Sunday, July 11, 2010

Relibable Sources?

Last night ABC World News Saturday reported on the latest attempt of a ship carrying humanitarian aid for Gaza to run the Israeli naval blockade. In this case the aid was coming from Libya; and the report said little more than that, according to an Israeli source, the challenge had been resolved by diplomatic means. Reading the Al Jazeera English account of this story, filed early this morning, leads me to wonder just how industrious ABC had been about checking their sources. This version includes the material that seems to have supported the one provided by ABC:

The ship set sail from Greece on Saturday, carrying 2,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip, but the Israeli foreign ministry said that it had reached an agreement with Greece and Moldova to have the ship diverted to Egypt.

However, the lead paragraphs of the Al Jazeera version make it clear that no one associated with the ship itself was party to the "agreement" with Israel:

Organisers of a Libya-sponsored aid ship have said they will continue their attempt to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, despite Israeli claims that the vessel would instead sail to Egypt.

Yousseuf Sawani, a director of the Gaddafi International Charity and Development Foundation, told Al Jazeera that there were no plans for the Al-Amal to dock at the port El-Arish.

"This is definitely a part of the campaign against the ship, a campaign of distortion, but we are definitely heading towards Gaza, because that is where aid should be heading to," he told Al Jazeera.

"This is a purely humane mission, it is neither provocative nor hostile," he said.

On further reading one discovers that not only was the ship not part of the agreement but also Egypt, as the site of the alternative docking, was not involved:

Israeli authorities also reportedly contacted Omar Suleiman, the Egyptian intelligence chief, to request that the ship be allowed to dock in El-Arish, close to the border with the Gaza Strip.

But Hossam Zaki, a spokesman for the Egyptian foreign ministry, said that he was not expecting the ship to travel to the Egyptian port.

"This ship is not headed Egypt. We did not get any official request from the Libyan side for the ship to dock in Egypt," he said.

"Its not about the Israelis' request. Its up to the will of the organisers of the ship.

"They said they are heading to Gaza, they did not approach us. The situation as far we are concerned is a ship heading to Gaza."

Beyond the question of whether or not the current state of affairs may lead to a confrontation uglier than what took place on the Mavi Marmara, the Turkish vessel trying to carry humanitarian aid for Gaza through the Israeli blockade, is the equally serious question of how responsible ABC was in its reporting last night. It is clear from the Al Jazeera version that there were plenty of non-Israeli sources available to at least possibly refute the proposition that the blockade challenge had been diplomatically resolved. Did ABC really think it was sufficient to run a story like this strictly on the basis of Israeli sources?

Meanwhile, those who get their news from television continue to be without Al Jazeera English as an option. I have yet to find a cable provider willing to make room for the channel among the hundreds of slots they provide; and, while Public Television has shown signs of broadening their scope of sources, they are still not prepared to include Al Jazeera within that breadth. That leaves the Internet; and, while I continue to rely on the Al Jazeera RSS feed for my own amateur efforts at source-checking, I came away from this morning's San Francisco Chronicle report by James Temple on the "high-tech news war" with the impression that my own practices are unlikely to signify very much in the grand scheme of things. At least the seven comments that have accumulated (as of this writing) on the Web page for Temple's report provide the comfort than I am not alone in my frustration!

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