This is one of the most important posts made on this site. It opens up massive questions regarding “Big Media” and its capacity to shape public perceptions according to ideology or other considerations in a way tthe public simply cannot know.
I am an individual blogger pitted against the resources and power of the Independent Group, specifically in this case, the Cape Times. I get no money for the work I do and funding is close to zero from any source. I am not alone in this but if we are to have any influence it is up to our readership to spread the word and for their recipients down the line to do the same.
But before the meat of this post let me wish my readers a joyous Pesach and blessed Easter depending on your respective faiths. I will be spending this time in the Drakensberg with my family.
The post is about an exchange of correspondence I have just had with the Cape Times Chief Editor, Alide Dasnois. It is quite extraordinary but to understand it properly some abbreviated background and a rough timeline is necessary.
There had long been a perception that the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the Cape Times (and some of the other ‘big media”) was seriously biased against Israel. Complaints were invariably dismissed and the question remained as to whether these impressions were purely subjective.
So I undertook a study in which for a full month (20 June to 20 July) I personally scrutinised every issue of the Cape Times (23 in all) for any material relating to the issue including material relating to Zionism and Zionists. This was Phase 1 of the total study. The results were unequivocal – other than for the Letters page in which the anti-Israel bias was much more muted and subtle (mainly around prominence), the anti-Israel and anti-Zionist tone and disproportionate attention to Israel and Zionists was unambiguous. – see bar at top of page and click on heading “Media bias and the delegitimisation of Israel: the Case of the Cape Time” for the full Report – a demanding but important read.
In fact I developed cold feet and wondered whether this was a statistical aberration and so I extended the study to the year2012 running from 1 Jan to 12 Sept (excluding the Phase 1 period). For this I relied upon a Media Monitoring Service (MMS) retained by the Zionist Federation and (I think) Jewish Board of Deputies. The first set of data they sent me seemed somewhat incomplete and so I called up and made it clear that I wanted EVERY ITEM using the broadest possible criteria to ensure that nothing was missed. I was sent (eventually) a much larger set and I personally analysed each item. This was Phase 2, one part of which was 3 case studies – in one of which Mr Weaver of the Cape Times found serious omissions – see further down.
Nevertheless, the results from Phase 2 confirmed and extended the findings of Phase 1 and, on this basis, I wrote the Report (also called the TIMER Report, where TIMER stands for Truth in Middle East Reporting) – see above.
Roughly in November 2012 the TIMER Report was made public and distributed as widely as possible. The Cape Times was sent the Report as a matter of courtesy and the opportunity to study it and formulate a response. We heard nothing. A public meeting was held at Camps Bay High School and to my knowledge they were expressly informed about that as well in case they wished to comment or challenge our findings. We heard nothing from them and I have no idea whether they sent a representative. A shortish video of our findings and conclusions was posted on YouTube.
It is pertinent to note that not a single major newspaper or media outlet in South Africa would touch the Report, even those who expressed some “sympathy”.
Nothing further was heard till 5 March at which time a meeting was held between the Cape Times and the Media Team of the Zionist Federation. I attend few of these meetings for reasons of distance and because I find them generally unhelpful. I did not attend this one for the same reasons, and contrary to Mr Weaver’s claims, my impression is that most on the media side thought the same. At that meeting when the TIMER Report was mentioned Weaver called it Bollocks!
So I called him up and offered him my blog (no strings or constraints attached) to explain why it was “bollocks”. He declined as he did my offer to debate it at the Press Club. Asked then why he labelled the Report “bollocks” he said they had reported on the Toulouse-Montauban shootings in France last year extensively, contrary to my Report. I was astounded and disbelieving but went back to the MMS and demanded a total and thorough scrutiny of every issue of the Cape Times for the whole of March last year. They confirmed to me nothing had been written. I responded on my blog in the light of this confirmation, but as it turns out I was mistaken – see Weaver and Berger page.
I had given Weaver every opportunity in my blog to show us the errors and he had not done so. You are familiar with my reaction on the blog. But what he did do was to use the full resources and distribution of the Cape Times to rubbish the Report and tarnish my own name in his Man Friday column on 22 March. I have decided to publish his article in full because in the light of the full facts I believe he does himself a disservice in his article. Note – readers of the Cape Times was not given access to the Report in its entirety so that they can make up their own minds. All they have access to is Weaver’s careful hatchet job on my “poor” research. Weaver’s article and my response (which the Cape Times refuses to publish) are both to be found on the list at top of this post, under the page entitled “Weaver and Berger”. It is important to read both
I reproduce unedited the full correspondence between me and the Cape Times since the publication of Weaver’s article in logical and semi-chronological order (since there was the occasional overlap). Read it carefully starting at the top with my letter addressed to Mr Weaver.
