A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists

Ethics In-Brief

By Quill

Newsrooms feel heat over Middle East coverage

American newsrooms are facing increasing accusations of biased coverage of the Middle East conflict from readers, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.

In April, nearly 1,000 Los Angeles Times subscribers ordered suspension of home delivery for a day or more to protest what they call inaccurate, pro-Palestinian reporting of the unrest in the Middle East.

Lillian Swanson, an ombudsman for the Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote that newspapers have been “drawn into the intense cross fire. Each side, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, is convinced the newspaper is favoring the other.”

The controversy extends to the broadcasting media as well.

Jeffrey Dvorkin, ombudsman for National Public Radio, said that pressure on NPR from advocacy groups “can constitute a form of journalistic McCarthyism.”

He said the network has been targeted by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, which ran a full-page New York Times ad calling NPR’s coverage “false” and “skewed” against Israel. The advertisement also urged NPR’s financial backers to stop supporting the network.

At the same time, Dvorkin said, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting has attacked what it sees as NPR’s pro-Israel bias.

Many editors and reader representatives seem to be taking the charges seriously.

“As a hard news subject, [Middle East coverage] is probably the No. 1 issue that’s consistently coming up across the country,” said Mike Clark, reader advocate for the (Jacksonville) Florida Times-Union and Web editor for the Organization of News Ombudsmen.

While some reader reps are taking extra measures to re-examine their coverage, many others are puzzled and shaking their heads at the paradox posed by opposing claims of bias.

For example, Chronicle readers representative Dick Rogers said he received on the same day a letter complaining of “extreme pro-Palestinian bias” and an e-mail accusing the paper of being “exceedingly pro-Israel.” Sometimes the conflicting views will center on the same article or photograph, he said.

Charges of unfair coverage aren’t new, but they have intensified with the recent increase in bloodletting caused by Israel’s military incursions and Palestinian suicide-bombings, the Chronicle reported.

Editor says Enron offered him job

The business editor of India’s largest television network says that Enron Corp. offered him a plush $1 million per year job in an effort to silence his criticism of the company’s plans to build a plant there, according to CBS’ “60 Minutes.”

Raghu Dhar of Zee TV made the statement in an interview with “60 Minutes” that was scheduled to air April 14.

Dhar said Enron offered him a job to be a spokesman for the company. Enron spokesman John Ambler said he was not aware of any such claim. “We find it extraordinarily difficult to believe that anything like this occurred,” he said.

The “60 Minutes” show reports that Enron, with the help of the U.S. government, successfully pushed for and built a $3 billion power plant even though it would quadruple Indian electricity bills, while at the same time guaranteeing big profits for Enron.

Dhar said that the deal called for Enron to be paid for all the power that was produced, whether or not it was actually used, according to The Associated Press.

The plant was shut down last year after India’s state electric company could no longer pay the bills.

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