The Price of a Free Press

By Anshel Pfeffer (Jerusalem Post)

* “The Israeli-Hizbullah War of 2006: The Media as a Weapon in Asymmetrical Conflict” by veteran reporter, author and broadcaster Marvin Kalb is a must-read for journalists, the military, politicians, spokesmen and news consumers.

* Kalb writes that democratic societies living by the ideals of a free and unfettered press will always be at a disadvantage to dictatorships and oppressive ideologies, adept at manipulating the media. “A closed society conveys the impression of order and discipline; an open society, buffeted by the crosswinds of reality and rumor, criticism and revelation, conveys the impression of disorder, chaos and uncertainty.”

* Israel’s campaign was remarkably transparent. Even openly hostile Arab TV networks, such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya, were allowed to operate in almost total freedom and film IDF units preparing for battle. Every failure and mishap on the battlefield – and relative chaos on the home front – was highlighted.

* On the other side, Hizbullah controlled the journalists covering Lebanon with an iron fist. Media tours of Hizbullah-controlled areas were tightly managed, with foreign reporters sternly warned against wandering off and talking to local residents unsupervised.

* Hizbullah also forbade any photographs of its fighters. Cameramen were warned never to show men with guns or ammunition. The only armed personnel seen during this war were IDF soldiers; Hizbullah remained throughout a phantom army.

* Another scene almost never shown was the hundreds of Hizbullah firing positions and missile launch sites within residential areas and private homes, the cause of many civilian deaths and a violation of international law.

* Footage coming out of Lebanon dealt almost exclusively with the results of the IDF bombing. Few news organizations made an effort to balance these pictures with those of the damage from Hizbullah’s indiscriminate bombing of Israeli civilians.

March 12, 2007 | 1 Comment »

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  1. In the course of this article, Kalb raises a number of questions including the following:

    In a confrontation in which information is a weapon, should a democracy curb freedom of the press when its adversary is craftily manipulating the media and utilizing every report in the free press as military intelligence?…..(and two sub-quesitons) Is the price of living in an open democracy too heavy in time of war? How can a free country put its case across to a free press?

    Kalb, does not answer the questions he raises.

    Rather, he observes that Colin Powell stated 10 years ago that if the press were to report on the current postions of American troops, he would lock them up. Kalb then makes the further observation that American generals would be less sure today on whether they hold the same view as C. Powell did 10 years ago.

    The most interesting part of Kalb’s observations that compares the Pentagon attitude 10 years ago with today, is that he implies there is a change in attitude as regards reporting in a free society during times of war, but does not go into just what that change is, how far it has come and why it has changed at all since C. Powell’s comment 10 years ago implictly argued for restrictions on freedom of the press in democratic societies during war time.

    The questions Kalb poses are very serious. They must be addressed directly.

    While Marvin Kalb should be given credit for having raised these questions, no credit goes to him for having avoided answering the very serious questions he posed and instead just making observations that freedom of the press in a democratic nation may have changed over time.

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