Spring Cleaning

We were recently informed that staff changes are to take effect at the Guardian with Matt Seaton moving to CiF America and a vacancy for a new CiF editor becoming available. Readers of this site will no doubt be asking themselves if some of the new brooms brought in to CiF will be up to the task of sweeping clean the Guardian’s website of its more unsavoury aspects such as the one-sidedness of its Middle East coverage, the hosting of some dubious above the line writers, the tolerance of below the line bigotry and antisemitism or the obsession ad infinitum with all things Israeli, no matter how banal.

Taking on the responsibility for comment is Katharine Viner, currently Deputy and Saturday Editor. Here, in her own words, is a glimpse into Ms. Viner’s world.

“I’d heard from American friends that life for dissenters had been getting worse – wiretapping scandals, arrests for wearing anti-war T-shirts, Muslim professors denied visas. But it’s hard to tell from afar how bad things really are. Here was personal proof that the political climate is continuing to shift disturbingly, narrowing the scope of free debate and artistic expression.“

In the above paragraph Katharine Viner is referring to the postponement of the showing of the play she co-edited with Alan Rickman ‘My Name is Rachel Corrie’. The ‘Times’ review of the play stated that “an element of unvarnished propaganda comes to the fore. With no attempt made to set the violence in context, we are left with the impression of unarmed civilians being crushed by faceless militarists.”

According to her Twitter messages, Ms. Viner appears to be in contact with the Rachel Corrie Foundation; an organisation which hosts on its website links to Codepink and Electronic Intifada.

Rachel Corrie is apparently not, however, Ms. Viner’s only Middle Eastern heroine. In 2001 she interviewed the terrorist Leila Khaled, opening her article with words which can only be categorized as glorifying terrorism.

“In a way, the whole story is in the ring. The iconic photograph of Leila Khaled, the picture which made her the symbol of Palestinian resistance and female power, is extraordinary in many ways: the gun held in fragile hands, the shiny hair wrapped in a keffiah , the delicate Audrey Hepburn face refusing to meet your eye. But it’s the ring, resting delicately on her third finger. To fuse an object of feminine adornment, of frivolity, with a bullet: that is Khaled’s story, the reason behind her image’s enduring power. Beauty mixed with violence.

And the ring? “I made it from the pin of a hand grenade – from the first grenade I ever used in training,” she says. “I just wrapped it around a bullet.”

Additional articles written by Viner on the subject of the Middle East conflict include ‘Despair as usual for Palestinians

“The liberal West might have jumped for joy at the landslide election of Labour’s Ehud Barak, but what was happening on the ground? Settlers were snatching away the West Bank; the closure policy meant that movement between cities became impossible; Palestinian GNP fell by 35% after the start of the Oslo peace process.”

And also ‘Fear and rage in Palestine’:

“About 18 months ago, I visited the Amari refugee camp between Jerusalem and Ramallah. The makeshift homes are poor and far too small for the large families who live in them, but inside they are neat, with wall-hangings of Mecca and mosque-shaped clocks. A Palestinian woman there, while bringing me tea, apologised for the fact that her children had dirty faces and clothes; it was because the camp received water only twice a week, she said. I looked up the hill to see a gleaming settlement, Bet-El, illegally built on Palestinian land outside of Israel, the grass on its lawns green and lush, watered with sprinklers.”

Another Viner article from 2007 featured an interview with Hamas member Ghazi Hamad at the Hay Literary Festival.

“He reminded the audience that he believes, as every Palestinian believes, that Yasser Arafat was poisoned.”

Commentators on this article quickly picked up on its background story, with ‘justwondering’ even injecting an element of prophesy!


27 May 2007, 2:26PM

Why is it that a journalist in the Guardian interviewing a member of the Palestinian government that is also a Hamas Member, yet doesn’t have any difficult questions for him to answer?

I mean, perhaps she could have asked him why Hamas uses Mickey Mouse to preach hatred to their children?

Or perhaps, the reason Hamas started killing innocent israelis, when their real beef was with Fatah?

There are so many difficult questions that could have been asked, yet this “journalist” chooses to list “comments” and bullet fashion, not even writing down the questions she asked.

That’s not only poor journalism, that’s appauling. Is this a Journalist integrity at work? The Hamas, after all, is a listed as a terrorist orgainzation by the US and EU, and as a matter of policy targets and kills innocent civillians. And they don’t even try to hide this fact.

No, instead they give him an open forum, enabling him to spoon feed our “journalist” just exaclty what it is he wants them to say.

Good job Katherine. At this rate, you can make managing Guardian editor in no time.


27 May 2007, 2:40PM


justwondering: as is made clear in the blog, the Guardian journalist (ie, the author of the blog) was writing about an event at Hay where Ghazi Hamad was being interviewed on stage by William Sieghart, who has nothing to do with the Guardian.


