Monday, 11 August 2008

The 'halo effect' shields NGOs from media scrutiny

Article by Naftali Balanson, managing editor of NGO Monitor in The Jerusalem Post

"A familiar scenario: A non-governmental organization (NGO) issues a report on alleged Israeli human rights violations, and it's instantly and automatically newsworthy. The Israeli and foreign media uncritically, even eagerly, promote the NGO's politicized agenda, regardless of the NGO's credibility or the veracity of the allegations.

This "halo effect," whereby the claims of human rights groups are accepted without a modicum of scrutiny, often results in Israel's vilification on the international stage for violating "international humanitarian law" or demonized as an "apartheid state" to be shunned and boycotted. By publishing these stories, the media reinforces the halo effect and becomes partner to the damage done.

The typical article on Israeli "violations" has a number of common denominators. Beyond the ubiquitous headline championing a human rights NGO and condemning Israel, the NGO's "evidence" and sensational accusations are repeated, left unchallenged by the reporter. By dint of its presumed independence and stated lofty goals, the NGO is considered more truthful than the government. The media pits universal human rights against Israel, leaving it to respond on the defensive. This might make for "good" journalism, but does it tell the whole story?

In recent weeks, local, highly political rights groups - funded by the EU and by European governments - have received worldwide coverage for their attacks on Israel. Consider the publicity afforded to Physicians for Human Rights - Israel (PHR-I) when it accused the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) of denying Gazans life-saving health care in Israel unless the patients informed on family and friends. PHR-I's report was published in hundreds of major media outlets, and Israel was portrayed as cruel and inhumane, as opposed to genuinely concerned for the security of its citizens.
Yet, despite the importance of this story, did reporters question PHR-I's reliability? Rather, the halo effect shielded it from past mistakes. Three months ago, PHR-I reported that a cancer patient in Gaza died while awaiting a permit to receive treatment in Israel, only to admit days later that the "deceased" was still alive. The patient was attempting to evade a security check.
Even if we give PHR-I the benefit of the doubt, that it was unknowingly misled by the patient's family, surely similar self-serving "evidence" from Palestinians and provided by PHR-I should be taken with a healthy dose of skepticism. But it was not."
Read the full article here

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