Facts That Matter

10 06 2011

Category; Media, Middle East

Facts are relative to context. No news report can be encyclopaedic enough to encompass every view and every nuance. Broadcast media especially are broad-brush and, at their best, leave an impression rather than swamping the audience with facts.

But news must be anchored in facts, and sometimes it seems the distance to that anchor is so great that the report becomes adrift.

Take the Today Programme on BBC Radio 4 on 10th June 2011. A report on the Middle East, always contentious, on the anniversary of the end of the Six Day War in 1967.

A vastly experienced presenter, John Humphrys, introduced the vastly experienced BBC reporter Kevin Connolly. The subject was; the prospects of Israel trading territory it took in that war, for peace. It’s a long report with a long link. I’m not going to look at every little detail; just one.

In the link it states that Israel conquered a territory big enough to triple it in size; that the idea of trading some for peace has been around ever since, unrealised. The same statement is repeated in the report.

Nowhere in the report or link was it mentioned that Israel has in fact traded the vast majority of the land taken in 1967 for peace. That’s not a minor detail.

Israel took the following areas in that war; West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights, Sinai.

In 1978 they signed a Peace Treaty with Egypt which saw the return of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt. The Sinai was almost 90% of the territory captured in 1967. In return they got peace with Egypt.

Time for some maths…here’s a list of the size (in square kilometres) of Israel before that war, and the size of each of the territories taken. Click on the number to see the source for it

 

•  Israel (1948-67):      20,770

•  West Bank:                   5,860

•  Gaza:                                   360

•  Golan Heights             1,200

•  Sinai:                             61,100

 

According to these figures Israel took control of areas big enough not just to triple it, but almost quadruple it’s size in that war. But it gave an area three times the size Israel had been until 1967 back to Egypt.

Whatever else you might think, that would appear to be a fact; the sort of “good old-fashioned reporting” that Connolly recently told journalism students in Ireland to strive for.

 

See below for a transcription of the link and relevant bits of the report, and click on the image to hear the whole item.

 

The Today Programme BBC Radio 4 – 10th June 2011, 8.42 am

 John Humphrys:

It’s 44 years to the day since the guns fell silent in the Six Day War between Israel and it’s Arab enemies and it sometimes seems the consequences of that conflict have made the news on an almost daily basis ever since. At the end of the fighting Israel had conquered so much Arab territory it was three times of the size it had been at the beginning. The idea that some of that captured territory should be traded for peace with its Arab neighbours and the Palestinians was born not long afterwards, but the longer the outline of a deal has been around the further it feels from being realised. It was most recently in the headlines when Barack Obama said that he thought Israel’s ’67 borders were the starting point for agreement but he had to row back when Israel’s Prime Minister said they were unacceptable, indefensible. Our correspondent Kevin Connolly considers how close or remote a deal seems now, on the ground in Israel.

 

Kevin Connolly:

…Israel trebled in size after its overwhelming victory of 1967 and the principle of trading land for peace became part of daily diplomatic discourse, but if it was that simple it would have been done by now. How much land should Israel give up for instance? And what does ‘peace’ mean anyway?..

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