1) Dear Mr Weaver
I trust you will extend to me the same courtesy I extended to you and publish in full, unedited my response below to your Friday article. You are naturally welcome to respond to my reply but I won’t engage in further correspondence along the same lines. It would be even better were you to follow my invitation to engage properly with the Report but, of course, that’s up to you.
I would appreciate it if you would inform me of your intentions regarding publication by Monday. Thereafter I will be away for a few weeks but will keep in touch if possible with my colleagues.
(2) Dear Dr Berger
You will have seen Tony Weaver’s Man Friday column on Friday. I would be grateful if you could post it on your blog so that your readers all have access to it.
I have pasted it below for your convenience.
Executive Editor|Cape Times|021 488 4701
(3) Dear Ms Dasnois
With pleasure so long as you print my response in full in the Cape Times with the same prominence that Mr Weaver’s column was afforded. Would you let me know?
(4) Dear Ms Dasnois
Further to our correspondence on the off-chance you have not seen the response I posted to Mr Weaver, I enclose it below. (Please note there are a few minor modifications made to the original response submitted to Mr Weaver to correct grammar and to clarify one or two points).
Since I will be away for a few weeks from Tuesday, I would appreciate a prompt response with specifics of where and when it will be published and an assurance it won’t be edited – except for typos if any are present.
I also get to chose the headline “From bollocks to sighs. So where lies the truth? “
(5) Dr Berger, Tony’s column is a response to something you have already written.
Surely you will allow us a right of reply?
(6) Ms Dasnois
Certainly. I had already offered that to Mr Weaver. That would be part of my personal code of ethics. He, however, did not take me up on the offer but used the wide circulation and resources of the Cape Times, under inflammatory headlines, to respond to something your readers had not had sight of.
My request is simply a minimal honourable quid pro quo. I cannot see why you should have a moments hesitation. I would prefer not to continue with this toing and froing. Please let me have a straightforward reply.
(7) Dear Dr Berger
The rules of our letters page are clear: readers submit letters on the understanding that these may be edited, and that the newspaper chooses the headline. If you are not willing to accept our rules, don’t bother to send your letter.
(8) From me to Alide
Oh dear, it’s rules is it! Well that takes care of that. My rules are simpler – give a full right of reply and total transparency. But I,m not open to manipulation.
(9) Dear Dr Berger
I have done so, but I will do so again: If you wish to submit a letter in response to Tony’s column, you are welcome to do so, but we reserve the right to publish it or not, to edit it or not, and to write the headline. Those are our rules.
At this point I ceased all further communication.
Comment is unnecessary but just to summarise:
The Cape Times used its considerable resources to trash the Report and to some extent my reputation along with it (using inflammatory headlines to frame the issue) while withholding from its readers access to the Report in the first instance. The name of my blog alone will not help the average reader; only the most dedicated could possibly find the Report.
In response to my request to have a full right of reply they demanded that Weaver’s column gets published in full on my blog while I am relegated to the Letters (not the Opinion page) and they are free to reject, edit and chose the headline as they wish. Them’s their “rules”.
It is, of course, bizarre and hypocritical, but worse, it is an abuse of power, just the sort of thing they continually bring others to book for> Since readers can have no idea of what goes on behind the scene, they cannot know how “big media” can and does shape debate and the reputation of those it disapproves of or dislikes.
I agree I was vitriolic but certainly not defamatory. I gave Mr Weaver more than ample opportunity to point out the errors, but he did not do so. Rather he used the Cape Times as his vehicle and he used embarrassing omissions on a single item to trash to whole Report. It is vital that you read the Report and my response to Weaver to understand his ploy.
The truism “all power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely” holds today as it always did and will in the future. It is insidious and even good people get corrupted by the sense of immunity provided by a large organisations. The cut and thrust of popular journalism can also breed cynicism.
This is not only about me (or Weaver and Dasnois), nor is even about the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Others get subjected to the same treatment. It raises the general question as to who watches the Fourth Estate. We need the media (big or small) desperately in a democracy but we also need to keep them honest and transparent.
I don’t believe the major remedy are rules and regulations or litigation, useful as these may be at times. The way to keep the media and any “BIG” organisations from abusing power is EXPOSURE, EXPOSURE, EXPOSURE!
And this is where the Internet and individuals come in. I have done my bit as have others. I trust every reader will do their bit and more to bring this to as wide an audience as possible. This is a can of worms which must be exposed to daylight.
The Cape Times wishes to believe it meets the highest standards of ethical journalism. What do you believe? I have given you all the facts that I am aware of.