Friday, June 04, 2010

Reporters need to ask follow-up questions of "eyewitnesses"

From Gulf News:
"We were witnesses to premeditated murders," said historian Mattias Gardell, who was on the Mavi Marmar.
 From DN.se (translated):
The Israelis committed premeditated murder. Two people were killed by shots in the forehead, one was shot in the back of the head and chest, said Gardell.
He did not see the killings with his own eyes. His information is based instead on what he asked others in prison.

Reporters are treating these "witnesses" with kid gloves. From the excellent site Just Journalism:

The most widely quoted British activist, who was on board the Mavi Marmara, is Sarah Colborne, director of campaigns at the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. She has been quoted in four of today’s broadsheets, the BBC News website and also featured on last night’s Channel 4 News.

She was generally presented as horrified and dismayed over the Israeli army’s deployment of lethal force. The Times reported her as saying, ‘Everyone’s just in shock. It was a massacre that took place there.’ The BBC’s Peter Jackson’s website article, ‘UK Gaza activist Sarah Colborne - ship raid 'surreal'’ described Colborne’s account as one of ‘stunned surprise’ and quoted her at her press conference, insisting: ‘It felt surreal, I couldn't quite believe they were doing what they were doing - none of us anticipated it’....

The only journalist to challenge the PSC director’s claims that she was surprised that the Israelis boarded the boat and to press her on who initiated the violence was BBC Today programme anchor Sarah Montague. The journalist repeatedly tried to glean from Colborne, who had started the violence and what she had actually seen. In the following exchange, Colborne revealingly avoids the BBC journalist’s question about whether or not the passengers attacked the soldiers and implies that she did not actually see Israeli commandos open fire:

Sarah Montague:    Are you saying that Israeli soldiers who boarded that ship opened fire and there was no provocation for it?

Sarah Colborne:    That’s what I am saying, yes.

SM:    You saw that. You saw them fire when there was no attack on them.

SC:    I saw them, well, I saw them, what I saw was them coming down from a helicopter onto the roof, I saw them trying to board the boat via dinghies.

SM:    Were they attacked by those on board?

SC:    They – the people on board, as you can see, were trying to stop…

SM:    Hitting them with metal bars.

SC:    Well, we need to see the entire footage. I believe to give a perspective on what was happening. They were shooting, they were shooting civilians, they were using gas bombs on the ship. The truth is we were in international waters, Israel committed a piracy offence.

Sarah Montague also challenged Colborne’s contention she had ‘heard no warnings whatsoever’ that the Israelis were going to raid the ship, saying, ‘How can you not have known or how can those on board the ship… because we know from what the Israeli side is saying that there were plenty of warnings?

The BBC journalist finally broached the subject of the professed desire for martyrdom on the part of some of the participants who had died:

‘Let me, let me put something to you. The Turkish newspapers yesterday quoted family members of two of the dead men as saying that they had wanted to be martyrs.’

Sarah Colborne, once again, flatly denied being aware of any such aspirations of her co-travellers:

‘Well, I – I have no idea. I didn’t speak to anyone who wanted to be a martyr.’
The fact that Israel got the footage out on YouTube so quickly has allowed journalists to ask real questions - when they have a desire to find out the truth, that is.