TORONTO (IPS)–An award-winning British journalist is criticizing his colleagues in the Middle East for using government-inspired language that he says distorts the reality on the ground.

“The language of Middle East journalism has become so cowardly, so slippery, so deferential about phrases used by the State Department, the president, U.S. diplomats, and Israeli officials,” Robert Fisk told an overflowing audience in Toronto recently while on a series of speaking engagements in Canada.

In his 26 years of reporting on the Middle East, Mr. Fisk has made it his career to tell North American and European audiences why Muslims resent and even hate the West.


He provided examples of how phrases and terminology coined by American and Israeli officials eventually come out of the mouths of TV reporters on the Cable News Network (CNN) and help shape perceptions of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

For example, U.S. and some Canadian journalists, he said, are falling in step with a directive originally issued by Secretary of State Colin Powell that American diplomats say “disputed” instead of “occupied” in referring to the armed Israeli presence on the West Bank and Gaza.

The result is the erasing from the journalists’ lexicon of the reality of illegal Jewish colonies and Israeli army checkpoints crisscrossing the Palestinian territories, according to Mr. Fisk, a reporter with London’s Independent newspaper.

“‘Disputed,’ you see, suggests an argument about land deeds or conflicting ‘heritage claims’ as CNN once memorably called them,” said Mr. Fisk.

He pointed out how selective the U.S.-dominated international media can be in using the “terrorism” label.

“It is difficult to explain to Arabs, for example, why the New York and Washington massacres (on Sept. 11 one year ago) were an act of terrorism, which they were, but why the massacre of up to 1,700 Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Beirut between the 16th and 18th of September 1982 has never been called an act of terrorism by journalists or by government.”

Mr. Fisk discussed the cover of the Feb. 19 edition of Newsweek, which bore the headline, “Terror Goes Global.” Displayed was the photographic image of a man’s face wrapped almost completely in Arab headdress, with an automatic rifle on display.

After digging around, Mr. Fisk learned that the unnamed person on the cover was a Palestinian gunman attending the funeral of a fellow Tanzim militia member in the occupied West Bank.

Newsweek’s cover picture is a lie,” he said, because it used the image of a Palestinian fighter–dangerous as he might be to Israelis during their current war with Palestinians–to personify terrorism worldwide.

The result: “Palestinians have been effortlessly transformed into enemies of the world,” said Mr. Fisk.

The British journalist has drawn criticism for describing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and Gaza as a form of “colonization,” similar to how the French established their presence in Algeria before the country revolted and gained independence in the early 1960s. (Ariel Sharon has also unapologetically made the same parallel in an interview with the French press).

Now, Mr. Fisk said, CNN has directed its reporters to call Gilo, a controversial settlement on Arab land in the West Bank south of Jerusalem, “a Jewish neighborhood.”

You might understand why a Palestinian would choose to attack a settlement, but “not a cozy neighborhood,” adds Mr. Fisk, who says CNN would not comment when he asked network officials for an explanation.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has now also adopted “targeted killings,” the phrase Israeli officials use to refer to the assassination of selected Palestinians.

But some of those killings have involved innocent civilians, which is why the terminology is “highly misleading,” said Mr. Fisk.

It is not only reporting about the Israel-Palestine conflict that has been affected, he argued.

“Humoring Turkey,” a key ally in the possible war against Iraq, has also become a major endeavor of western governments, and is reflected in the way journalists describe the deliberate massacre of 1.5 million Christian Armenians in Ottoman-ruled Turkey in 1915, said Mr. Fisk.

There is no dispute among historians that the event happened, yet The New York Times, which broke the story 87 years ago, today refers to the details behind the killings (their occurrence disputed officially by a succession of Turkish governments) as “hotly debated” or “a matter of intense debate.”

That is “as insulting to Armenians as it is for Jews to hear the lie that their Holocaust should be disputed or denied,” said Mr. Fisk.