Raheem Kassam: How Israel is winning the media war this time round - thanks to Twitter
As the recent conflict between Israel and terrorist organisations in Gaza escalated, I was sitting in a hotel in Jerusalem, keeping ears peeled for the next potential rocket siren. I've continuously argued, publicly and privately, that the real tragedy of this conflict is that of the Palestinian people who are oppressed and used as human shields by Hamas, Islamic Jihad and others, and that of Israeli civilians who are equally targeted.
To look at the conflict from a different angle, though, it is understandable why Israel has thus far commanded the respect and support of Western leaders and indeed, broadly speaking, the international media. I don't mean to say that they media has been toeing Israel's line. I mean that this time, as opposed to 2008-9, major outlets have been more receptive to Israel's predicament, with a more balanced approach to reporting.
Just over a week ago, the Israel Defence Forces had 100,000 fewer followers on Twitter than it does today. Its Facebook and YouTube followings have experienced similar levels of growth. In recent years, it has often been the apologists for the likes of Hamas that have utilised social media in propagandising. Israel's response has been to throw open its information to public scrutiny and the rightfully prying eyes of the international media. Today, it is acknowledged that IDF press releases and Twitter updates can be relied upon to be factual, whereas various occasions over the past week have lent to the scepticism of what emanates from Gaza. This is the right way of thinking, and one that many have attempted to ignore for far too long.
Of course, the very same level of scrutiny should be applied to the IDF as any source, but equivalence for terrorist propaganda should not be afford and the balance of belief is clearly shifting. It is a credit to the Israeli military and government that such a drastic change has been made in the public and political consciousness in the past week. We've highlighted various occasions this week where the likes of the BBC and CNN have been falling down to propaganda efforts. The BBC in particular seems to have a penchant for reporting 'Pallywood' blockbusters without first identifying sources or confirming the veracity of information.
Over the past week, BBC correspondents Jon Donnison and Paul Danahar have been particularly useless at what should be a basic journalistic skill. And it doesn't just stop at the regurgitation of terrorist propaganda - it pervades their editorialising too. Yesterday, when the Israeli military hit a prominent media building in Gaza for the second time, the same outrage emerged from Danahar's Twitter account. Quick to criticise the IDF, he tweeted, "The last strike on this media building in # Gaza was called 'precision' by IDF. This one is not. It's hit the lower floor". But, just moments later. he was proved dramatically wrong. It turns out Islamic Jihad had been using the building as an outpost of sorts after all, as was independently confirmed by AFP and ABC amongst others.
My point is that instead of rushing to report an event and making the biased assumptions that go along with it, perhaps correspondents on the ground should stick to reporting the facts as they emerge, rather than speculating and attributing blame in advance. Israel's use of social media to disseminate factual information and allow journalists to scrutinise its actions is yet another sign of how transparent and forward-thinking this democracy is. It is yet another reason to support the country's defensive efforts and ensure that the media reports fairly on the situation in the region.