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On Camera: Reuters Roots for the Palestinians

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May 11, 2001
If any of the victims in the recent Palestinian/Israeli fighting deserved especially sympathetic media coverage, surely it would be 10-month-old Shalhevet Pas, shot dead in her baby carriage on March 26 by a Palestinian sniper, while her father, who was wounded in the attack, and her mother, watched in horror.

But the flood of photos from Reuters, which literally inundates newspapers with images of Palestinian victims accompanied by anti-Israel captions, slows to a dismissive trickle for Jewish victims like Shalhevet. Searches of a news photo database reveal that in the first three days after the shooting, Reuters sent out just four photos concerning the little girl, none of them citing Palestinian culpability in the murder. Two of these images were not even of Shalhevet. Instead, they showed "Jewish settlers" protesting the murder by painting Shalhevet's name in a Palestinian shop after they had "occupied it," and the captions attributed the killing of Shalhevet to an unidentified "gunman."

Of the two images that were of Shalhevet, one was a family photo showing her in the arms of her mother and father. In this photo, the first sent out by Reuters after the murder, the news agency dismissed as mere accusation any Palestinian responsibility:

"... Palestinian gunmen shot dead the 10-month-old baby in the West Bank city of Hebron, an Israeli Army spokesman said." (March 26, 2001) The next day Reuters managed to write an even more biased caption to go with a photo of Shalhevet lying dead in the hospital: "An undated handout picture shows slain 10-month-old baby Shalhevet Pas, who an Israeli Army spokesman claimed was killed by a Palestinian sniper in the West Bank city of Hebron ..." (March 27, 2001)

Only in a photo distributed on March 29 did Reuters' caption writers finally acknowledge Palestinian culpability. The photo however, concerned not Shalhevet's murder, but rather the allegedly violent response by her Jewish neighbors: "Smoke rises from a Palestinian market set on fire by Jewish settlers in the divided West Bank city of Hebron, late March 28, 2001. Clashes erupted in Hebron on Wednesday following the death of 10-month-old Jewish settler Shalhevet Pass on Monday night by a Palestinian sniper." (March 29, 2001) As Reuters apparently sees it, even when a Jewish infant is shot and killed by a Palestinian sniper, Palestinians are the victims. No doubt this entrenched mindset accounts for Reuters' coverage of Shalhevet's funeral -- or more accurately, its non-coverage.

That's right -- Reuters did not bother to send out even one photo of Shalhevet's funeral. This is certainly not because Reuters' photographers are lazy. On the contrary, when the casualty is Palestinian, the agency's photographers literally spring into action.

In a typical example, Reuters sent out at least nine photos when 13-year-old Palestinian Mohammad Helles died in early March after being shot a few days before.

Five photos were from his funeral, four from later rallies protesting his death, and one from a hospital as doctors worked to save his life. In eight of the photos the caption unambiguously attributed the shooting to Israeli soldiers. For example, a photo caption on March 3rd read: "Palestinians pray beside the body of slained (sic) 13-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Helles who died of wounds after being hit by Israeli gunfire earlier this week..."

Another on the same day read: "The body of 13-year-old Palestinian Mohammed Helles, who died of wounds after being hit by Israeli gunfire earlier this week, is carried during his funeral..." And similarly three days later: "Palestinians burn Israeli flags during a rally in Gaza March 16, 2001 in memory of 13 year-old Mohammad Helles, killed by Israeli troops in Gaza early this month..." Intensive coverage of Palestinian losses, and grudging, dismissive and minimal coverage of Israeli losses is the routine at Reuters. Even, or perhaps especially, when the Israeli victim is a 10-month-old baby.

As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. But with Reuters, it appears as if the pictures and the words are straight from the Palestinian Authority.

(By Alex Safian Associate Director of CAMERA, www.camera.org)

Used with Permission from Bridges for Peace.

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