NEW YORK (Oct. 21)
The Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith today made public its study of television network coverage of the war in Lebanon.
The study, based on data gathered for the ADL by media specialists, Garth-Furst international, Inc. acknowledges the networks’ “desire for truth and accuracy” in news coverage and the “inherent difficulties” in war reporting. It nevertheless cites numerous examples of errors found in examining tapes of the evening news broadcasts of the three major networks — CBS, NBC and ABC — from June 4 to September 1, 1982. The report covers only the tapes from this period.
According to Kenneth Bialkin, ADL’s national chairman, “the following factors contributed to our perception of a lack of balance in the news media’s handling of Israel’s actions in Lebanon”:
* Inflated casualty figures reported and not corrected, as well as other factual errors.
* Melodramatic portrayals of Israeli censorship.
* Lingering and graphic daily coverage of the wounded and suffering that overwhelmed or overlooked the political, historical and military context of the situation.
* Simple, nondimensional reporting of PLO posturing and a lack of critical analysis of the nature and background of the PLO role.
STUDY RAISES ‘LARGER’ QUESTIONS
Bialkin said he and other ADL officials have already met with executives from CBS, NBC and ABC to discuss “some of the difficulties and consequences of reporting fast-breaking events, especially when they occur in faraway places.” The study, he declared, raised “larger” questions concerning media news reporting.
“The American media,” it points out, “are no longer mere spectators — they have become a factor in shaping public opinion, and, in some cases, U.S. foreign policy. In light of these developments, do the media need to formulate a new set of responsibilities toward the viewing public or are they on the right track already?”
The “greatest inaccuracies” were found to have occurred in reporting casualty figures in June, particularly during the first 10 days of the month when Israel did not release casualty figures In July and August there was an improvement in reporting of casualties, the study noted.
Often, it went on, the networks provided casualty totals without a source or based on a biased source, the Palestine Red Crescent, an arm of the PLO but neglected to report updated figures provided by observers such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
OTHER SUBJECTS EXAMINED
On the subject of censorship, the study concluded that although Israeli censorship was a factor in network reporting, treatment of it “was overplayed” and “went beyond normal journalistic practice.”
Turning to the question of balance and ness, ADL said “the issue is extremely difficult to place in perspective,” adding that “we believe that all of the networks, no matter unwittingly or unconsciously, contributed to some distortions and lack of objective perspective in their coverage of the war.”
The ADL said it recognizes that evaluating the fairness of reporting political and military events raises the issue of whether any such evaluation can be wholly free of subjective consideration. Bialkin added, “We wish to record our awareness of the difficulties which the news media experience in seeking to fulfill their responsibilities.”