Europe’s Media Echo Chamber

By Amnon Rubinstein

Published April 09, 2004, issue of April 09, 2004.
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An unexpected event has taken place in the European media: Jean Daniel, editor of Le Nouvel Observateur, the highly influential Paris weekly, rebuked his colleagues for the manner in which they cover suicide terrorism. “All of the media outlets in France, and there are many, condemn terror and extremist fundamentalism, but the same media report on events in the Middle East with emphases that can only arouse in the reader a forgiving attitude toward terror,” he wrote. “The Palestinian case is always presented as motivating — suicide attacks carried out by Palestinian martyrs — and the bloodshed is always depicted as the consequence of Israeli colonialism. This generates a forgiving attitude toward violence. We must end this.”

How did it happen that “all of the media outlets in France” are broadcasting the same message? And, if so, how is it that all of the Continent’s media, and a majority of the British media, are spreading the same message: the same sharp criticism of the United States and Israel, the same understanding for “others,” who are, for the most part, residents of the Third World. True, the press mirrors European public opinion, which according to the polls largely believes the United States is pursuing a deceptive, one-sided policy; it itself supports the Palestinian position and is opposed to Israel.

Nevertheless, the polls also show there is a minority in Europe that thinks otherwise: 15% of the French and 22% of the Germans do not agree that the United States “is not honest,” and there is also a minority that supports Israel.

This minority has no representation in the mainstream European media, where a uniform language is spoken, so much so that at times it seems as if all of the lead editorials in all of the quality newspapers in Europe are being written by the same hand — from the British Guardian to the Spanish El Pais to the French Le Monde to the Austrian Neue Freie Presse — and that they could save a great deal of money if they would only hire the same editorial writer.

Indeed, the European media have undergone an upheaval: Barely any media outlets could be described as “right wing” in the old sense. All comply with the conventions of political correctness. There are no differences of opinion on subjects that only a few years ago drove a wedge between newspapers: the death sentence, abortions, equal rights for gays, rights of single-parent families. Even someone, such as this writer, who supports the prevailing positions on these issues stands agape at the sight of the development of this consensual uniform message.

How did this occur? The answers are complex, it seems. First, in has come a young generation of an intelligentsia that was raised on an anti-colonialist approach, which sees Europe’s history as a series of crimes against the “other,” residents of the Third World.

Israel — which has occupied territories that are not its own for nearly 40 years, and has built settlements in those territories under a separate legal regime — seems to share the same dark colonialist past of the European countries (there is, therefore, no reason to condemn these countries for their past wrongs). The United States falls into this category due to the invasion and occupation of Iraq. Obviously, however, the attitude is skin-deep: The newspapers to which Daniel is referring were in support of the war declared by NATO — without U.N. approval — on Serbia, but employed a reverse criterion for the United States in Iraq. Nevertheless, there is no reason to deny the sincerity of their anti-colonialist motivations.

Second, the media need an antagonist to be easy prey for their editorials and cartoons. In the past, the racist regime in South Africa did its term as just such a foe. Once it vanished, the Serbs played a similar role. When this enemy disappeared, there was a perceptible journalistic shortage of enemy-peoples, and Israel — which, like the South Africans and the Serbs, is conceived of as whites who beat the “other” — filled the role.

There is another enticement where Israel is concerned: The victims of the Nazis have become similar to Nazis, and the Palestinians have become similar to Jews. This in turn begets the comparison between Israel’s separation fence and the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz, a comparison that raises to absurd levels the political correctness of the homogeneous European press — even in the opinion of someone who, like me, disagrees with the fence’s oppressive route.

Amnon Rubinstein is a former member of the Knesset from the Meretz Party. This article originally appeared in Ha’aretz, www.haaretzdaily.com.






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