Pa­pers are too quick to ac­cept NGO re­ports

Why do the me­dia back claims by non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions with their own agen­das?

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis - ALEX BRUMMER

FEW RE­GIONS in the world are as closely mon­i­tored by non­govern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions (NGOs) as Is­rael and the Pales­tinian ter­ri­to­ries. Al­most ev­ery as­pect of Is­rael’s be­hav­iour comes un­der scru­tiny, from the med­i­cal care for Pales­tini­ans seek­ing treat­ment in Is­rael to food sup­plies in Gaza and the peace process.

The pres­ence of so many such groups in the re­gion is a com­pli­ment to the plu­ral­ism of Is­raeli democ­racy. But the ve­neer of re­spectabil­ity which NGO sta­tus con­fers is also a gift to the West­ern me­dia. It al­lows the press to quote find­ings as if they were holy writ when NGOs of­ten have a po­lit­i­cal agenda of their own. Some of the best­funded NGOs which bring at­ti­tudes to is­sues are ac­tu­ally paid for by sub­ven­tion from the West­ern democ­ra­cies.

A full-page ar­ti­cle in the In­de­pen­dent by Don­ald Mac­in­tyre, the pa­per’s Jerusalem cor­re­spon­dent, pointed out short­com­ings of the cur­rent peace process spon­sored by the Quar­tet pow­ers of the US, EU, United Na­tions and Rus­sia, ac­cus­ing them a “vacuum of lead­er­ship” — some­thing with which it may be dif­fi­cult to dis­agree.

But most of the ar­ti­cle was based on the find­ings of one of the UN agen­cies, the Of­fice of Co­or­di­na­tion of Hu­man­i­tar­ian Af­fairs (OCHA), and the work of uniden­ti­fied NGOs. The re­port claims that some 65 per cent of the main routes to the most pop­u­lous ar­eas in the West Bank are blocked or con­trolled by Is­raeli mil­i­tary check­points. This de­spite claims by Tony Blair’s of­fice — he is the Quar­tet rep­re­sen­ta­tive in the re­gion — that “key” check­points and road­blocks have been lifted.

The re­port ac­knowl­edges some suc­cesses for Blair, such as the release of money by Ehud Barak, Is­rael’s de­fence min­is­ter, for a sewage project in Gaza. But it also notes “scant progress” on mea­sures de­signed to im­prove the lives of or­di­nary peo­ple in Gaza.

It also raises con­cern about “heavy­handed” polic­ing and “doc­u­mented hu­man-rights abuses” by Pales­tinian se­cu­rity forces in the West Bank. The ar­ti­cle backs up its ar­gu­ments by quot­ing from re­ports by Hu­man Rights Watch and Amnesty In­ter­na­tional.

The re­port­ing in the In­de­pen­dent was a bal­anced view of the sit­u­a­tion on the ground. But what is dispir­it­ing is the will­ing­ness of re­porters to ac­cept NGO re­ports without ask­ing the rel­e­vant ques­tions. Who funds the NGO con­cerned? What is its role and agenda in the re­gion? Is it run by peo­ple with a view of what the fi­nal shape of a com­pre­hen­sive Mid­dle East set­tle­ment may look like?

The mon­i­tor­ing group Hon­est Re­port­ing re­cently in­ves­ti­gated re­ports on the BBC, in the Wash­ing­ton Post, The Daily Tele­graph, The Guardian and The In­de­pen­dent based on in­for­ma­tion pro­vided by the NGO Physi­cians for Hu­man Rights-Is­rael, which claimed Pales­tini­ans seek­ing med­i­cal treat­ment in Is­rael have been pres­sured by the Is­rael se­cu­rity forces to be­come in­for­mants. What was never ex­plained in th­ese re­ports was that PHR-I, funded by Euro­pean gov­ern­ments, has a his­tory of de­mon­is­ing Is­rael.

Con­cerns about the in­tegrity and fi­nanc­ing of NGOs led to the cre­ation of NGO Mon­i­tor, ded­i­cated to hold­ing ac­count­able “hu­man-rights NGOs in the Arab-Is­raeli con­flict”. Its most re­cent bul­letin, notes Amnesty In­ter­na­tional, has con­demned Is­rael for mil­i­tary re­sponses to ter­ror — without any of the con­dem­na­tions be­ing based on orig­i­nal re­search. It also, says NGO Mon­i­tor, put out a “mis­lead­ing” press release, picked up by West­ern me­dia out­lets, re­lat­ing to the death of a Reuters cam­era­man in Gaza.

There is wor­ry­ing lack of trans­parency about the fund­ing and re­search meth­ods of NGOs in the Mid­dle East. Yet cor­re­spon­dents will­ingly quote their find­ings, of­ten giv­ing spu­ri­ous au­thor­ity to hos­tile re­port­ing.


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