This is a great example of the ability of the press (even when reporting what is officially “news”) to choose their sources and paint whatever picture they like using creative headlines. One person’s brutal abuse of human rights is for another, just another of those violent clashes.
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At least none of these headlines managed to blame Israel. The first example I remember of this sort of thing was back in about 1980 or ’81, when terrorists broke into a kibbutz children’s home in the north of Israel, killed two children, and then the army raided the place and killed five terrorists. The Age’s headline? “Seven Dead In Israeli Raid”.