By Joharah Baker
Media has long been considered the fourth authority of any country and for good reason. The media plays a powerful role in educating the masses and disseminating information to the population both local and worldwide. It can be a powerful tool for shaping public opinion, breaking news and calling influential people out on their indiscretions and hypocrisies. Indeed, the media can be a powerful tool but if it is not responsible, it can do more harm than good.
In Palestine, credibility has often been an “issue.” Responsibility and credibility are sometimes trumped by the temptation of a ‘scoop’ or scandal. While getting the scoop is fine, even admirable, it is when the truth is compromised that the media suffers the backlash.
Last week was a heyday of misinformation coming from Palestinian media sources. When news broke that a bus carrying kindergarten children had flipped over and caught fire there was no stopping the frenzy of “breaking news” and Facebook updates that flooded the internet. It is only natural; we all want speedy information, especially when the subject at hand has to do with our loved ones. But imagine the horror of some families when press reports broke the news that twin girls had perished in the accident, even posting their pictures. It later turned out that the girls were in a Jerusalem hospital and very much alive.
News of the accident went viral on social networks as well. Hours after the accident took place, people were posting messages, saying Ramallah and Jerusalem hospitals were calling for blood donations to treat the injured children. Needless to say, hundreds heeded the call. However, a Palestinian health official later called on people not to come to hospitals to donate blood because there was simply no need. None of the injured, he said, needed extra blood and the blood banks never made any plea to the people to donate.
The Jaba’ accident is by far not the only incident where the media has favored sensationalism over accuracy. Also last week, news broke on several websites that prisoner Khader Adnan, on hunger strike for 65 days had died. The frenzy was apparently so heightened that Prisoner Club officials were forced to come out with a statement calling on those who “broke the news” to be more responsible in their reporting, assuring that Adnan was still alive. “Think of his family and their feelings,” the official appealed. In other words, check and double check your facts before you run your stories.
The examples are countless but all point to one problem. If media outlets and journalists want to be believed, they must be responsible, they must be honest and they must be credible. This does not mean they can’t have a slant. All media is slanted no matter how much anyone denies it. But having a slant – in this case, giving a Palestinian view of the world – does not mean we cannot be responsible and good journalists. On the contrary, if our “Palestinian slant” wants to be heard in the world, it is absolutely necessary that our reporting is reliable. Contrary to what many may believe, sensationalism, which often compromises credibility, has the opposite effect on receivers. And in this war of information that we often find ourselves in, especially within the context of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is imperative that when we say something, even if it is from a Palestinian angle, we make sure it is true.
In the case of Khader Adnan or of the twin girls, it is a case of irresponsible journalism and a rush to get the ‘scoop’ that caused the mayhem. Unfortunately, such reporters or even social networkers are also insensitive to consequences their “breaking news” could have on those closest to it. It was bad enough that the families who actually did lose their children that day had to deal with the shock and the loss; or that Khader Adnan’s family surely dies a hundred deaths thinking about their son. If they are going to have to deal with the ultimate loss, at least our media should be responsible enough to break the news only when it actually happens.
Joharah Baker is a Writer for the Media and Information Department at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH). She can be contacted at [email protected]