How do the media report on the Middle East conflict? Deutsche Welle invited media experts to debate this question on Thursday, August 30 at a panel discussion in Brussels.
Some 350 international guests attended the event at the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia's representation office to the European Union in Brussels. In his keynote address, DW Director General Erik Bettermann said there was no disagreement among journalists about the principle of independence in reporting. But there were subjects, including the Middle East conflict, that apparently journalists found difficult to handle with due objectivity. Christian F. Trippe, Head of DW's Brussels studio, moderated the lively discussion.
Israeli attorney and Right Livelihood Award laureate Felicia Langer, one of the five panelists, expressed right at beginning her disappointment at what she saw as a lack of coverage which was critical towards Israel. "Germany must take a stand wherever human rights are violated," she said. In contrast, Daniel Dagan, a freelance journalist for Israeli newspapers who introduced himself as an 'Israeli patriot', said: "Israel is constantly criticized". He also accused the media of "false reporting".
Humanity and international law as the criteria
Berlin-based publicist and Middle East expert Michael Lüders noted the differences between German media coverage compared to other European countries when dealing with this highly sensitive topic. "Germany's historical responsibility," he said, "cannot mean that it may not make critical comments about the Israeli state." Lüders commented that "humanity and international law" should be the criteria for all reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
German journalist Werner Sonne described German coverage of the Middle East conflict as "adequately critical". But he said he disapproved of German media’s tendency "to look inward since 1989". In his opinion, the coverage of foreign affairs had dropped in general since the reunification.
Role of blogs in shaping opinion
Panelist Michael Konken, Chairman of the German Federation of Journalists (DJV), pointed out the many blogs and social networks which strengthened balanced reporting. DW editor Lina Hoffmann picked up on that point with an eye on the current reporting of the conflict in Syria, where she was born. She said blogs and other forms of user-generated content could help shape opinions. But to understand conflicts such as the situation in Syria and to form a nuanced view one had to "know the story behind a country". Hoffmann said that by its comprehensive background reports, DW supported the process of shaping public opinion.