More balanced Mid-East coverage needed

This was a letter I sent to TODAY newspaper which was published on 20 July, together with the editor’s reply. The text in red was edited out by the paper.

Just to illustrate how appalling the civilian death toll is, since I submitted my letter on the night of 18 July, the number of Lebanese civilians who have been killed by Israeli bombs has increased from 200 to 327. 500,000 Lebanese have been displaced by the Israeli offensive.

The US, a country which preaches so much about human rights, is deliberately delaying sending Condi Rice to the region in order to give Israel more time to annihilate Hezbollah, along with a few hundred more civilians. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has rightly said that the “perpetrators in the conflict could be held to account for war crimes”.

Death toll so far:
Lebanese civilians: 327
Palestinian militants and civilians: 96
Israeli soldiers: 12
Israeli civilians: 16

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TODAY, 20 July 2006

Unbiased opinions: Looking at the Middle East from a neutral perspective

Letter from Gerald Giam

TODAY’s coverage of the ongoing Middle East conflict needs to be more balanced. Your choice of a former Israeli diplomat, Emanuel Shahaf, as your only regular commentator on Middle East issues may not be the most appropriate for Singapore’s context.

Although your writer does not push the Israeli position every time, his views still generally reflect the thinking of the Israeli government and provide insufficient coverage of the suffering of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians caught in the crossfire.

His commentaries on the latest hostilities appear to emphasise Syria’s and Iran’s complicity in backing the Hezbollah militants, while overlooking the fact that over 200 Lebanese citizens (mostly civilians) have been killed by Israeli air strikes since last Wednesday. I was particularly concerned when your writer’s commentary appeared on the front page of Weekend Today (“The road to war?”, July 15-16). Although I understand that it is TODAY’s editorial style to place commentaries on the cover page, your readers might mistake this to be an objective report rather than an opinion piece.

I am neither suggesting that you completely ignore the Israeli viewpoint, nor that you bring in a former Lebanese diplomat to present counter-arguments. However, you could consider featuring more opinion pieces from academics from local think tanks and universities who can provide a more neutral perspective.

Editor’s reply:

In deciding to tap on Mr Shahaf as a commentator on the Middle East, Today considered two important factors: One, his intimate and up-to-date knowledge of the area, given that he is based there; and two, that Mr Shahaf — despite the fact of his nationality — has striven to formulate and express his views with impartiality. This includes having been critical of Israel’s actions on several occasions.

In the interests of offering a diversity of views, Today has published commentaries and analyses on the Middle East written by other foreign and Singapore-based commentators, including John Gee, William Pfaff and Irfan Husain. The NewsComment today on page 2 is another case in point.

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4 thoughts on “More balanced Mid-East coverage needed”

  1. at first i thought the segment in red (31 words) was cut due to space constraints, but this is not supported by the editor’s long and defensive reply (112 words). in contrast, the edited version of your letter is 183 words long.

    based on my experience, i don’t understand why that segment was cut. i also don’t see the need for such an elaborate response either because it wasn’t some glaring error you pointed out.

    such an editorial decision — coming right after the mr brown incident — reveals the thinking process that goes on in the newsroom.

    btw, did they seek your approval before making those changes? when writing letters to newspapers, do you generally specify that you want to be notified if any changes are made, and do they honour that request?

  2. Thanks for your comments. I guess the segment was edited out to save space for the editor’s reply! :) But more likely, the editorial style of putting commentaries as cover stories might be a separate but sensitive issue for TODAY, as they have been warned (indirectly) before by the Information Minister not to mix commentaries with reporting. (Thankfully they didn’t heed that warning.)

    In defence of TODAY, I should point out that I had emailed the letter on Tue morning, stressing it was for internal feedback only. However, the editor emailed me later that evening to ask if I would permit them to publish it. So if they really wanted to be suppress my views, they could have just not published it.

    No, they did not seek my approval for the edits. I guess they only do that for govt replies and other VIPs (or more likely, they never edit those letters). I’ve sent several letters to both TODAY and ST without asking to be notified of edits. So far the edits haven’t changed the meaning of my letters much.

  3. i don’t think they wanted to suppress your views. letters remain unpublished for much more innocuous reasons.

    i’d have to take a look at the print layout before i can comment on whether “the segment was edited out to save space”.

    also, you can ask to be notified of edits with a simple statement like “please DO NOT make any changes to this letter without my prior approval” or something to that effect. i don’t think it’s something that only vips are entitled to, i think it’s basic courtesy. if they don’t have other letters worth printing, that’s their problem. =P

    let us know if that works…

  4. I agree. There’ve been times when I’ve delayed sending in letters, and as a result, the topic became “old news”.

    Thanks for the pointers. If you have more tips, do let us know.

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