27 May 2007, 3:39PM

Well tickle me yellow,

It turns out the Hay festival was hosted by none other than the guardian itself. It’s even called the “Guardian Hay Festival.”

How about that, and imagine my suprise to learn it was held in the UK.

A guardian festival, held in the UK, hosting a member of Hamas, and they didn’t even think to ask him a few important questions, just quoted his responses in bulletpoints.

Now that my friends certainly is poor journalism. Where there representatives of the Israeli government there? I mean, was there equal representation?


27 May 2007, 3:14PM

The problem is that Katherine Viner, like so many other Western journalists in similar situations, went to the interview unarmed. She did not, as another commentator has pointed out, have any difficult questions for him to answer. A properly informed correspondent would have, at the least, read the Hamas Charter (no recognition of Israel ever, no peace talks, no international conferences: the only solution is jihad, the aim is to establish an Islamic state. A few questions there!). She might also have watched some Hamas television (children being taught to hate Jews, adults being shown blatant anti-Semitic material, terrorists guilty of the murder of innocent civilians being honoured as saints. More questions.). She might have asked why Hamas responded to the disengagement from Gaza with barrages of Qassam rockets (during a hudna, or truce). We’re not talking here about interviewing a novelist or a biographer. We are talking about a leading figure in a terrorist organization that despises peace and will only settle for 100% of its demands, killing, maiming, and hating on the way. The treatment of children in Gaza and the West Bank is sickening. They are trained with guns from an early age, and taught to aspire to be suicide martyrs who kill Jews as the entire purpose of their lives. Their textbooks are anti-Semitic and explicitly deny the Holocaust. For a Western journalist, these matters raise questions. But perhaps asking them would have led Ghazi Hamad to get up and walk away, leaving Katherine without an interview to post. Why was a known terrorist present at Hay anyway?


27 May 2007, 5:49PM

SpikeParis writes ‘Interesting that after justwondering accuses the Guardian of not asking the right questions and Georgina Henry points out that the Guardian didn’t conduct the interview, DenisMac then accuses the Guardian of not asking the right questions.’ I take it that Katharine Viner was at the meeting from which she reports, and that she was allowed to ask a few questions. Or was the whole thing railroaded by Hamas, just as it is in the Middle East?

If readers are not infused with budding new hopes of a brighter dawn for CiF just yet that is understandable, but maybe change will come in the form of Harriet Sherwood; the Guardian’s latest Jerusalem correspondent who is to replace Rory McCarthy. Ms. Sherwood obviously places considerable importance upon the success of the Guardian’s website. As outgoing Foreign Editor, she is also aware of the intricacies of reporting from the Middle East, although presumably up until now the reporting to which we have been witness must have passed her scrutiny in that role, despite this next statement:

“The first thing we need to be absolutely sure of is the purpose of our news reporting from the region. Our correspondents are there to give our readers accurate information about Israel-Palestine. We are not there to bat for one side or the other, but to report on the situation on the ground as we find it.”

So just how do the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondents gather information about the situation on the ground? Well Ms. Sherwood is obviously very keen to start her new job and was already in Jerusalem this week attending a briefing by PASSIA.

If she’s really looking for ‘accurate information’ Ms. Sherwood will have to extend her search somewhat. The Palestine Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs, or PASSIA , may sound impressive, but in fact it is a member of PNGO, along with such infamous organizations as Al Haq and Badil, which were instrumental in organising the 2001 Durban hate-fest and are also currently at the forefront of the BDS campaign. PASSIA’s attitude towards the media has been quite clearly expressed by Dr. Nabil Khatib:

“Whilst the media is not supposed to have any predetermined interest in a particular issue…(the media) only aims (sic.) at defending the general objective and the general good, one has to take into account that this is not always the case. Sometimes we need as Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), to make use of the international media in order to exert pressure on both the PNA and the Israeli government by developing an international public opinion.”

“In order to influence the general policy in one way or another, all CSOs should know how to influence the media. The best known way to do this is to come up with a hidden agenda (italics-author of article), and deciding on the most suitable time to release information to the media in order to direct the media towards a predetermined slogan, a defined demand. The best method for exerting pressure, is to transform a problem into a public opinion issue, using the media.”

If we are to take Ms. Sherwood’s existing articles on the subject of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict as a sign of things to come, our anticipation of a change in the direction of the wind at CiF may prove to be short-lived.

“Hanan Attar, a slight 10-year-old wearing flip-flops several sizes too big for her small feet, is wistful as she recalls the house destroyed by an Israeli tank shell. “We had land, my father is a farmer,” she says. “We used to grow watermelons, but the land was too close to the border and we can’t get there now.”

Let’s hope that whoever replaces Matt Seaton will give more cause for hope than the two journalists above because in the meantime, reformation at CiF is looking about as likely as a long hot English summer.

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