“50 Years of Aggression”: ABC Abandons Objectivity

Australian ABC Radio National’s Counterpoint program broadcast on June 19 featured an interview with Professor Amin Saikal, the Director of the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Australian National University.

According to the program’s synopsis:

It’s 50 years since the six day war in the Middle East and the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.

Some say the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians will never be solved – a pretty grim forecast

We hear from from one of Australia’s leading Arab and Islamic scholars on the issue.

Fair enough. ABC is perfectly entitled to present the Six-Day War from an Arab perspective (and it states that an Israeli perspective will be featured in next week’s edition). But ABC is not entitled to abandon all pretense to objectivity or neutrality on its own part.

This is the title and summary of the program as presented online and in an accompanying image caption:

50 years of aggression;” a “shameful anniversary.

These phrases aren’t in quotation marks or attributed to anyone in particular. They are simply presented as fact: that Israel is in the wrong and has been since 1967.

ABC’s own editorial guidelines on standards of impartiality state: “Do not state or imply that any perspective is the editorial opinion of the ABC.” It certainly looks like ABC is editorializing when it comes to the presentation of this particular program.

Amin Saikal
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Amin Saikal

As for the interview with Professor Saikal, he is entitled to his views but he is not entitled to spread falsehoods. For example:

  • Two minutes in, Professor Saikal is asked what the trigger was for the Six-Day War. According to Saikal, the Arab leadership “decided to impose a blockade on Israel in order to pressure it to negotiate a resolution to the Palestinian problem.

This could not be further from the truth. Even the Arab leaders themselves publicly proclaimed that their ultimate goal was the destruction of the State of Israel in its entirety. There was no effort on the part of the Arabs to negotiate anything with Israel. Professor Saikal has effectively made up history. To add insult to injury, Counterpoint’s presenter Amanda Vanstone interrupts with her own statement that the Israeli pre-emptive strike was “to take more land,” a distortion backed up by Saikal.

  • Vanstone asks another misleading and distorted question at 8mins 25secs: “Now what about Israel’s unwillingness to give up its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem? That’s got to be a blocking point, hasn’t it?

Vanstone confirms her own biases. Israel has offered to give up land for peace on numerous occasions, each time rebuffed by Palestinians who have preferred violence to negotiation. But this, of course, does not fit with the framing of Israel as the guilty party in Vanstone’s eyes.

  • Saikal then comes out with a real whopper, calling the Gaza Strip “the most densely populated piece of land on earth.

Despite the often repeated refrain that Gaza is the most populated place in the world (or even the Middle East), a simple Google search shows that Gaza City doesn’t even make the top 40 most populated cities and Jabalya camp within Gaza doesn’t even make the top 20.

That Counterpoint plans on presenting an Israeli viewpoint a week after this broadcast in no way exonerates ABC from clearly breaching its own editorial guidelines on impartiality. The presentation of the program even before listening to the content, is effectively promoting a one-sided opinion as fact, while Amanda Vanstone actively facilitates Professor Saikal’s distortions with her own editorializing.

HonestReporting Down Under has filed a complaint with the ABC. You can add your voice by contacting ABC here – http://www.abc.net.au/contact/complain.htm


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