Friday, August 11, 2006

Did You Know?

Part 94 of an occassional series

Did you know that all reporters working in Israel operate under severe restrictions* imposed by the Israeli government? Let's take the example of a BBC reporter covering a specific Hezbollah rocket attack somewhere in northern Israel. If there was a large Israeli military presence or a weapons factory ten metres from where the rocket landed, the reporter is not allowed to reveal this fact.

This applies to every single reporter in Israel and yet you'll struggle to remember the last time you heard an anchor say "let's go over to Gavin Bloggs in northern Israel now. Gavin's reports are, of course, subject to the restrictions which are imposed on all reporters by the Israeli government. Gavin, what can you tell us?"

In fact, I don't think I've ever heard anyone say that on the news at any point since the conflict began. It wouldn't be that hard to mention it once in a while, would it?

* Please note that this link does not imply a blanket endorsement of every word of Jonathan Cook's article. But he is one of the very few people to dare to mention the fact that reports from Israel are subject to censorship.

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Bag said...

I think there is a slight difference between stopping the reporters providing the enemy with information and not letting the media in until the scene is set.

I doubt there is any country that would allow information helpful to the enemy to be reported.

Steve G said...

Yeah, but if Hezbollah are aiming their rockets at military targets then that rather presupposes that they know where they are. Or do you suggest that they're just aiming randomly and it would help the enemy to let them know when they'd hit something (rather like the game of 'Battleships)? Somehow I doubt that's what's happening.

In any case, it doesn't explain why the BBC don't bother to explain why their reporters in Israel are operating under -- quite possibly justified -- military censorship, as they have done in various other conflicts.

Bag said...

I think they will claim they are aiming at military targets but it sounds like they have no real targeting systems so to keep near misses secret is only sensible. Don't want a car bomb or a walker going there do we.
The battleships anology only works when a repeat strike can be made. Even from exactly the same launch site with exactly the same aimpoint it is very unlikely to hit the same area.

If they had to report censorship then they need to do it for every country. Don't forget it's only recently, and due to technology changes, that the UK put the AWE sites on the map.

Judith Chalmers reports that her tour of Berkshire included stops at Reading which is on the OS map. Listeners should note this map is censored by the UK Government.

Some things you have to take as read.

Steve G said...

I dunno. You say the rockets have no real targetting systems, and I'm sure they don't, but are they completely innaccurate (you can be pretty sure you'll hit somewhere in Haifa, but that's it) or can you be reasonably sure -- as you could with the old Soviet Katyusha rockets -- that if you've got the elevation and firing position right, they'll land roughly where they're supposed to? I ask because I do not know.

I'm not sure about the rationale of 'keeping near misses secret' a lot of the time; everyone is going to know, anyway, where an army barracks is -- it's hardly a secret most of the time. There's a clear propaganda advantage in having it reported that (in London terms) civilians were killed when Hyde Park and Knightsbridge were bombed, without adding that the bombers appeared to aiming for Hyde Park Barracks, but I'm not sure what the tactical advantage is supposed to be.

It's particularly relevant, to my mind, since the Israelis are trying to justify civilian casualties in Lebanon with reference to the way Hizbollah is using the civilian population as a human shield (in the same way we use the civilian population of Woolwich, Knightsbridge and Aldershot? I wonder). If it transpires that Israeli casualties are primarily among people unfortunate enough to live near an Army barracks or arms factory, then it puts a rather different light on it.

I don't quite see your point about if they reported censorship for one country, they'd have to do it for every country. Self-evidently, that isn't the case; reports from Saddam's Baghdad during the war -- as I recall -- carried the (somewhat superfluous) warning that they were subject to Iraqi military censorship, but apparently the BBC and other Western media don't feel the need carry the same warning in this case, even though it does rather affect the story.

Mark said...

Without a targeting system (for a moving target) or coordinates (for a stationary target), even a very modern missile is unlikely to land exactly where its mate did. Their flight times all vary with the fuel in them, and those are almost never exactly the same - ditto weight. You'd have to have a pretty accurate launcher radian to assure the launch elevation was precisely the same as last time.

Then factor in banging it about in the back of a Land Rover or however you got it to the site. Cap it all off with the obvious danger of staying exposed long enough to take a second shot, after receiving your "damage report".

Still, I agree no force in the field allows reporting on the success/failure of attacks. Although Israel is being unreasonable in many, many other ways, that's not one of them.

CuriousHamster said...

I'd agree that there are sensible military reasons for Israel's imposition of these restrictions.

What I really wanted to highlight in this post was that this policy also has other implications. Israel claims that Hezbollah are deliberately targeting civilians in an attempt to kill as many as possible. This, they say, makes what Hezbollah does different from what the IDF has been doing in Lebanon. They rely on the theory of Double Effect to justify their own actions.

It seems to me, however, that the restrictions imposed on reporting make it very difficult to establish whether Hezbollah really is deliberately targeting civilians in the way that Israel claims because we're never told whether there was an obvious military target nearby.

In fact, if you look at the civilian/soldier casualty ratio for Hezbollah's military activities, it suggests that Hezbollah are primarily aiming for soldiers, not civilians. This means, in effect, that they too could use the Double Effect theory to justify Israeli civilian deaths.

I agree with the linked article above however. In both cases, Double Effect isn't a good defence because there are other options.

I doubt that either side are deliberately attempting to kill civilians. But both, it seems to me, have adpoted indescriminate tactics which reveal a callous disregard for civilian lives.

Let's hope this new ceasefire proposal gains some traction.