‘We are not in the business of policing speech.’
Questions for Sarit Catz
As international letter-writing director of CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting, Sarit Catz is dedicated to combating media bias against Israel. On March 29, the Short Hills resident will discuss “Focus on Facts: Recognizing and Responding to Media Bias Against Israel” at Beth El Synagogue in East Windsor.
Catz discussed her work and observations in a Jan. 28 phone interview with NJ Jewish News.
NJJN: How does one recognize what is and what isn’t media bias against Israel?
Catz: There are a number of ways bias manifests itself. The first way is what is covered and what is not covered. A lot of things are simply not covered. A lot of things are hyper-focused on Israel. On the flip side, every little incident in Israel might make it to the front pages, whereas if the same thing happened somewhere else it wouldn’t. If you recognize a pattern over time, you will see it is media bias. There could also be factual errors that need to be corrected and a lack of balance where one side is given more time or space to present its views.
Another way is omission of important facts that give context to the story, so that it may be misunderstood by readers. One state is criticized for doing things that other states do regularly and there may be editorializing by the reporter.
NJJN: Who would you say are the worst offenders?
Catz: CAMERA does not look at it that way. We look at it article by article, and we ask that journalists live up to their own standards and code of ethics and to the responsibilities they have to their readers and viewers.
NJJN: What do you think causes this bias?
Catz: I don’t know. I can’t get inside people’s heads. There are many journalists and just as many reasons.
NJJN: What do you advise people to do in response to the biases they perceive?
Catz: I advise people to keep their eyes open and write letters to the editor setting the facts straight and bringing the attention of editors and producers to what they are printing or airing. They should open a dialogue. Media has not been a one-way street. They should use specifics, addressing specific articles, op-eds, letters to the editor, and editorials. They can also keep track and see if they can spot long-term trends.
NJJN: How effective is this sort of campaigning?
Catz: Sometimes they take letters seriously and sometimes they don’t. [Catz cited a BBC report on the recent march against anti-Semitism in Paris that linked the Jan. 9 attack on a the kosher market to Israeli actions toward Palestinians.] We advised people to complain to [the BBC’s] editorial complaints unit. In response, the reporter tweeted, “Really sorry for any offense caused by a poorly phrased question in a live interview in Paris yesterday — it was entirely unintentional.” The BBC said, “That was good enough for us,” so people complained more. The editorial complaints unit is looking into it.
NJJN: Do lots of media outlets issue corrections?
Catz: Yes, and that’s important. I think journalists for the most part don’t want to mislead their readers.
NJJN: How about the Internet? Is that problematic for you?
Catz: Certainly people are free to write whatever they want, but reputable journalists have to live up to a standard worthy of reputable journalism. We can’t monitor everything, but we have a link on our site so that people can let us know what is troubling. But we are certainly not in the business of policing speech.