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TV news reflects nations’ differences over Lebanon

From Bloomberg News

On the 28th day of Israel’s war with Hezbollah, the British Broadcasting Corp. interviewed Jordan’s King Abdullah II, who voiced support for Lebanon. Fox News spoke with televangelist Pat Robertson, who said he was praying for Israel.

Both networks also gave air time to sympathizers of the other sides of the conflict and dismiss any suggestion of bias. Still, supporters of Israeli and Arab combatants alike say the choices of major guests reflect internal leanings.

Far from where the bombs are falling, the battle for public opinion is taking place in television studios in London and Washington. And it’s no coincidence that polls show most people in Britain, where BBC News 24 is the most-watched news channel, consider Israeli actions excessive, while most in the U.S., where Fox dominates round-the-clock cable TV, don’t, according to critics on both sides of the war.

“If people see enough things on their TV screens, it turns Israel into a pariah state,” said Simon Plosker, who manages the British website HonestReporting, a group that seeks out bias in reporting on Israel. “It’s incredible to do a comparison between the U.S. and European media.”

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Sixty-three percent of British voters said Israel’s response to Hezbollah attacks that began July 12 has been “disproportionate,” according to a YouGov poll of 1,001 adults conducted from July 21 through July 23. Only 17% of those surveyed said Israel’s actions were “proportionate.”

In contrast, 43% of Americans viewed Israel’s response as “justified, but not excessively harsh,” while 28% called it “unjustified,” according to a Los Angeles Times/Bloomberg poll from July 28 to Aug. 1.

The American media is “telling Israel’s story,” said James Zogby, president of the Washington-based Arab-American Institute. “Even when it comes to Lebanese suffering, it’s not an independent story but a subordinate one. The story is still biased, and it comes off that way.”

Both networks defend their handling of the news.

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“Fox News Channel has the most-watched international news coverage on cable in the United States,” said Paul Schur, a spokesman for the network. “Our coverage speaks for itself.”

“Our duty is to provide independent reporting and analysis,” the BBC’s London press office said in an e-mailed statement. “There can be times when this is misread by one or other side of a debate.” It added that the network takes complaints “extremely seriously.”


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