To air or not to air: What footage is appropriate for TV

To air or not to air: What footage is appropriate for TV

JERUSALEM — “Come with us and you’ll see how we kill the Zionist enemy! It’ll be a terrific shot!”
Those may or could have been the words with which a Hamas-backed squad ordered to ambush a motorized Israeli patrol moving along the Gaza Strip’s security fence invited a Palestinian television crew (there are no foreign television crews in Gaza) to be at the scene for what was the most serious cease-fire violation to date.
The Hamas gunmen presumably told the cameraman where to set up his equipment and where to focus his camera.
Sure enough, once the video frame was stabilized, the requisite “white balance” taken and the optimal angle chosen, several Israeli military vehicles virtually drove into the picture, the soldiers on board unaware that they might have only a few minutes left to live.
When the lead vehicle reached the frame’s center, a horrendous explosion went off, an army tracker (by coincidence, a bedouin Arab citizen of Israel) was killed and three of his Jewish comrades in arms were wounded, one gravely.
The gunmen and the television crew made a quick getaway, back to Gaza and straight to the Ramattan Studios, which was ready to broadcast, feed and distribute the footage to all takers.
That night it was all over Israeli television and on stations all over the world.
Was this act ethical, professional or understandable?
Not necessarily and more likely, not at all. The video journalists who accepted the invitation, tip or opportunity extended to them must have known that they would be witnesses to premeditated murder. (Of course, they may have been coerced, but this cannot be verified.)
A Palestinian television producer who works for one of the major news organizations covering the Middle East conflict said he would have turned down the offer. “I have backed away from such stories many times,” he said, contending that they did not require initiative or courage, but sheer disregard for human life.
Strangely enough, these issues did not come up for public discussion in the Israeli news media in the wake of the on-camera killing. The local networks’ Gaza Strip coverage came from Ramattan throughout “Operation Cast Lead,” (the Israel Defense Force’s official name of the 23-day long Gaza Strip war.) Their male and female correspondents and news anchors stood on hilltops scanning the inaccessible Gaza Strip, reported what the IDF spokespeople and their own (unidentified) military contacts told them while the Ramattan footage filled their viewers’ screens. Israel’s government did not allow any local or foreign media personnel to enter the Strip from the Saturday (Dec. 27, 2008) that the hostilities began with a relentless weeklong aerial bombardment to the Sunday (Jan. 18) it ended with house-to-house fighting in Gaza and other densely populated areas.
Ramattan was established 10 years ago by an enterprising and ambitious Palestinian who holds a doctorate from Oxford University as well as a U.S. passport. Qassam Ali al-Kafarna had previously served three years in an Israeli prison for membership and activity in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical, Marxist-oriented group whose founder, the late Dr. George Habash, advocated the most extreme forms of violence against Israel.
One of the daily Haaretz’ top writers on Arab affairs, Zvi Bar’el, quoted Gazan sources as saying Ramattan is “100 percent pro-Hamas.” He cites a description voiced in “a Fatah forum” of the studio’s atmosphere: “It hosts Hamas activists and provides a broad platform for the representative of the movement.” (Fatah is Hamas’ main domestic political foe.)
An unidentified Gaza journalist gave Bar’el a grim definition of the mass media’s status in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. “Today it is impossible to report anything that is opposed to the line determined by Hamas,” he reportedly said, suggesting that it is mandatory to report anything that Hamas favors, such as the blast that was detonated by the Hamas gunmen and caused death of the bedouin tracker. (His family in Israel asked that he not be identified lest Palestinian extremists try to punish it for his valiant military service).

(Jay Bushinsky, an Israel-based political columnist, can be reached at