'Israel wants to limit demoralising images’

Israeli authorities have banned foreign media from entering the Gaza Strip. Arnaud Mercier, who specialises in war reporting, examines Israel’s clampdown on Gaza coverage.


Arnaud Mercier, researcher at CNRS, is a vigilant observer of wartime reporting and an author of several works on the subject, including the coverage of the Iraq war. He spoke to FRANCE 24 about the media coverage of the Gaza conflict.



FRANCE 24: Israel is not allowing international journalists into the Gaza Strip. Israeli authorities argue that it’s looking out for journalists' safety. What are your thoughts?


Mercier: This argument isn’t fooling anyone. It is true that journalists often put themselves in peril during wartime. A number of my colleagues were killed covering wars. In Gaza, it doesn’t seem like the journalists’ safety is the primary concern of the Israeli army. Israel instituted the blackout to limit the publication and broadcasting of images that would demoralise public opinion. After the fiasco of the 2006 Lebanese war, the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) decided to adopt very stringent measures for journalists. This was meant to limit the potential impact that the images might have had on international opinion. The Israeli military was mindful of the measures taken by the Pentagon from the Vietnam War era. That was a conflict in which images created public shockwaves.



FRANCE 24: In terms of risk, is the Gaza situation unique?


Mercier: Danger is, regrettably, the usual fare for wars of this nature. The Gaza Strip is a very urban area, prone to urban guerilla warfare, with the risk of gunshots and explosions right downtown. In this area, journalists are exposed to real danger. But not more than in Chechnya or other recent conflict zones.



FRANCE 24: Some of the images we’ve seen of the dead and wounded were provided by Hamas. Some have questioned their validity? Are we dealing with a “closed-door” war?


Mercier: The door is not totally closed. The closure is more on the side of the Israelis and the international community. The Israeli blackout doctrine, especially, is odd. The war images are broadcast on Arab TV stations across the world, after all. Even if they were from Hamas or from Arab journalists, this doesn’t disqualify them from being credible. They attest to Israeli bombardments against Gaza’s population.


Images from the other side have been produced and circulated, on the Internet, for example. The problem is whether certain western channels want to use locally produced images. One can always argue that Hamas images are all about propaganda. But in the warfare of modern communication, to try to impose a media blackout is itself a form of propaganda. A more neutral attitude would consist of putting in some Israeli images – those far-off images taken from cliffs – along with Arab-shot images to maintain some sort of balance. This objective has not been achieved.


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