Over at the BBC Watch site we have a link to an interesting 2005 report by Trevor Asserson and Michael Paluch on the subject of the BBC’s use of images to depict the Palestinian – Israeli conflict and the way in which editorial decisions regarding which pictures to use can influence audience perception of the conflict.
“We detected frequently used techniques for evoking sympathy or antipathy. Israelis were almost always depicted as armed, male and as soldiers. They were often disembodied, showing arms, legs, boots or weapons, but not faces. Palestinians by contrast were very frequently depicted as women and children. Palestinian men, when shown, were generally unarmed (even Policemen) and were often praying, kneeling or bowing.”
Of course the BBC is by no means the only media organization to use selectively chosen images in order to communicate subliminal messages regarding Israel and Israeli society. On the Guardian’s “Israel” page on May 11th we find a link to a feature from its sister paper The Observer entitled “The Observer’s 20 photographs of the week” and sub-headed “The best news and culture images from around the world over the past seven days”.
Among the twenty photographs from around the world, two come from Israel and both have a military theme.
The caption to the first photograph reads:
“From a series of excellent images by Menahem Kahana, an Israeli soldier prays inside a net tent pitched close to Merkava tanks deployed in the Israeli annexed Golan Heights near the border with Syria. UN chief Ban Ki-moon has appealed for restraint after Israeli air strikes on targets near Damascus.”
It is possible to count seven more soldiers in that picture – none of whom are praying – but interestingly the reader’s attention is steered towards the one soldier who is. The suggestion of linkage between the IDF and religion is a popular theme with both photographers and editors – as shown, for example, by the BBC’s use of images to illustrate last November’s conflict between Hamas and Israel.
The inclusion of the last sentence in the picture’s caption mistakenly suggests direct linkage between the alleged Israeli air strikes on consignments of Iranian weapons bound for the terrorist organization Hizballah and the presence of the tanks depicted in the photographs in the Golan Heights. In fact, tank crews have been training in the Golan Heights for decades, so the pictures can hardly be said to represent “news”.
Another noticeable phenomenon in pictorial portrayals of Israel is the tendency of photographers and photo editors to over-represent the Orthodox stream of Israeli society, which even the highest estimates put at a mere 10% of the whole population. The Observer is apparently no exception: the previous edition of this photo feature also included two photographs from Israel (out of a total of 20) and both of those images concentrated on members of the Orthodox community during the festival of Lag B’Omer. However, elsewhere in Israel at the time, considerably more Israelis were celebrating the same festival by having bonfires, baking potatoes in the embers and toasting marshmallows. Images depicting those activities would of course have been more likely to prompt a sense of identification in most Observer readers.
Images of Israel with a non-military and/or non-religious theme are to be found all too rarely among the growing number of pictorial features produced by media organisations. That fact is undoubtedly influencing public perception of Israel in general and the Arab-Israeli conflict in particular, and it is a factor to which photo editors need to address.