By B. Cohen
The Associated Press is not the only major news outlet to uncritically report the perspectives of NGOs working on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while ignoring their critics, Israel’s leading analyst of the NGO sector, Professor Gerald Steinberg, has told The Algemeiner.
Steinberg was commenting after the remarkable revelation in an Atlantic Magazine article by Matti Friedman, who worked as an AP reporter in Israel between 2006-11, that he and his colleagues were forbidden by the AP management from quoting either Steinberg or his organization, the watchdog NGO Monitor.
“The bureau’s explicit orders to reporters were to never quote the group or its director, an American-raised professor named Gerald Steinberg,” Friedman wrote. “In my time as an AP writer moving through the local conflict, with its myriad lunatics, bigots, and killers, the only person I ever saw subjected to an interview ban was this professor.”
Asked whether other outlets exercise a similar policy towards his organization, Steinberg told The Algemeiner: “Each bureau chief and reporter has his or her views and practices, but in general this censorship and embrace of NGO narratives is consistent with the practice of the BBC, the LA Times, Guardian, Reuters, and some, but not all, New York Times reporters.”
Neither is the Israeli media immune from the practice of deliberately ignoring NGO Monitor’s critical analyses of NGO activities detrimental to Israel that attract millions of dollars in funding from foreign governments and foundations. “In one case, Haaretz published a report on an event in the European Parliament in which I spoke, without mentioning me or NGO Monitor,” Steinberg said. “The entire article was based on the distorted press releases from an Israeli NGO that sought to prevent my presentation. The Israel Press Council found Haaretz guilty of violating journalistic ethics, and ordered them to publish a correction.”
Steinberg added that Friedman’s claim of an AP ban on NGO Monitor had “been confirmed independently by others who worked at AP, and is consistent with the wider picture in which many journalists work closely with NGO officials, and reinforce their biases.”
Update: AP’s director of media relations, Paul Colford, has denied the ban on Professor Steinberg and NGO Monitor in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon:
Asked specifically to address the charge that AP reporters were ordered not to speak to NGO Monitor or Steinberg, Colford called the claim “demonstrably false.”
“A claim that AP ordered reporters not to use Gerald Steinberg and his NGO Monitor as sources in AP stories after the Gaza war of 2008-2009 is demonstrably false, as shown in an array of more than a dozen stories in recent years quoting Prof. Steinberg by name and mentioning the group,” Colford said.
NGO Monitor’s Steinberg says he was not shocked to learn of the AP’s purported ban on his group.
“Matti Friedman’s revelations regarding the efforts to censor NGO Monitor and me as its president are not entirely surprising,” Steinberg wrote Monday on the organization’s website. “Based on our experience in publishing detailed research on over 150 NGOs claiming to promote human rights and humanitarian objectives, we are aware of the intense efforts to maintain the NGO ‘halo effect’ and prevent critical debate. While the AP censorship was explicit, we have experienced similar silencing from other media platforms.”
Steinberg has further petitioned the AP to prove its claim that NGO Monitor was not banned during the 2008-2009 war in Gaza by providing a list of stories mentioning the group and the date they were published.
When asked about Steinberg’s request, the AP’s Colford provided to the Free Beacon six stories published since June 2009 that mention Steinberg and his organization.
Only one article is from the disputed time period, and its focus is on Hamas war crimes, not crimes regarding the Israeli side. The AP routinely publishes reports authored by NGOs critical of Israel.