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Bad News From the Netherlands By: HonestReporting.com
HonestReporting.com | Thursday, November 08, 2007

The media is the most powerful tool for "branding" a country. The enormous number of foreign journalists based in Israel has certainly played its part in keeping the Arab-Israeli conflict in the public eye, far beyond other conflict zones around the world, such as Darfur.

Despite being a global leader in hi-tech, science, agriculture and many other fields, Israel suffers from negative branding by the media primarily within the context of a conflict situation.

In stark contrast, what is the Netherlands associated with? Many of you will conjure up benign images of windmills and tulips. It would be hard to find anything particularly offensive or negative to say about the Netherlands. Yet, this is precisely what Dr. Manfred Gerstenfeld from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs has done with his new blog site "Bad News From the Netherlands".

As World Politics Review explains:

News coverage from Israel in the European press is often little more than a parody of honest journalism. Israelis have complained about this for decades, but more evidence of what you might call atrocities against journalism surface every day in European courtrooms and in the research of scholars.

To highlight at least one of the techniques used by European -- and some American -- news organizations, one Israeli has launched his own news parody. "Bad News from the Netherlands," run by Manfred Gerstenfeld, reports on the Netherlands by focusing exclusively on negative news. By the time you run through the clippings -- all real news stories -- the usually placid Netherlands sounds like the abode of the devil himself: Dutch soldiers suspected of torturing prisoners and killing civilians; soldiers beating an immigrant to death in the street; Dutch politicians guilty of incitement against foreigners. The list goes on, with items pouring into Gerstenfeld's inbox every day from his fans in the Netherlands and from the Dutch newspapers he reads.

His point? Unbalanced reporting can make any country look bad. Focusing on the negative is one way to do this. Failing to show context and willingly distorting facts, or routinely accepting disinformation from one side of a conflict, are others.

Speaking to HonestReporting, Gerstenfeld said:

We hope that people in other countries will follow. "Bad News" is a typical example of how to shift paradigms. We do not spend our time exposing Dutch media distorters or writing letters to their editors. We just take their distorting methods to the extreme on their own country. At the same time we are honest while they are not. We tell upfront that we only publish negative news. I think that as the number of negative items on our website will grow, their cumulative effect will become very powerful. We should however never forget our ultimate goal: to force Dutch society to begin a debate on how many of its leading Dutch media distorts reporting on Israel.

Will "Bad News From the Netherlands" fatally tarnish the country? Perhaps not, but this project presents an innovative angle exposing anti-Israel media bias.


In recent months Hamas has tried to paint itself as "moderate", writing op-ed pieces in major newspapers such as the New York Times, Washington Post and LA Times. Being "media friendly" extended to securing the release of BBC reporter Alan Johnston and giving "guided tours" around Gaza for foreign journalists.

As with all authoritarian and terror groups, however, freedom of the press, particularly its own Palestinian media, is anathema to Hamas, which has decided to issue its own press cards to journalists operating in the Gaza Strip. The JPost reports:

Hamas' decision is seen by many Palestinian journalists in the Gaza Strip as an attempt to restrict their work and control news coverage from that area.

"Now Hamas will decide who can work as a journalist and who can't," one journalist told The Jerusalem Post. "Obviously, Hamas is not going to issue press credentials to anyone who does not support them. And I know many journalists here who might have to start searching for new jobs."

Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah strongly condemned the Hamas move, describing it as an attempt to extort and intimidate journalists.

Al Mutawakel Taha, a senior official with the PA Ministry of Information, said that the decision to issue Hamas press cards was a "grave violation of the freedom of expression." He said in response to the move that the PA has decided to shut the Gaza-based branch of the PA Ministry of Information. "No one will recognize the new card," he said. "The attempt to impose press cards on journalists is unprecedented and a dangerous step that will have a negative impact on the freedom of the media in the Gaza Strip."

The Fatah-controlled Palestinian Journalists Syndicate said the Hamas decision was yet another move designed to terrorize journalists and prevent them from carrying out their work.

While it has never been a priority within the Palestinian Authority, this latest move by Hamas drives yet another nail in the coffin of press freedom for the Palestinian people in Gaza.

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